Google+, the search engine giant’s latest attempt at competing with services like Facebook and Twitter, saw 25 million people join the service in the first month since its end of June launch.
Such a stellar growth rate – it took three years for Facebook to reach the same number of users – means it could become one of the most popular social media sites ever.
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What does this new platform mean to start-ups and how does it affect other social media services like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn?
Some think that the arrival of Google+ will be highly tempting for Facebook-using start-ups. Ben Bradshaw, director of ad words company Director of SponsoredLinX, says that the ability to “like” search results and recommend them to friends will be a boon for small businesses.
“This is really exciting for the internet marketing industry as it’s the first time that social media and search are integrated into the one platform,” he says.
“Facebook has now reached a plateau in terms of what it can offer users. It will need to do a complete revamp and rebuild in order to rival what Google+ is offering.”
“Facebook does not allow users to segregate our different friendship groups, with the only option being setting up a business page specifically for professional contacts, which offers reduced functionality.”
“There is no doubt that there was a gap in the market for a platform that integrates all of these key business and personal portals in the one place and this is it. Businesses and private users should welcome this concept with enthusiasm.”
Google+ differs from most social networks – particularly Facebook – in that you can divide your online connections into different groups called circles and restrict shared information to those segments.
This addresses the biggest problem with social media; that what we share with our friends is not necessarily what we want our family or work colleagues to see, an issue identified last year by then Google designer Paul Adams, who has not co-incidentally since moved onto Facebook.
Along with Circles, Google+ has a few other unique features such as Hangouts which allow impromptu video conferences and Sparks which are random popups of things you might be interested based upon your search history and posts.
The collaboration aspect, with the ability to create Circles and Hangouts for specific projects, is one of Google+’s great strengths – and probably to be expected from an engineering organisation like Google – which may make it an alternative to corporate social media services such as Yammer and possibly even LinkedIn groups.
At the core of Google+ is the Google Profile that is shared with most Google services such as Gmail and Blogger, which gives rise to quite a few privacy concerns as those you share with can get access to this information, although this is the same with most other social media services.
Marketing is one area where businesses have focused on in the social media world and the lack of broader take up is one of Google+’s drawbacks. Facebook has a much bigger diverse spread of users and so marketing reach.
At present, the discussion of Google+ for marketing is moot as businesses aren’t allowed to create Google profiles.
This is another powerful advantage for Facebook that will remain until businesses are allowed to participate in Google+.
The question remains on how Google is going to integrate their other services. The obvious option is to incorporate Places in a similar way to Facebook so that businesses can create profiles that can then plug into local search and other services like Google Apps.
Coupling social media with local search along with Google’s Android mobile phone service pretty well touches all the bases of the SoLoMorevolution which is redefining the consumer world and is almost certainly part of the bigger game plan.
Adwords will prove to be the greatest challenge, although we’re already seeing concerns being expressed about the potential for Google to misuse their databases and profiles of users. Social media tools plugged into profiles and personal search may be a bridge too far for some.
Indeed, there’s a question of how Google+ will affect other social media tools like LinkedIn and Twitter.
Right now it’s difficult to see either being affected by the new service. However, we shouldn’t underestimate the size of Google’s war chest or how compelling a service that integrates email, search, local search and applications like documents will be.
Another big advantage of Google+ is the lack of clutter as the game invites and people sending pictures of fluffy cats or their big night out aren‘t around – though this may change as the service moves from being used primarily by business geeks to the general public.
Whether Google+ supplants Facebook or any of the other social media services remains to be seen as we’re only a few years into the decade where personalised services are changing how we use the web. It would be dangerous to make any bets on who will succeed.
The stakes are quite high for Google with this product as the overwhelming amount of data at every internet user’s fingertips is seeing people seeking out sources they trust for answers, recommendations and advice.
The social aspect of the online world is going to define the web in this decade just as search did in the previous decade.
For businesses, it’s worthwhile having a play with the program to see if it works for you but abandoning Facebook, Twitter or even your own website for Google’s service is probably making too early a call at this stage.
The beauty of social media services is that nobody needs to use all or any, and you may well find that other channels work better for your business regardless of Google’s success.
He’s a regular columnist on smartcompany.com.au as well as a broadcaster and writer. You can find his personal website at paulwallbank.com .