The month of November saw the launch of another playground in the world of business Social Media - Google+ for brands. As the majority of us are only just coming to grips with Facebook, the thought of another social media platform one is scary! But we know we can’t ignore being part of the Google+ explosion.
Let’s take a look at what makes this platform different to Facebook, and why and how we should be using it as a brand.
What Is Google+?
The social network is a collection of different social products. These features include Stream (a newsfeed), Sparks (a recommendation engine), Hangouts (a video chat service), Circles (a friend management service), and Games and Photos.
Why Should Someone Use Google+?
Having been involved with Google+ since it started, and seeing it grow, has allowed me to understand the difference between Google+ and Facebook. However, in order to explain it best, I would like to refer to an article by Mashable where they asked users to tell them why they like using the new platform. The six responses below highlight what most of them had to say:
- Google+ is a much cleaner way to selectively share data with others. As Google integrates more of their other cloud products – like Documents, Calendar, and Reader – you’re going to see it become one of the primary means of absorbing the data streaming from the Internet, and sharing it with others.
- It’s the combination of being able to share based on (hopefully!) mutual interests, with the ability to get exposure to interesting people and ideas. The relationship doesn’t really have to be two-way, but it doesn’t all have to be public.
- For some reason, the level of engagement is higher on Google+. Commenting and re- sharing seems to happen at a higher rate here (so far.)
- I’ve had a Facebook account since 2003. It’s time for something more grown-up, that gives me more control and has a more organic user experience.
- The clean user interface of Google+, combined with the lack of distracting elements, or so-called features (such as all of the add-on games and apps on FB that clutter up your stream), that I never use, attract me to Google+. This, combined with the Circles feature – choosing who you share with – are the primary draws.
- If Facebook and Twitter had a baby, they’d call it Google+.
The Three Most important Aspects of Google+
It is important in this first blog about Google+, to explain each section so we can understand the functions and then – in the next blog – we can show you how to integrate this into our branding and marketing basket.
Understanding Circles is essential to mastering Google+. The search giant has opted not to let you simply “friend” your friends, like you do on Facebook, or “follow” different people as you would on Twitter. Instead, Google+ gives you more control over who sees your content.
Circles allow users to drag-and-drop their friends into different friend groups, which categorises them. This allows you to put your mom in your “Family” circle, your boss in your “Business” circle and your best friend from college in your “Friends” circle. You can create as many circles as you like, though making too many becomes cumbersome and diminishes the usefulness of Circles.
To add friends to a circle, all you have to do is drag-and-drop them into the appropriate circle. You can add friends into as many circles as you want. You can also select multiple friends and drag them into a circle. It initially suggests friends based on who’s in your Google Contacts, but it also lets you find friends by importing your address book from Yahoo!, Hotmail or your desktop. Removing friends from a circle is simple as well – just drag-and-drop from in the circle to outside the circle.
Clicking on a circle gives you more granular control over adding and removing people. You can also rename your circle, write a short description about it, view the stream for your circle, open your circle in a tab and delete your circle.
So why should you create circles in the first place? The answer is simple: You want to share different things with different friends. You may want to share a risqué photo with your close friends, but share a link about your company’s newest hire with just your business network. Google+ Circles gives you the ability to have this kind of control over both what you share and what content pops up in your stream.
Stream & Sharing Content
Facebook users will instantly get the hang of Google+ Stream — it’s just a newsfeed of the latest content shared by your circles. This content can be anything from a status update to a photo.
There are a few differences between the Google+ Stream and the Facebook News Feed. Posts by your friends move back to the top based on which post has the most recent comment, though eventually older posts are will be buried in the stream. Instead of “liking” a post, you can “+1″ a post — this is part of Google’s push for the +1 Button. You can also share posts with your circles or mute a post if it’s clogging up your stream.
Updating your status is a snap — all you need to do is type some content in the “Share” box at the top of your stream and choose who to share it with. You can share it with the public (all of your followers) or just share it with certain circles. In addition to text, you can share photos, videos, links and your location. Like Facebook, Google+ automatically detects the content of the links you share and allows you to choose a thumbnail from that link.
In my opinion, Google+ Hangouts may be the social network’s killer feature. It’s a novel twist on the traditional group video chat, and it’s definitely received a positive reaction from the Google+ community.
Here’s how it works: You click on the “Start a hangout” button on the right-hand menu of the Stream. Clicking it opens up a chat window where you can check your mic and choose who will be able to join the hangout (either by inviting individuals or sharing it with your circles). Once the hangout is live, your friends will see the hangout prompt in their stream. They can then join the hangout until a maximum of ten people have joined.
If you’ve never used Google Talk before, you will have to install a small piece of software before Hangouts works properly.
Once you’re in a hangouts, you will notice a couple of things. First, you will see that the video switches from person to person. This is based on who is talking into the microphone. You can hover over a person’s video feed and either report them for abuse or “mute” them. Muting someone will mute them for everybody in the hangout, at least until he or she un-mutes his or her mic. Users can also mute their video if they wish.
Google+ Hangouts also comes with a group text chat feature (similar to Google Talk). Another cool feature of Hangouts is that users can jointly watch a YouTube video. Settings allow you adjust the mic, camera and other video settings.
In recent months, Google has introduced new features to Hangouts. These include named hangouts, integration with Google Docs, the ability to screen share and a sketchpad feature. The company is also testing live video viewing with a small group of partners. This will be a massive feature in the business application.
In the South African market Facebook is still the firm leader with over 4.4million users, while Google+ has just started. So our advice is to get your profile and business page live and integrate it with your website, and then wait for the explosion that is going happen on this platform in this country in 2012! At least you will be ready and waiting!
See you in my circle,
Greg Smith, of Africa 360 Degrees, is a Social Media specialist and valued partner of Originblu Communications.