Everything You Need to Know About Google+

Last Updated Jul 15, 2011 3:11 PM EDT

In the short time since it launched in limited release, Google's new social web service Google+ has exploded onto the digital scene.

In the first week, 35% of all news links shared on Twitter were news about Google+. With only a limited number of "techie" insiders allowed in for the initial test of the service, the clamoring demand for Google+ was deafening (with the requisite online scammers luring the unsuspecting with promises of "invites" to Google+).

Within days, pundits were declaring that G+ (as it's being abbreviated) would spell the end of Facebook, the end of Twitter, of LinkedIn, of Skype, even of email. Others have been far more skeptical of G+'s ability to compete against the enormous beachhead of Facebook's 750 million users, and their inertia towards moving to another system.

What do brands and businesses need to know about Google+ at this early stage?

Following is a primer of where I think we stand today.

1. What Is Google+? A new social networking service. It allows you to share either with people you actually know (sort of like Facebook), or with anyone in the world who wants to follow you (sort of like Twitter). It is currently only available by limited invite, but will launch for the general public soon.

2. Why would anyone join Google+ when there already is Facebook? The key "Circles" feature allows you to categorize the people that you know â€"so you can share a thought, link, or photo with your grandmother, your boss, or your girlfriend, without having to share it with all three. "Hangouts" and "Huddles" allow you to join in group video chats or group instant messaging with a small group of friends. (This squashed Facebook's subsequent "big announcement" last week that it was introducing one-on-one video chat.) Overall, the look and feel is quite similar to Facebook, but it is much simpler, cleaner, without all the ads and the spammy Farmville updates.

3. Will Google+ Kill Facebook? G+ is not likely to kill Facebook, certainly not anytime soon. In order to get real traction, it will have to prove it can draw fans from many other circles besides the "tech geek" crowd predominating (and seeming to love it) in the early trial. It is less certain that the teens and grandmas who drive so much of Facebook will find the benefits of G+ worth the effort of switching. More likely, many users will dabble in both, as tools emerge to allow both businesses and individuals to simultaneously manage Facebook and G+ accounts. G+ may also force Facebook to be both more innovative, and more concerned with user privacy concerns.

4. Will it kill anything else? (And can I drop something from my "social media to-do list" now?) This is where the most speculation has been about dead bodies about to fall. My own predictions, for "Will Google+ Kill This Medium?":
Email: No. Frequently underestimated. Everyone hates it. Few can work without it.
LinkedIn: Very doubtful, although G+ might reduce the sharing of news on Linkedin, which has been growing quite rapidly this year.
Twitter: Very unlikely. Love it or hate it, the experience of Twitter's "flow of headlines" is radically different than either G+ or Facebook.
Blogging: No, but G+ may reduce the numbers of blogs, just as Twitter did. In other words, traditional blogging will be increasingly reserved for the people and businesses that are willing to invest the time required for longer, thoughtful, well-developed pieces--not just re-sharing something interesting they've read, along with a small dash of personal observation.
Skype: Maybe. G+ could easily trump the videochat capability of Skype, which would leave users only with cheap international calls to landline phones as a (much reduced) reason for using Skype.

5. Should My Brand Be on Google+ Yet? Actually, Google has now asked brands not to set up profiles yet (although a few like Ford had already jumped the gun). Google is enlisting a few brands to try out business features in a very limited test, and the company likely be opening up G+ to businesses in a matter of weeks. While some pundits said that businesses can safely ignore G+ for a year or so, I disagree.

If technology early adopters and social media influencers are particularly important to your business, then you should keep a close eye on it, and try to start experimenting ASAP, in order to show that you're in this new space along with them. If these folks are not very important to you, keep your powder dry, you don't need to join yet. Google+ users are a small group now, but could grow extremely fast, given the interest and Google's reach. Already, users are reporting that features like the group video chat could offer exciting new opportunities for brands to interact with customers. More are sure to follow.

More Work, More Opportunity

Sadly, Google+ does not yet remove anything from your list of to do's, and it won't likely do so anytime soon. For bigger organizations with a diverse online presence, it will likely mean one more outlet to manage, along with Facebook, Twitter, and possibly others. For small enterprises, it may force a decision later this year based on where your customers are going: Facebook? Twitter? Google+? Can you pick two out of three?

On the plus side, Google+ will almost certainly open up new opportunities for business as well: new forms of customer interaction, new insights from customer sharing and public behavior, as well as new opportunities for advertising, thought leadership, or sponsored content. Keep your eyes on Google+.

You can find me there at http://bit.ly/DavidRogersGplus.

image courtesy of flickr user FotoSleuth

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    David Rogers is a consultant, speaker, and author of The Network Is Your Customer: Five Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age. He teaches Digital Marketing Strategy at Columbia Business School, where he is Executive Director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership. Rogers has advised and developed marketing and digital strategies for numerous companies such as SAP, Eli Lilly, and Visa.