Friday, 29 July 2011

What will Google+ offer Business?

Last week's article discussed the new kid on the Social Media block that's got everyone talking, Google+. Though still a million miles away from challenging facebook's mighty tally of users, it's made a cracking start, with record numbers of people signing up in it's first few weeks.

This is causing some commentators to already speculate on it's future triumph over the more established network. Social Media expert Mark Ross-Innes of Softwerx said at a conference this month, that he believed it's more a matter of when Google+ would overtake Facebook, than if.

An article over at Marketing Week puts the phenomenal uptake of Google+ down to privacy. Though offering a very similar service to facebook, the new network is organised differently, so that it's easier to control who sees what's shared. Contacts are arranged into user defined 'Circles', where a circle of friends may see that drunken party photo, but the work colleagues circle sees only the happy, healthy holiday snaps.

This isn't exactly a new idea and it's already possible to do the same, albeit in a clunky, somewhat complicated way. with facebook. However, the difference with Google+ is that it's the default setting and has very simple usability.

It's actually true to say that pretty much everything that Google+ offers can already be done in facebook, it's just that it's the standard in the former and takes some fiddling in the latter. Google have done what facebook did before it with MySpace and others; cherry picking the best or most popular features, improving their usability and reaping the rewards.

The only problem for Google in this, is that facebook can and mostly likely will do the same right back. Facebook regularly overhauls it's functionality, don't be surprised to see a 'circle-like' system introduced some time soon, especially if it's established that this is what gives Google+ the edge.

And facebook does have time to spare. As I pointed out last week, even if Google+ continues to grow at the same rate, it's still impossible to get 750 million users in a short span of time. It will have to sustain it's momentum, not to mention it's edge in functionality, for a good while yet.

All I'm really saying here is don't announce the winner when the race has only just begun. Facebook hasn't got to where it is today by chance. It's always been responsive to it's marketplace, innovative and constantly evolving to stay ahead of the game. It will not take the challenge made by Google lying down.

How well Google+ serves businesses will be an important factor. It's currently in the process of testing it's own version of business pages, with a view to fully rolling them out later in the year. These have been massive for facebook, with everyone from cottage industries to the world's biggest brands setting up pages to connect with their audience, and they'll be a big part of Google+

A key advantage Google may have in this, is that it already runs the number one way in which people find businesses online, namely it's search engine. Even here, facebook pages often rival their website counterparts for search rankings, but a Google+ business page may well get preferential treatment.

Expect a deeper integration of theses pages within Google search results, with options to 'like', 'share' or 'comment' directly via the results page, rather than having to actually visit the page, as with facebook. This can only help uptake and having this interaction available through search will help embed it with users as a part of Google+, making it somewhat of a one stop shop for all internet needs, whether social or commercial.

Having it's other tools, such as Google Docs and Mail integrated into the network will also be a boon, meaning a page could be much more than the marketing tool of facebook. It could offer a comprehensive solution, giving that sales front end, but also elements available to employees that could for all intents and purposes provide an intranet.

This is speculation and we'll see if it goes that far. There'll no doubt be surprises in store as the two internet giants fight for dominance. War always brings about technical innovation, so no matter who the winner is, we're bound to find an abundance of new and exciting tools and features at our disposal. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next.

I haven't mentioned here what impact 'circles' and the improved privacy may have on business, as that's been what pretty much everybody else in Social Media has been talking about, and there's no point going over it again. If you haven't read anything on this though, it's discussed at the Marketing Week article above and there's also a very good article on the subject over at PC World's Business Center, giving an overview of how the landscape will change.

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