July 29, 2011
In the first three weeks after its much-anticipated launch, Google+ amassed a whopping 20 million unique visitors — quite a feat for a service that remains invite-only.
The Web has been buzzing over the service, Google’s latest foray into the world of social networking. Some herald it as the future hub of online communication, and others dismiss it as a niche community that will never become truly mainstream.
“Members [on Google+] thus far tend to be highly-networked early adopter types,” social media and public relations expert Todd Defren said in a July 28 post on his blog, PR Squared. “Impressing those influencers requires a strong creative approach in terms of content and outreach. But if you do impress them, that success is likely to be amplified more than it might be on Facebook or Twitter — especially to the media, in these early days when all eyes are on G+.”
We’ve been following the conversation and have complied comments from journalists, bloggers and techies revealing their initial impressions of the service. Here are some of the main areas they see Google+ having an impact:
Circles are the Google+ equivalent of friend lists. Users organize their contacts into different circles and choose which ones they share which content with. A user would share different things with his “Biking Enthusiasts” circle, for example, than he would with his “Coworkers” circle. Many professionals see the circle approach to sharing as more closely resembling our actual interactions.
Prashant Rao, Baghdad Deputy Bureau Chief for French news agency Agence France-Presse, wrote a post on his blog describing the many uses of Google+ for those interacting with journalists. “You can set up different circles for different types of contacts — analysts, activists, officials, whatever,” he said in the July 18 post. “You could have one circle for everyone, so certain content is shared with anyone who wants to see it, and smaller circles for groups of contacts with more niche interests.
“Your contacts do not know what circle(s) you have placed them in, so you can be fairly honest in how you do this,” he continued. “In this way, you could post a request for information to a limited group, and have a livelier, deeper discussion about news that you are all familiar with.”
But not everyone sees circles as intuitive. “The main problem with Google Circles is that it's tedious. While I agree that most people separate their contacts into various groups in real life, doing so in a social network is a chore,” PCMag.com news director Peter Pachal said in a June 29 article. “Socializing online shouldn't feel like work.”
According to some, Google+’s platform fosters more engagement than other social networking sites. “Once you've shared a link to Twitter, you're left with about 15 characters to offer commentary — that's too short to say anything meaningful,” Mashable founder and CEO Pete Cashmore said in a July 17 post on his Google+ profile. “Facebook doesn't seem to be a good venue to have discussions about news topics. I'm betting Google+ will therefore be huge for the discussion of news articles — it hits the sweet spot.”
Other media insiders see the same potential for conversations of Google+. “The feedback is better than Twitter,” Benjamin Cohen, technology correspondent for Channel 4 News at ITN in the UK, said in a July 23 interview on The Next Web. “While I might get a lot of replies on Twitter, it’s difficult for others to see the full scope of the conversation because they can’t necessarily see what others are saying. Google+ may lack brevity, but it’s better for discussion.”
Some, like Digg founder Kevin Rose, have begun publishing content almost exclusively on the site. “Decided to forward kevinrose.com to Google+,” he tweeted on July 8. “G+ gives me more (real-time) feedback and engagement than my blog ever did.”
Hangouts are open, group video chats, currently capable of supporting up to 10 people at a time. Users can start a Hangout, invite people in certain Circles to participate, or join existing Hangouts themselves.
“We just made the official switch to using Google+ Hangouts for internal Mashable product/tech meetings, and have stopped using Skype audio/video chats entirely,” Mashable senior vice president Robyn Peterson said in a July 19 post on his Google+ profile. “Skype's lag and audio artifacts were just too much ... and our Hangouts are really, really impressive.”
Dell CEO Michael Dell sees the feature as a way to interact directly with customers. “I am thinking about hangouts for business,” he wrote on a July 17 post on his Google+ profile. “Would you like to be able to connect with your Dell service and sale teams via video directly from Dell.com?” The post received more than 400 responses, most supportive of the idea.
Others remain less convinced of the feature’s business potential. “Businesses who don’t use Skype are using Cisco in many instances. They aren’t going to convert to Google,” said blogger and freelance marketing coordinator Tim P. Welsh in a July 21 blog post. “Some of you may be eager to point out that Google Voice has more users than Skype. Do you think that stat will stay constant now that Skype has access to at least 500 million more people [through Facebook]? I don’t.”Audience interaction and engagement
Some have gone beyond writing about Hangouts’ potential and have already used it to interact on different levels with their audiences.
Presidential candidate and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, R.-Ga., hosted an open conversation of sorts via Hangout, discussing the budget, the deficit and other issues with everyone who joined in. During the discussion, he submitted Hangouts as a possible venue for panel discussions, including both experts from around the country and regular citizens. [Gingrich’s Hangout, which was recorded, can be viewed here]
As reported by Business Insider on July 21, musician Daria Musk performed a six-hour concert via a Hangout. She also created a map for audience members to tag themselves, and ultimately reached thousands of viewers around the globe from Norway to Australia to South Korea. Other musicians have already made plans for similar concerts.
Virgnia Nussey, media producer at SEO Web site Bruce Clay Inc., called Google+ “the first publicly viewable, crawlable social network with the potential to significantly effect search results. “For marketers, it’s a must to apply optimization best practices to our G+ profile,” she said in a July 13 post. “Not only for the benefit of our personal brands, but also as a way to become familiar with profile optimization on the platform so we can help clients use G+ to their advantage once business pages are rolled out.”
Google+’s much-publicized handling of brands has received mixed reviews from the online community. It initially deleted accounts that didn’t comply with its real-person-only policy (such as Sesame Street and Ford), and it asked businesses not to create profiles until it unveiled its business platform for the site. Some businesses are unhappy about the situation.
“Frankly, the entire thing is a mess,” Search Engine Land editor Danny Sullivan said in a July 21 open letter to Google. “Google Profiles allowed for non-human use long before Google+ existed. Search Engine Land, for example, had a profile with Google Buzz (and still does) before this change happened.”
Others experienced milder reactions. “It’s funny how many people are lamenting the temporary shutdown of brands on Google+,” said social media blogger Chris Brogan in a July 22 post on his blog. “Meanwhile, I’m seeing lots of smart business people connecting with people, making relationships, sharing a mix of personal and business materials, and building relationships that will transcend the vagueness of following an official stream.”
Although it’s too early to say what Google+ can or can’t do for business, it has potential for marketers and communicators who are willing to connect and experiment. Learning how to use the service may prove invaluable once it fully embraces brands and businesses.
According to a July 27 article on ReadWriteWeb, “Google Plus is already showing signs of promise to online marketers, especially in its ability to drive traffic to other Web sites.”