[Analysis] After the Google+ Disruption, What’s Next for Social Media?

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I’ve been getting asked a lot about Google+, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to give my spin on the disruption I see it has caused.  To be honest with you, when it first appeared a month ago, I got on, checked it out, and then realized that all of the same people I know from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are the ones having the same conversations on Google+.  If that’s the case, it’s a platform that I don’t need to be on.  On the other hand, there is still pent-up demand for G+ invitations, with 3 of my client’s staff saying that they have asked everyone for a Google+ invite and still couldn’t get one.  Clearly G+ is on its way to achieving a critical mass.  Once a platform achieves a certain mass, any social media marketer needs to be on that platform.  As for professionals, the verdict is out.  But before I give my take, a disclaimer on lack of historical perspective in my analysis.

When I was a student in college, I had the opportunity to witness some pretty amazing historical events in China during the spring of 1989. I thought the world was changing forever, and I came back from my Junior year abroad ready to write my senior thesis on the events that I had seen. My father cautioned me against doing that. “Son, we need some historical perspective to understand what it will all mean.”  He was right, as so far those events were only a blip on the historical radar.

Similarly, I had been waiting to blog about Google+ to give me just a little historical perspective and see past the buzz that it’s emergence and quick rise to 20 million users has sparked in the blogosphere.  It’s hard to wait any longer given G+’s meteoric growth, yet I know that who uses the site as well as how they use it will continue to evolve.  That being said I don’t care so much about the mechanics and functionality of the site (here’s a great post with some tips and tricks if you’re interested and one more with great Google+ advice) but as to what will make people use it and how it will affect social media in general.  For those who have become active on it, it is clear that Google has finally gotten it right after failing with Wave and Buzz.

More importantly, Google+ will introduce significant changes in how we all utilize social media.

Google+ as a Disruptive Force

Without a doubt, Google+ is aimed at both Facebook as well as Twitter users.  The ability to group contacts into Circles, similar to Facebook Friends, as well as have a realtime stream of data and easily “share” that data with others is a Twitter attribute.  Google +1 is not only a challenge to the Facebook “Like” but even to social bookmarking sites such as StumbleUpon and Delicious.  In fact, once could argue that Sparks is similar to stumbling by topic.

If social media is about the convergence of information and communication, Google has created a compelling product which responds to the challenge that so far is as open, simple, and clean as anyone could imagine.  Standing upon the shoulders of giants, Google has been able to put together a platform that is unique yet familiar to many that have been active users of the other two platforms.

Up until a month ago, the state of social media was at a comfortable medium.  Facebook was where all of the consumers were, LinkedIn was where are all of the B2B business and professional networking were, and Twitter was the pipeline of realtime pipeline of information and communication that was extremely social in nature and integrated the worlds of Facebook and LinkedIn together.  G+ aims to take us away from Facebook and have our conversations and share our photos and links with our private and public circles (there’s even an app that will import our photos from Facebook to Google+ available).  In the process, we have more conversations, and without the limit on the maximum number of characters we can input, Twitter starts to seem limiting and even, comparatively speaking, not as social.

The comfortable medium of the Social Media Trifecta that we once knew is gone forever.

Time as a Finite Resource

The problem, though, is that people only have so much time in the day, and they can only spend so much of it in social media.  We are all challenged not to spread ourselves thin in social media.  Sure, Google+ is popular now, but will it be as popular when the honeymoon is over and people realize how much time they have been spending there as well as on other platforms?  It is hard enough for most companies, let alone professionals, to keep up with the big 3 platforms of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  Now there is a 4th added to the mix, and it stretches the attention span of most people because of attention scarcity due to the finite resource that is time.

That’s the why the leader of LinkedIn was right when he said he didn’t think Google+ will be able to make it in a world that already has Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn because “nobody has any free time.”  However, if enough people simply like the clean interface, extremely responsive platform, and the joy of Hangouts and Huddles, people will stop spending time on those other platforms and spend more on G+.  I don’t see the user numbers falling on Facebook and Twitter, but I do see the average time being spent there falling over time.

The New Social Media Landscape

Now the cool kids who were looking for the next Facebook have found it.  In a bizarre turn of events, some worried about social media privacy may actually feel more comfortable using Google+. Many on Twitter are already spending more time on G+ because of its hyper-social nature and lack of character limitation. Smaller social media websites such as Empire Avenue stand at risk of losing precious users to the new Google service.  The reality of social media as we once knew it has forever changed, and although sites such as LinkedIn as well as StumbleUpon don’t seem to be in danger of losing traffic to the other sites, “Time as a Finite Resource” will determine how much of a given person’s attention they can continue to receive.

We are used to social networking websites growing, so it will be interesting to see when growth inevitably levels off at some of the Google+ competitors, which will undoubtedly be affected by G+’s growth.  The other platforms will have to introduce new functionality to “lure” users away from Google+.

In other words, Google+ is a healthy addition that will spur the development of social media towards something that attracts even more people.  This is a positive thing that will hopefully accelerate innovation in this new social media landscape.

The Future of Google+

Without a doubt, we are still in a honeymoon phase with Google+.  There are fewer members than are on other social media websites, and those that are on have a camaraderie similar to how 1st generation Prius drivers felt when they saw others driving the then rare hybrid car.  However, it’s only a matter of time before things will undoubtedly change:

  • Even popular bloggers and “social media influencers” won’t be able to engage with everyone because there will be too many people in conversation with them, similar to how Twitter is today but only deeper without the character limiation.  The finite resource of time and the inability to scale will leave some “followers” out in the cold.
  • SEO professionals and other marketers will speculate that being active and sharing links on Google+ will naturally be beneficial to their SEO and become more aggressive sharers of content, similar to the present state of Twitter.
  • Spammers will put in you in one of their Circles hoping that you’ll reciprocate, creating spam by directly notifying you when they post similar to the DM spam we often see on Twitter
  • Google itself will start to monetize + in a variety of ways.  C’mon, this is the company that started advertisements in email based upon the text contained within.  The user interface looks simple now because there are no ads or “Sponsored Shares” in it … I predict it’s only a matter of time before Google flips the switch on monetization through at least advertisement.

Similar to the how other popular social media websites have grown, it is a chicken and egg problem.  Without a large base of users, you can’t start for-fee services or alienating new users with advertising.  Google+ only has value to businesses and advertisers if it has a large user base.  That’s why they will logically wait until it has built up a large mass and become a default 4th social media platform to join.  With its rapid growth, I wouldn’t be surprised if they hit 100 million members by the end of 2011.  At such a mass, I believe they will start to open its service up to brands and advertisements.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that once we go over 3 platforms it becomes hard to effectively manage our social properties, social media marketers will be challenged with having to manage yet another platform that is sure to go mainstream.  Because it is Google, it is starting to reach a critical mass, it is where deeper conversations can and are being held, and because of the potential that being active on Google+ will somehow help SEO, social media marketers will undoubtedly swarm to and become heavy users of the platform.  Once G+ opens up to brands, the next round in the battle with Facebook for Social Web Supremacy begins.

As for professionals, well, every professional is also going to have to face that same challenge as to where they want to reinvest their time.  It will probably depend on what platform their circles (no pun intended) end up spending more time on.  Either way, it’s worth your time to ask someone for an invite, log on, and see which of your friends are active there and what the buzz is all about.

Do you see Google+ as a disruptive force? Where do you see social media heading with its emergence?

About the Author:

Neal Schaffer, Founder and Editor-In-Chief

The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professional strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professional strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer
PeopleLinx

Comments

  1. says

    A balanced opinion, Neal, after a month with Google+ entering the Social Media scene as the potential 4th main player after Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn by end of 2011.

  2. says

    Great post Neal and really interesting to see how you look in G+. I can already see time management  for SM platforms become a real issue today. Myself i have a problem of what to post on G+, as i ask myself, people that i have in my G+ are the same as on Twitter, FB and LI. I doubt including you, want to read same post that i have on Twitter, FB or LinkedIn. I personally really like the whole structure of G+ but google will need to take some quick steep to block the spam in the future or we will all run away. GIFT files are already big issue on G+ and let not say the re-sharing can be really annoying. If all your followers re -share my post i see them in my stream and entire stream can be full of same posts! It’s not clear to me if i will mange perfect my time for all platforms in the future, as it’s get really demanding from time to time to stay on the top. I recently take off myself from EAv as was just a bit of to much :) I am more afried that all new platforms coming in use might just take away the main purpose of social media, which is engagement and building the relationship.    

    • says

      Thanks Jure. Yes, EAv challenges us in a way that Google+ will as well. Think about it, Google is always in our face, and with no character limit, you’ll be drawn into longer conversations when compared to Twitter. I see Google+ evolving into a place where there is a lot more deeper social conversations between people. As social media marketers, however, we need to join, experiment with, and better understand this newest of platforms. Niche sites like Empire Avenue will not die, but Google+ definitely challenges their present state of being.

  3. says

    Neal, thanks for sharing your well rounded opinion. I think I broke virgin territory with your article, sharing it on FB Twitter, G+ and Linkedin. I think you have a great perspective on the social media ecosystem as it currently stands. 

    You hit the exact point I highlighted in a talk I gave today. You said “As for professionals, well, every professional is also going to have to face that same challenge as to where they want to reinvest their time.  It will probably depend on what platform their circles (no pun intended) end up spending more time on. ” It makes sense to go where your customers are, talk to them in their native language. I do think Twitter is shaking in their boots right now. There is such a large learning curve to twitter, and G+ is so intuitive compared to both Twitter and Facebook. Great analysis Neal!

    • says

      Thanks Christopher – and the one thing that everyone talks about now is time. They were talking about this before Google+, but its emergence has made it clear. That’s another reason why it is truly disruptive. Early adopters have flocked to it like they did with Buzz and Quora, but I see this one gaining more steam because 1) it’s Google and 2) it’s already achieved a pretty critical mass. Only time will tell, but as social media marketers, we need to keep a close eye on its development.

      • says

        Neal..I’ll be honest with your bro, I haven’t even did my profile just yet. maybe I’m just tired of another site..if its not going to provide something FaceBook has then I’m out.

        “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  4. Andrew Brandt says

    Thanks for your thoughts, Neal. The only fault I see is that you say it’s too early to evaluate Google+, then you evaluate it.  

    Almost every blogger quickly glosses over that G+ is still in a trial phase. When G+ brings out corporate pages (or whatever they will call them), that may make it easier to interact more with businesses/nonprofits/employers than on other sites, IMHO. Combine that with circles (“My Target Companies Circle,” “My upcoming interviews circle”), teleconferencing (easy online interviews), and adding Google apps, that could be pretty powerful for job hunting and also allow ad hoc workgroups to do it all on one site.

    Imagine some day checking a job ad, opening up an Apps tab to edit a personalized cover letter and résumé, submitting it to the employer via Gmail, searching out employee contacts to ask questions about the job, practicing an interview with your job search club, and doing the “phone” interview via Hangouts — all without leaving Google+. That could significantly streamline the job search process.

    Yes, Google+ will probably have ads. Well, everybody else is posting them, too. LinkedIn has ads AND charges fees for expanded services (including $10 per InMail and $95/month to see the last name of 3rd level connections). Guess which I fiind more annoying.

    The other thing that few seem to comment on much, is the issue of competition forcing more creativity and innovation with the other services. Perhaps we were comfortable with the big 3 and they were also a bit too comfortable with us. (Hey, where else can they go to do what we do?) If Google+ shakes things up, that might be good for everybody.

    In the interim, Google appears to be actually listening to users debating things like features, privacy issues, and spam protection. When was the last time you saw LinkedIn actually engaging in discussion with its users over features and encouraging feedback? (And where, exactly, IS that feedback button on LinkedIn?)

    AndyB
    https://plus.google.com/103707335043429995965

  5. says

    Hey Andrew,

    Appreciate your taking your time to comment. I will say that I laid out that disclaimer that there is a lack of historical perspective at this point in time ;-)

    I think you’re bang on for the potential that Google+ combined with Google Apps and everything else in the Google ecosystem has. And without doubt Google is trying to take over the world, so we will see their master plan soon enough.

    Yes, you make a good point about the competition now being forced to innovate. This is what I wrote about in my blog post as well, that the emergence of Google+ will require the other sites to truly compete for our time.

    As for Google listening to our requests for features, that’s an interesting and true point. LinkedIn clearly never listens, Facebook has a “Listen to us or else” attitude, Twitter is Twitter, but I do see Google engineers posting on Google+ bug fixes, new features, and being a part of the networking platform. It seems fresh in comparison! Who would have thought that we would trust Google more than these other sites? I hope that Google doesn’t brake our newly found trust in them…

    @NealSchaffer
    http://gplus.to/nealschaffer

  6. Robert J Ballantyne says

    Thanks for raising this. The issue of the time we can afford to spend on social media is important. One of the reasons that I have high hopes for the success of G+ is that I have loathed the FaceBook experience. I go there reluctantly, seldom and only because of the company. 

    Twitter works for me because I have TweetDeck running down the side of one of 9 spaces on my iMac. I merely glance at it during my work-day and either respond quickly when something moves me, or post when I have something I think will interest my followers. Twitter and my RSS aggregator keep me way ahead with valuable information than was possible with any of the traditional news media. This flow of information is very useful to me.

    LinkedIn is like gardening. I tend it about once a week, and it sometimes provides a small harvest. 

    You didn’t mention blogging. Part of me wants to tell my stories, so that is my entertainment, and, I hope it is also so for my readers. It is therefore not an essential activity for me right now – so I blog only in my spare time. I think our web sites and our blogs are an important part of how we present ourselves online.

    That brings me back to G+. Unlike FB, a public post there, like a blog entry, is out there for the world to see. Might it replace blogging? Our ‘home’ page at G+ has an unfortunately geeky and unmemorable URL: https://plus.google.com/105591298170350266959/posts

    So for me, my personal web sites and my blogs will have my primary attention, because those are truly about me. I receive huge value for little time spent by scanning Twitter, and actually provide back very little value. So, I accept that Twitter is an example of Sturgeon’s Law, and let it provide me with great value for little time spent. LinkedIn, like a résumé is sort-of necessary but not worthy of a lot of time. 

    At this point the issue for me is: FB vs. G+. I’d be happy if my family and friends migrated from FB to G+. With G+ I have control over how I present myself and how I interact with my various groups. That said, I still haven’t found my voice on G+.

    • says

      Thanks for your comment Robert. I agree with a lot of your analysis. I think that Google Plus actually will have little affect on LinkedIn, and I think those who blog will continue to blog and use their content to spark conversations in Google+ (unless Google somehow integrates Blogger into G+, but I digress…)

      I agree that at the end of the day, we will be deciding as to whether we want to make Facebook or Google+ our “home page” for social media. This will largely depend on what our friends end up doing. But , if you’re like me and most of your friends are active in social media, I feel that will end up being Google+…

  7. says

    Hi Neal, 

    What’s important is returns.

    Are you getting returns from FB, Twitter etc… if not, then try GP otherwise, stick with what works. 

    Chopping and changing can be risky as you may lose all the goodwill you’ve built up on other sites. 

    Make sense?

    Ivan

    • says

      Thanks Ivan – I am also passionate about “ROI” in social media, whether it be for your business or personal. Your comment reminds me of a song we used to sing in Kindergarten here in the United States:

      “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold.”
      ;-)

  8. says

    Google
    Plus took 18 days to reach 10 million suers while face took 680 days to reach
    that many users. But this comparison is not fair as Google is a established
    Brand now and anything that it will bring will be famous in such short span.
    I am sure the popularity of face book will not go down and now that FB is
    starting up with video chat its users will surely increase

  9. says

    Only time will tell Oscar. Yes, Google does have a platform to work from, but even that didn’t help them with Buzz. I don’t think Facebook is going away, but I think we are going to see some people spending a lot more time on Google+ than on Facebook.

  10. says

    Google+ fails to move me. I don’t want to put the people I know into circles. I cannot post to Google+ from Hootsuite. It offers nothing useful to me over LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. I know they are busy eating up various apps and rebranding them as Google too, I fail to be seduced.

    • says

      Thanks for your comment Jennifer! For me it’s less about what personally moves me and more about the business benefits that companies can have being on Google Plus. Clearly the long-term verdict is out, but the short-term SEO benefits cannot be denied!

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