Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
January 17, 2012 7:19 AM

Is Google+ About To Make Facebook Frown?

It's time to pay attention to Google+.

Back in July, I Blogged about Google's foray into online social networking, Google+ (more here: Co-dependency In The Age of Facebook). At the time, the majority of the discourse surrounding Google+ was about whether or not it would be able to compete in a Facebook world. Back in July, Facebook had 750 million registered users and just last week it was announced that it is on course to hit one billion users by August of this year. While it still seems like nothing can stop the Facebook juggernaut when it comes to connecting all of us in a more social way, there's no denying that Google+ is making some interesting moves and inroads.

It's the kind of motion that should make businesses stand up and pay attention (serious attention).

There were two major events in the past little while that make Google+ an interesting opportunity for businesses. First off, their growth has been much more impressive than most people realize. On December 27th, 2011 Business Insider posted the news item, Google+ Is Adding More Than 600,000 New Users Each Day, and here's the analysis: "Google+ would have nearly 300 million users by the end of 2012 if it continues to at least grow at 625,000 new users each day. The site now has more than 62 million users, but that growth is accelerating... that could mean Google+ could have more than 400 million users by the end of 2012 if the growth keeps speeding up."

The mistake.

The mistake would be to simply stack that dataset up against Facebook (or Twitter or LinkedIn) to see how it compares in terms of growth, but that's really for the tech nerds to analyze. The bigger business question is this: with nearly 65 million people currently in there, can you really afford to completely ignore it? Well, the somewhat ironic fact is that the second major event may not give you much of a choice. Just last week, Google's search engine did some tweaking to their personalized search by introducing something it calls, "Search plus Your World" (you can watch a YouTube demo of it below). The idea behind Search plus Your World is both simple and elegant. Now, instead of doing a search and getting back results that have either been gamed by the companies that figured out how to best search engine optimize their website to get ranked higher, Google is now pulling information from users' Google accounts (like Google+, Picasa and potentially others in the future) giving users the ability to toggle between search results that are much more personal (and personalized) and searching the Web as Google has always done.

This takes Googling yourself to a whole other level, doesn't it?

Imagine doing a search for "great cafes in Montreal" and now being able to actually see recommendations from your social network and maybe even more real-time information like who is hanging out where... right at that very moment. This new social integration means a whole lot for businesses. While it may still be possible to optimize your way to the top of Google's search results, the social layer is where all credibility and interest resides for the consumer. Let's say that you are the Montreal café that earned the prestigious first position in the natural search results from Google, but everyone in that searcher's social graph is hanging out in another café (or making other recommendations), where do you think that leaves your business?

Google+ for business.

Chris Brogan (author of Social Media 101 and co-author of The New York Times' best-selling business book, Trust Agents, with Julien Smith) just released his latest book, Google+ For Business - How Google's Social Network Change Everything (Que), and while the title of the book may sound like a little too much hype too early, Brogan is spot on because Google can do one thing that both Facebook and Twitter can't do: make search results that much more personal (and most would argue, better). Pushing that idea further, comparing Google+ to Facebook and Twitter is probably a silly notion as Google debuts Search plus Your World, simply because Google has the power (and ability) to make Google+ (and everything being shared within it) the underlying social platform within all of its many applications (Android, Gmail, Google Docs, Picasa, Google Maps, Google News, YouTube, etc...). And - make no mistake about it - both Facebook and Twitter are not fans of having their information indexed on Google (especially Facebook, and word on the street is that Twitter may not renew their agreement with Google).

What does this mean for businesses?

At this point, it's important to simply inform yourself about these dramatic changes so that you're both in know and somewhat literate on the topic. It's also critical to ensure that both your Google Profile (Google+ Business Page) is both up-to-date and completed as comprehensively as possible. It's also not a bad idea to secure your own, personal, page on Google+ and spend some time getting acquainted with the functionality. All of this will make it easier for people to - at the very least - find you and your business (remember to add photos and fill out the "About" section as well - Google is always about optimization).

Want to go further?

Beyond that, it would also be wise to start sharing things in Google+ (Blog posts, interesting links, ideas, conversations, etc...). These are early days, and as things get busier within Google and the integration of Google+, the smarter businesses will experience "the early bird effect" (the one who gets the worm!). This means that those who create and engage with others will be eligible and have a higher likelihood of appearing in these ever-changing and evolving search results. Now, we're just left wondering if this means we have to add another online social network to our already confusing and busy Digital Marketing efforts. The answer (for now) is: yes. Because, if Google has its way (and it's hard to not see Google+ being integrated into anything and everything Google), it could very well change how the Web works for the majority of users.

That could be enough to give Facebook a sour puss. What do you think?

The above post is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Bhaskar Sarma
    Mitch Joel

    I am interested in seeing how Google+ is used by companies who don't have a very active presence on Facebook. Think, for example, B2B companies.

    It's a pity that Google+ is not beefing up it's brand pages. With the growth in numbers and this new development of incorporating Google+ data in search results a more feature rich brand page could provide plenty of scope for marketing and sales.

    Maybe the Big G has something cooking up in the labs...you never know.

    Reply
  • Posted by Scott McMann | The Gabor Group
    Mitch Joel

    Just finished reading an article in The Globe and Mail – a bit of a look from the Twitter and Facebook side (sort of). There's an indication that how Google has tweaked it's search results could end up in a Government investigation. Seriously? If any business could start connecting it's audience/customers in a vertical space they would do it for sure. Twitter and Facebook are mad because Google is really ahead in the numbers game – they may only have 65 million G+ users, but how many people have gmail accounts, youtube accounts and how many other people use google just to search?
    The thing is that Google search is a free-choice service – if someone does not like it - they can use another search engine. I'm pretty sure there are other search Web sites, aren't there?

    Reply
    • There are many sides to this story. Facebook could never benefit from Google because they would the user's permission to index their personal profiles. As Facebook grew, they started opening up people's profiles more and more for, specific, reason. Twitter felt that they had something that Google didn't (the real-time pulse and needs of people)... which they did. So, along comes Google+... we shall see how the story gets told.

      Reply
  • Posted by Bas
    Mitch Joel

    The reason I don't use G+, and don't plan to do so soon, is my privacy. See, with Facebook it's what you share is what they take. I share little about myself, so there's little they can use. With Google? Well, there's no end to what they can track, obviously.

    I have 3 email addresses connected to my "main" Google-account and I use GDocs and Greader on a daily basis. I don't want to mix all this info up in one G+-account. Furthermore, I don't want to share my main account with anyone, as I don't really want it compromised.

    Reply
    • The personal side is not the same as the business side. Many people had/have the same concerns with Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc... The question I am looking at in this Blog post is the business opportunity. I would that it is becoming an increasingly important platform to look at from that perspective.

      Reply
  • Posted by Ian Smith
    Mitch Joel

    It will be interesting to see if individuals will migrate from LinkedIn to Google Plus, especially when it comes to content marketing and SEO.

    Reply
    • In my earlier assessment, this was my main concern as well, but my thinking has changed. We have to stop seeing Google+ as another destination and more like the undercurrent social platform of all things Google.

      Reply
  • Posted by Paul Copcutt
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch you are so right about the profile piece - I was just recently searching for a business contact on LinkedIn and their profile showed up 3 times!

    Still whether Google+ has 62 million or 400 million users to make it valuable to business (or anyone) its more important to know who is using it and how often. Was I right in hearing a stat that Facebook has more visitors who stay longer per day than Google? How is Google+ going to change (beat) that?

    Just my toonies worth

    Reply
    • The other side of that usage question may come in the integration of Google+ across all Google products. Suddenly, any social activation of a platform happens at the G+ level. Just think about Android alone and you can see where Google can make some serious headway into those Facebook usage stats.

      Reply
  • Funny thing is, no matter what someone- somewhere will stand in opposition to any and everything. That is why I have started ignoring folks who like to hear themselves talk outloud and use my own critical thinking about what is happening around me.

    Simple thoughts are so well expressed above, you either choose to focus on the things that frustrate you about where you are and focus on driving your car into the wall...or ask yourself "What if I spent 25% pf my time in G+" then test the results.

    I am with putting time in G+ and then being able to talk about results from an experiential point of view.

    AAAHHHH people and their unwillingness to just stop focusing on hurdles instead of opportunities. Thanks for pointing out some of the obvious in a way they can digest it.

    Reply
    • We often think that it's the new stuff that will never fly... and a lot of it doesn't. But - as you said - if you don't test it, you'll never know. Whatever happened to platforms like Second Life or MySpace comes in second against those who used it and benefitted from it... and there were many who did. That being said, G+ look different.

      Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Totally agree with you Mitch. I think the other advantage to Google+ right now is that it is less crowded. It is a great way for businesses to engage because there's less noise.

    Reply
  • Posted by Philip Powell
    Mitch Joel

    It is an interesting lesson in the strength of strategic innovation (meaning G+) that is.
    One of the perils in living in a real time vacum is our obsession in the here and now, G+ may well become another lesson in understanding that long term planning, patience and a powerful strategy will always win out over the hyperbole of the moment. G+ and Facebook are two different animals, the former owns the water reservoirs the latter the drinking fountain and they seem to base their strategies on those pillars. Your article helps bring to life some of the tactical realities of the often confusing and changing dynamics of G+. Time well spent.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch! First time at your blog for me, thank you for a great post! I think you hammered a lot of important stuff here. See you around! Let's circle up on G+! :)

    Reply
  • Your article is right on, Mitch. I've already started experimenting with Google+. I'm using the "+1" button instead of the Facebook Like.

    I'm focusing on photos, since I haven't shared them before. G+ and Android makes that easy. Also, I use several free stock photos each week, which means sifting through many more. I've started sharing the "rejects" with G+.

    I'm less interested in using the most popular platform and picking the one that works best for my purposes. Connecting G+ with search is an excellent idea for businesses that want to get found. The time to experiment is now.

    Reply
  • Mitch,

    Another great article. Definitely thought provoking. I've been considering getting signed up on Google+ for a while now, but have been reluctant to do so.

    It's hard enough to manage Facebook and Twitter, and adding another social media platform into the mix will only make things more sparse and time consuming. I definitely see the value of being on Google+, but if my profile never gets updated, I fear it will almost do more harm than good.

    Would you recommend using FB or G+ as the 'main' social media account going forward?

    Reply
    • I'm in the same boat as you in terms of figuring out where my time is best spent and the jury is still out for me.

      As for which one is best, there is no generic answer. The best one will be the one that best aligns with your business strategy, what you're trying to do and who you are trying to connect with.

      Reply
  • Posted by Karl Sylvester
    Mitch Joel

    Thanks for doing the hard research. I was one of the first to receive an invite to Google+, but it's been months since I returned. I'm curious of level of engagement (time spent on platform, conversations facilitated) on Google+ vs. Facebook. I also know swarms of people who have joined Google+, but after a few weeks, completely stopped using the platform.

    Reply
  • Posted by Ken Evoy
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch,

    Hope things are warm up in Montreal. ;-)

    You make some interesting points. But the way Google is currently pushing Google Plus, violating its own Holy Grail of the Google Guidelines of quality search results, pushing thin content Google Plus pages ahead of superior content (giving itself a free Panda pass)... that runs contrary to everything that Google has stood for.

    Beyond the loss of morality (which some will say is Google's right, as it the loss of anyone's morality, I suppose), it leverages its monopoly in search to competitively disadvantage not just Facebook and Twitter, but all other content. That's anti-trust stuff.

    And THAT is the beginning of not the death of a thousand cuts, but certainly pain, suffering and distraction. Google is entering the evil giant world of Microsoft and has only its greed to blame. It no longer wants to organize the world's information, it wants to own it.

    But I digress...

    If Google Plus content was so great, Google Search should just let it find its own level. It should not be the default. When turned off, it should stay off. You should not have to turn off personalized search entirely to turn off SPYW.

    In the old days, some people used to wonder if Google would "disadvantage" webpages with Yahoo Ads (and vice-versa). There was always a strict separation of the church of high-value content and the state of money.

    That separation has left the building. So has Google's moral compass. Now Google clearly pushed down Facebook pages that are superior to the corresponding Google Plus page.

    It will take anti-trust regulators to rein Google in and force it to play fair.

    We've posted about this at...

    http://www.facebook.com/SiteSell/posts/314460885266054

    All the best,
    Ken Evoy
    Founder, SiteSell.com (and former Montrealer)

    Reply
    • Some lucid additions to the discourse... thanks, Ken.

      I'm curious to see how the masses take to these points. Is Google really a monopoly? I'm not sure. We have freewill (we can choose Yahoo or Bing), but the public chooses Google. If Twitter doesn't like Google's results, why shouldn't Google make an attempt to also capture consumer sentiment in real-time?

      For my dime, so long as they're delivering great results, I'm good. I'd also prefer them testing out these new types of search and letting the public decide (by where they click) if there is value. Something tells me that if G+ results don't deliver (in terms of more advertising opps), the powers that be at Google will drop it like a hot potato.

      Reply
      • Posted by Ken Evoy
        Mitch Joel

        That's the common perception, Mitch. And on the surface, your comments sound reasonable enough. There is nothing wrong or illegal with building a product that is so good that it grows into monopoly. It's the essence of success. But...

        Anti-trust exists to prevent monopolies from abusing that dominance and leveraging that dominance to force other products upon consumers (ex., forcing sellers of Win machines to bundle IE into the Win OS).

        Minds that are smarter than yours or mine in the fields of monopolies and anti-trust have already decided this IS an issue, Mitch. And regulators announced yesterday that they are widening anti-trust investigations about Google's preferential treatment of its own products to Google Plus. Up until now, I've not really bought into their case. It has certainly been debatable.

        Naturally, if you bastardize your product sufficiently, you run the chance of losing customers to the competition. Aside from Bing (Yahoo is Bing now, Mitch), there's not much else (yes, there's blekko and a few others, but nothing earthshaking on the horizon).

        And yes, to your point, "why shouldn't Google make an attempt to also capture consumer sentiment in real-time?"...

        This time, Google has clearly crossed the line, rating inferior results from G+ HIGHER THAN THEY DESERVE. A personal example...

        I deleted my unused Ken Evoy Google Plus account when I saw that it ranked #5 for a search for "Ken Evoy" when there was far better content below it, including my personal Facebook page.

        Now, my FB page is far from brilliant. ;-) I only use the FB page to keep my hand in, check out FB's latest developments on the personal side, etc, and make the occasional post and reply. My main FB focus is on SiteSell Facebook, our corporate page, not personal branding, which is a business/time decision. Still, the FB page was a far better search result than my empty G+ page.

        And that gets to the "moral" part of the discussion, the "why shouldn't" question that you raise, the part that outrages many pros in the search and Net marketing industry the most...

        Google has, since its inception, been about "keeping it real" and "adding value." Their current treatment of Google Plus betrays those values, betrays the millions of websites and blogs and other content providers who work hard to deliver high-value material, and betrays its searchers (most of whom don't even realize what SPYW is).

        The days of "don't be evil" are gone. I suppose they "officially" disappeared when Google ran its "back to Google" heist some years back. It placed "back to Google" links on every Google AdSense ad. There was no way to opt out and there was no payment for that link.

        They knew it was wrong, but they just couldn't help themselves. It was so obviously harmful to every online marketer/small e-biz that ran Google ads that the uproar was immediate and deafening.

        No social activism was needed, it just happened.

        Google, the master of PR, had a contingency plan and pulled that program within hours, with a vague apology and promise to revisit the issue sometime in the future. No company of that size can do such a substantial release so quickly, not without being prepared to do so ahead of time.

        Keep that mindset in mind if/when Google "owns" both Social and Search. It has not gone away. It has merely become more subtle and sophisticated.

        All the best,
        Ken

        P.S. I do agree that Google will ultimately have to "drop it like a hot potato" if this final desperate attempt to push G+ fails. I can't see the right column being dedicated to G+ forever. It must be costing quite a bit in ad revenue to dedicate that space to G+. And I can see them morphing their search results back to where G+ does increasingly have to compete with the "regular" algorithm.

        So yes... this is a calculated window during which they are willing to NOT deliver the same great results that they were before 7 days ago, betraying what they have stood for and risking anti-trust.

        In the long run, it's as dangerous as SOPA, given the mindset that we know exists at Google. Believe me, we don't want Google to own "social and search." Together with all its other information, it's not an healthy ecosystem for the Internet.

        Google needs to be stopped on this issue. If G+ is that good, let it grow through fair market practice. Because...

        "Don't be evil" left Google's building, the vaunted Googleplex, a long time ago.

        Reply
        • I think this is one of those moments in time where we will have to agree to disagree. I don't see Google as evil. I see a business that creates products that people not only use but enjoy. If it's being forced on people with a sub-standard product, that's another story. But, Google does not have a history of not keeping inferior products alive. Until I feel like they are delivering sub-standard products and services, I'm going to stick to my guns... and it's perfectly fine for you to do the same.

          Reply
  • I think Google+ has been growing incredibly, which is obviously positive for the platform and may mean a threat for Facebook. But I feel there are two very delicate sides to this:

    1) people are effectively going through social media fatigue and do NOT want, at any cost, to use another social network (I'm talking about the average Joe, to which keyword optimization is gibberish);
    2) people are growing tired of Facebook's constant changes and shaky privacy policy, and want something different (say, Google+).

    So, it's hard to make a prediction, as always. The way I see it, Search Plus Your World can mean a huge breakthrough for social search, but I wonder if they will present results other than those connected to my direct social network, because if that's the case I feel they'll end up limiting the search potential to the interests of friends who sometimes are not just that interesting or informative. What do you think about this, Mitch?

    On a side note, regarding this, I recently wrote a blog post where I argue on the pros and cons of Google+ and social search, so feel free to take a peek and drop a comment: http://restreitinho.com/2012/01/23/a-lovehate-relationship-with-google-plus/

    Reply
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