Google has entered the social media space with an intriguing offering called Google+ (pronounced Google Plus), which launched late June, first for a select group of insiders, and then to the general public. A day after launching the invite-only test version, Google had to suspend the option to invite friends to join because of an “insane demand” for accounts, according to Mashable.
Google+ is still a fledgling compared to what is reported to be its target competitor — Facebook — but its membership is growing rapidly, and users are already finding ways to use it for their businesses. While similar to Facebook in the sense that it allows users to connect with people they have something in common with to share photos and news, one of the biggest attractions is the way Google+ integrates with other Google tools and services.
The platform has generated plenty of buzz, and estimates indicate that 10 million users signed up for Google+ in the first two weeks.
So what do you need to know about the newest social networking platform?
Forget expensive video conference software, Google+ allows you to “hangout” and have a video chat with up to 10 people. Skype, of course, is also free, but does not allow for such group discussions that are usually necessary in a business setting. Google+ also stands out from other similar tools because the video actually switches from person to person depending on who is speaking. If users are worried about their mic picking up background noise or side conversation, they can easily put themselves on mute. Google+ Hangout also has a chat feature that allows people to type messages to one another instead of speaking. This is particularly useful when there are many participants and you don’t want to talk over each other.
One of the coolest things about Google+ is the ability to jointly watch YouTube videos. This is a great way to show your company’s work and explain it as you go. If the video has audio, the typing chat feature comes in handy here as well.
While LinkedIn is known as the social networking site for professional contacts, there are some advantages to Google+. For one thing, a contact doesn’t have to accept you for you to add them. Much like Twitter, you can follow people on Google+ and see what they are posting without them adding you as well. However, their privacy settings will determine whether you see all of their posts or not.
Even though these are definite advantages on the Google+ side, it’s doubtful LinkedIn is going away any time soon. LinkedIn has the advantage of hosting your entire resume, showing how you and colleagues are connected, allows professional recommendations, and enables you to search for potential employees by city or specialty. These are things that Google+ doesn’t offer and probably won’t, so it is likely the two will continue to coexist.
Facebook, however, is a different story, and the media is billing this as a battle royal between the upstart and the incumbent.
Compared to Facebook, it’s much simpler to organize contacts into “circles” on Google+. And once they’re organized into circles, you can determine who sees what, since you may not want to share the same information with clients or employers that you want your close friends to see. This makes Google+ an ideal single platform for combining, yet differentiating between your various social and business networks.
Individual accounts only
Even though Google+ has already shown some possibilities for business and more uses will surely surface, Google has not yet developed a specific platform for commercial enterprises. Profiles are meant to be created for individuals. Google has actually asked brands to hold off on creating business accounts, promising that it will be worth the wait.
According to a Google+ post by Google Product Manager Christian Oestlien, “The business experience we are creating should far exceed the consumer profile in terms of its usefulness to businesses.”
As more people join Google+, the benefits of these features will become more apparent. The Hangout feature, for example, seems to be one that stands out, but participants need to be Google+ users and chances are, they aren’t all yet. However, if the platform continues to grow as it has these first several weeks, they surely will be.
Schmid is the managing partner of Cook + Schmid, a San Diego-based marketing and public relations firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jschmidpr, or read his blog at cookandschmid.com.