Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you’ll be aware of the huge buzz (no pun intended) surrounding Google+, the search giant’s latest foray into the world of social networking.
Google learned some harsh lessons from the failure of Buzz and Wave, and based on initial impressions it looks as though they’ve done a much better job this time around.
The product is currently in limited beta, but Google’s policy of initially inviting the social media ecosphere of bloggers, gurus and assorted hangers-on is certainly paying some handsome PR dividends.
Across Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora (and yes, even Facebook), you’ll be hearing the great and the good praising the new platform, telling us how great it looks, how useful it is and generally flaunting their early access like Wayne and Garth with a backstage pass.
If you’re on Google+ then hey, you must be an influencer right?
In the past week alone (and remember, this is the first official launch week), I’ve read blog posts telling me how to market and blog on the platform, use multimedia, identify influencers, apply vanity URLs, measure SEO benefit and referral traffic... the list goes on.
Branded profiles are also starting to appear, despite advice by Google to hold off until official business profiles are launched in the near future and several high profile..er…profiles being shut down (most notably TNW, but casualties are rising).
Too much, too soon?
We just can’t help ourselves. It’s new, it’s shiny and we want in now.
The marketing community has become an overexcited child on Christmas Eve.
The problem currently is that it’s simply too early to tell what the platform is or how it will be used once Google opens those invitation floodgates.
Marketing experts may be telling you how to sell there but the truth is, they just don’t know.
No one does. And there are reasons for this.
In addition to the PR push, Google has aimed the initial launch at a very specific demographic –active twitterati.
It’s a very vocal, tech-savvy section of internet users that will provide valuable feedback and offer up suggestions for improvements and use.
It’s important to remember that nearly all the innovation on Twitter has come from the user base, rather than the company itself. While Google has a better reputation for innovation, it’s still something of a novice in the social arena and is furiously taking notes. As no doubt is Google+ ‘s ‘most followed member’: Mark Zuckerberg.
With a user base currently hovering just below 2m, it’s hardly a great place to sell.
You may have slightly more chance of cutting through the noise (mainly because... well... there is no noise...) but finding useful customers, as opposed to fellow back-patting marketers?
Despite all efforts, social media in general still suffers from the echo-chamber effect. An unending stream of pundits desperate to prove their knowledge of the market.
Right now however, we need to take a step back.
Social platforms each have their own rules that evolve over time.
Users so far are forcing the etiquette of Twitter onto a completely different platform, rather than allowing for the organic growth that will surely come once the great unwashed get on board.
A good example is the bio line. Currently almost every user I’ve seen has a variant of their Twitter bio or a professional description.
Think about the last time you introduced a new user to Twitter. Did the first few tweets look something like: “Is heading off for a haircut” or “Is feeling ill”?
Maybe they weren’t that poorly written or boring but I’m guessing the underlying structure was the same, because they’d taken a format that works on Facebook and applied it to a different platform.
Want more proof? Go and try posting your tweets on 4chan.
The functionality of Google+ isn’t set in stone.
Erik Schmidt himself recently commented that Google feels there is room for more than one social network (Although Facebook and Twitter have begged to differ).
Obviously there’s a lot of potential to target customers through circles, but the truth is there aren’t any customers yet, let alone any idea how they’ll behave or what they’ll want when (and if) they arrive.
For businesses the sales aren’t yet a concern, but the implications for SEO definitely are. If Google+ rankings are heavily weighted then brands will need to maintain a presence, but it may be one better assigned to your search team, rather than to Social Media Managers or E-commerce specialists.
In addition, opinions so far have been focused on the idea that Google is targeting Facebook here. While FB is certainly the largest possible competitor in the social space, Google+ has a lot of additional strings to its bow.
Various people have commented on some suspiciously Aardvark-shaped code snippets lurking under the hood (under the pseudonym ‘Google Experts’) which points to further feature expansion such as Q&A in the near future.
With Wave/Google Doc functionality and private huddle/circles, LinkedIn should be worrying that Google will finally make good on the cloud-based colab space promised by Wave, along with highly targeted jobs boards.
Meanwhile realtime updates mean Twitter needs to keep an eye open, especially as Google already has all of your tweets neatly indexed, just waiting for some ad targeting to be ladled on.
Oh – and remember upcoming projects like serendipity. It’s a solid bet that Facebook’s targeting isn’t going to hit those kinds of accuracy levels for a while.
Currently, different channels serve different purposes, but given that Google, for all intents and purposes, IS search. The creation of a one-stop social shop could change the web as we know it.
Or it could remain an echo chamber for early adopters and web hipsters.
The over-long point I’m making is that leaping into a new platform and having a play is great.
It’s fun, but it isn’t a strategic business move. How much revenue or awareness do we really think Ford Europe generated by running the first brand promotion on G+ (a slightly uninspiring image-sharing competition), barring a bit of PR bumph because they were there first?
For now, brands need to relax, bookmark a page when they become available, and monitor the audience on Google+, or you could start piping all your content there with no idea whether there will even be an audience in six months time.
As always, adopting any platform should be backed up with solid KPIs.
Willingness to experiment and innovate are admirable qualities in any business, but currently there's an over-eagerness that threatens to cloud clear judgement and sensible decisions. There's no use throwing budgets or content at a (relatively) empty platform. Yet.
If you want to use it purely as a fun social network then go for it, get involved, but it is simply too early to be planning business campaigns on the platform, and doing so shows a lack of maturity, understanding and forward thinking which businesses can ill-afford on what could become a massively important platform.
On an evolving platform there is no first position success.
*EDIT - since I originally posted this article Google+ user base has grown to nearly 10m, so assuming people stick with it, it appears there will be a marketplace there. What it looks like and how valuable it becomes remains to be seen...