Having played around with Google+ for a few weeks now, here are my raw thoughts on the social platform and its role in the real-time marketing world. Some of these thoughts made it into this Ad Age story for which I was interviewed last week.
1. Finally a Google social-networking bet that has a chance of surviving.
There's no question, this is Google's best bet ever in the social-networking space. There have been so many false starts and halfhearted efforts that I had begun to wonder whether Google could every crack this space. The reason why things are different this time -- rather than incubating the product in isolation in Google Labs, from the get-go Google+ is integrated into the rest of the Google ecosystem through single sign on, the navigation bar and the ability to add in contacts and friends. There's a lot more integration to do but it works effectively as a real-time stream of content being shared to you and from you based on social context.
2. Google's challenge is that we simply do not know how Google+ fits into our lives.
Maybe Google+ has been intentionally silent on that for a good reason. Facebook has become part of our digital habit -- I sit down for a cup of coffee in the morning and I go on Facebook to scan my news feed. I find some really compelling content while surfing the web and I tweet about it to the world. It's not clear if Google wants Google+ to be an add-on to my digital habits or a replacement. A lot of people -- the 20 million people who are playing around on Google+ are asking themselves that question. The funny thing is that Google+ has the best of Facebook and the best of Twitter -- you have the ability to broadcast and select closed groups who should receive that broadcast. So is it meant to be a bridge between the two but do we really need that ? Targeting for brands in a real-time fashion this way is extremely powerful.
3. Google+ misses a true radical innovation opportunity but all is not lost.
Google's historic strength has been its search-engine algorithms and its blistering-fast technology backbone. Simply speaking, it has the best scientists and its algorithms are unmatched. That's why its the undisputed leader in search. But in Google+ I have to manually find my friends and add them to circles manually. It is time consuming and can quickly get overwhelming managing all of these friends and circles.
If I could log in and have Google+ make recommendations based on how I have interacted with people in the past that would be valuable. The home run would be if they could add a "Suggested Circles" functionality that helps me manage my networks. They do something similar in Gmail today with "Important first" and the "Priority Inbox" functionality, so this wouldn't be a big step for them. After all, who wants to go about adding friends and categorizing them yet again. To take that thought a step further, Google+ could also suggest brands and products in a similar fashion.
4. Google+ can really work for brand marketers if we're given the right tools.
From a brand perspective, two things matter most -- knowing where, when and how we can engage meaningfully with our consumers and in turn being mindful of how they'd like us to engage with them. As marketers, we absolutely want to find ways to engage with our consumers on Google+ that are organic to the Google+ philosophy and in ways that consumers are using the platform. But to be effective we need very strong analytics. We have to be smart in how we engage -- we can't be everywhere or do everything, so we need analytics that help us make decisions on how and where to best reach our consumers at moments in time when we matter. Google has said that when they do launch brand pages they will have strong analytics. Google understands brands because they have worked closely with us on search and they know what analytics we need, so I am happy to wait for that .
Keeping in mind the importance of people's privacy, we'd also want to know psychographic information about who we're engaging. This is not an anonymous platform, so we always have to respect that . If Pepsi could reach out on Google+ and engage a Pepsi fan and then also be able to engage with their friend circle or their work circle that would be a win. In the end we want to participate in a way that makes sense for the platform, consumers and the brand.
5. Google+ functions effectively as a real-time sharing engine.
There's no question in my mind that Google+ is strongest as a real-time content-sharing engine for me to push out specific pieces of content to specific people circles. Google+ integrates more seamlessly with YouTube, Google Photos and Google Music as Ian Schafer emphasized in an Ad Age piece. That is its greatest strength. It's something that I can't do with Twitter (lists are for viewing tweets from select people, not for sharing out tweets to groups), and while I could do it with Facebook, the people-management feature has gotten cumbersome. It's also symmetrical limiting me from controlling distribution the way I may want to.
6. Google+ streams are very different to the Facebook newsfeed.
That's an advantage. If someone gave me one wish in the world, I'd probably use it to understand how Facebook's edge-rank system actually worked. Like the Google-search algorithm, it's a black box and I'm not exactly sure how many users (and which users) may see a specific post from one of my brands. From a marketing standpoint, that 's a bit of a problem.
However, in the case of Google+ everything published appears in the stream in chronological fashion. I have a much better sense of what a user will see. Now, this can certainly get overwhelming but there's absolute clarity in terms of what will make it into a user's feed. You could argue that the Google model is simplistic and not scalable but what's certain is that it forces you to take those circles seriously. And for Google that 's a good thing, and for marketers it makes Google+ more valuable.
It's going to be fascinating watching the evolution of Google+. To get 20 million people to play with it in a manner of weeks is no joke. The social network is definitely off to a good start but there's obviously a lot more to do to create true stickiness of the Facebook variety. One thing is for sure, if Google were to integrate the Google+ stream and comments into its search-engine algorithm, that alone may provide enough incentive for a lot more people to take it even more seriously. Only time will tell whether Google decides to go in that direction or not.