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.
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?