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Beyond search: How Google+ adds new ways to segment and target

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Last week, Google with little fanfare launched its newest efforts in social networking to a select set of early adopter social beta-testers. I was fortunate enough to receive an invite to participate. Many of you may be thinking that Google has several failed tries in the social space, so why should you waste your time on this latest effort? In fact, Eric Schmidt himself described Google’s social stumble as his biggest regret.

Back under the founders’ leadership, Google is now focused on turning that around, and Google+ is a good start. Even the simple branding does a great job of tying back to the company brand and allowing for growing capability over time. It is also seamlessly integrated into the first slot of the top navigation bar when a user goes to Google.

The search giant has not yet integrated any search advertising into the actual Google+ environment, but the profiles the users complete do show up in Google search as public by default, unless the user changes the settings. Knowing Google’s heritage, I have no doubt that long term they will be integrating links within context and that they are mining the conversations in Google+ for search.  When you complete your profiles for your business, keep that in mind so that you can easily be found.

The best feature of Google+ is Circles. This has huge potential for segmenting your users and partners into very focused market segments that you yourself can define. It is very easy to do by dragging and dropping them to a Circle or via a checkbox pull-down. Then you can send communications just to that Circle from your stream, or to multiple Circles, and even add people who have Gmail, but are not on Google+, to receive that message as an email. This opens up great possibilities for very targeted communications to select groups.

Another unique feature of Google+ is Hangout, which allows Google+ users to set up group video chats for a Circle and enables them to send an invite to that Hangout in their stream to just the Circle they want to invite. This has huge possibility for user groups of your products or for small, targeted videocasts for product announcements, or to educate potential customers on your offerings.

You may have seen Google +1 showing up on websites across the Internet. This is now integrated into the stream similar to the “like” button in Facebook, and users can +1 (click on a button to say they like or agree with content) within the Google+ stream as well. This feature can help you know when your target audience really likes something. There is no inverse (-1) to tell you they dislike something.

There are a few drawbacks to Google+ in the beta. First, there is no native mobile app for any phone but Android. There is a Web app, but it is slow and not as easy to use as the browser-based app on a computer. Also, photo sharing is only through Picasa and mobile users who do not have Androids have no easy way to upload photos or video without using Picasa.

Hopefully they will get beyond the proprietary efforts here quickly, or they will have issues with mass adoption. All-in-all, Google+ shows much more promise than the failed Wave or Google Buzz, which has been integrated into Google+. It will be interesting to see how Google+ evolves, how quickly it takes off once they open it up beyond the small group of early adopters and how they leverage their real strength in search as part of it in the long run.

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