This week Google started ‘field testing’ it’s new social network called Google Plus with a limited group of users. As a result, the whole internet is now talking about Google Plus.

But getting people talking about their products has never been Google’s problem.

The problem has been in developing ‘social’ products that people actually use. Products like Google Buzz and Google Wave have never been adopted by a mainstream world wide audience.

However, this time around, the vibes surrounding Google Plus seem to be different. Google has poured tons of development hours into this project and is highly determined to make this one work. Judging the first signs from people who have had the pleasure of testing Google Plus (for example here, here and here), it seems like Google has made a big effort to create something that currently isn’t there yet.

The main features of Google plus are Circles, Hangouts (group video chat), Sparks (following keywords), Instant Photos sharing from mobile and Huddle (group messaging).

The game changer: Circles


Circles is the main differentiating feature of the Google Plus social network. It allows you to share stuff only with the people you want to share it with. The way this currently works on Facebook (groups) is only half as effective and intuitive.

Check out Googles’ official video for ‘Circles’:

Why Google Plus might sail

Google Plus is build on the principle of privacy. The Circles feature is the center piece of Google Plus. It allows users to share stuff only with specific (groups of) people. You are in charge of defining what kind of relationship you have with someone. You can then add them to your Circle for Friends, Family, Acquintances, Tennis buddies, Colleagues, Business partners, etc.

This is a big difference with for instance Twitter where everyone can see your tweets, but first and foremost a big difference with Facebook. Once you accept a friend on Facebook, they have an all access pass to see all your content and conversation.

I think the Circles functionality can potentially change the way people share content. However, as Mack Collier pointed out in his blog post here, I also miss the ability to not only follow specific people, but also the specific content they share.

For instance, I would put Mack in my Circles for Social Media. I want to hear what he has to say about social media. But I don’t want to hear what he has to say about college football games.

I think that if Google further develops the ‘Sparks’ (keyword tracking) functionality in that direction, they have a real winner. Something that can also enhance users search engine results. Or even create a completely new search, discover and recommendation engine.

Why Google Plus might fail

It’s an obvious one: your friends are on Facebook and not on Google Plus.

This means that Google needs to build this traction from the ground up. And with their track record in social, this might turn out to be very difficult.

Also, it takes time to filter out all the flaws and get all the features up to par with what users expect. Apparently Google still has some work to do according to the first comments from e.g. Mashable and SEOmoz.

I’m not sure what, but something is gonna sail

There is something in Google’s brand that just doesn’t feel ‘social’. I think this comes across also in this quote from Google’s Sr. Vice President of Social Vic Gundotra:

“Our mission statement for years has been to organize the world’s information,” Gundotra said. “The Web is about a lot more than information now, a lot more than pages. It’s about people.”

There seems to be quite a big gap between ‘Organisating information’ and ‘it’s all about people’.

As for social, you go to Facebook to feel the company of people. You can now go to Google to get them organised.

It would be great to have them both. The question is what will happen first: will Google become more social? Or will Facebook get better organised?

I don’t know. Time will tell. But I am pretty sure that Google Plus will not just fly by like for instance Google Wave and Google Buzz did. I think it is an important innovation.

How will it impact marketing & communications

Without knowing if Google Plus will be a success of not, I think there is one thing you can say about Google Plus and especially about the Circles feature:

customers, prospects and stakeholders
will be increasingly able
to target you out
as a brand, business or organisation.

As marketers or business communicators – now more than ever – we must:

- know what our customers, prospects and stakeholders want
- give it to them through publishing valuable, quality content
- connect with people in social media and engage in a conversation with them
- ultimately build Trust… so that people allow you in to their ‘Circles’.

I can’t wait to get my invite.

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