By now, you’ve of course heard about the new Google+, which was launched a couple of weeks ago. There’s been a lot of hubbub surrounding Google’s newest offering, but with limited “invites” available (right now, you can’t just go sign up and create an account – you have to be invited by someone who already has an account), it can be a little difficult to fully grasp what Google+ is, and more importantly, how it affects you.
We’re here to help by answering three main questions about Google+:
1) What is Google+?
2) How is it different from Facebook?
3) How can I use it for my business?
What is Google+? Well, in short, it’s just Google’s latest venture in creating a social networking site. Their previous effort, Google Buzz, failed pretty miserably. After backing away from Buzz, Google decided to focus its efforts in creating a new social networking tool that could seriously compete with, and eventually even surpass, Facebook.
So, what does Google+ do? It’s really a merger of several services that people already use, but according to Google, they are going to do it better. The main features of Google+, so far, are:
- Circles. This is a way you can group your friends together, using categories such as “close friends”, “work friends”, “family”, etc. Then, when you decide to share something, you can indicate which Circle(s) to share it with. That way you can avoid the potentially embarrassing situation of complaining about your boss, only to later remember that your friended your boss and he can see your update. Facebook has something somewhat similar already, called Facebook Lists, but it’s very underused and not quite as user-friendly as Google+’ Circles.
- Sparks. A spark is kind of like Google Reader, but it brings content to you automatically based on your interests. So, each topic of interest (technology, wine, cats playing the piano, etc.) would have its own “Spark” page that provides links to related articles, videos, and photos.
- Hangouts. This one is easy – basically, it’s video chat.
- Huddles. This is group messaging chat for people in your Circles. If you’ve used group chat on IM before, then you know what Huddles is. There’s also a mobile app available for Android users so you can “Huddle” via phone.
- Instant Upload. Also for Android users, when you take a photo, it will instantly upload to Google+.
Now you know the basics. It’s also important to understand that over time, Google plans to discontinue (or at least migrate) many of its current services, such as Blogger and Picasa, to be replaced by blogging features and photo uploading on Google+.
How Is It Different From Facebook? If you read the information above and thought to yourself, “How is this really all that different from Facebook?”, you’re not alone. Many people on the Internet have made similar queries, and the honest, true answer right now is, “There aren’t all that many differences.” Sure, there are some superficial, “window-dressing” things that seem cool and flashy on Google+, but what’s going to happen eventually is a social networking “arms race” wherein Facebook (the 800 lb. gorilla of social media, with over 700 million users worldwide) adopts some of the new similar features of Google (we would predict that a new, upgraded “Facebook Lists” feature would be first, to compete with Google+ “Circles”), and the two giants then spar back-and-forth over who can come up with the newest, flashiest features first.
That said, here’s a quick comparison of the two services as they stand today:
- Size. As mentioned, Facebook has over 700 million users worldwide, whereas Google+ is still in the experimental stage. This will change soon, as Google+ works out the kinks and allows more people to join, but for now, Facebook definitely has the advantage.
- Features. Features like Circles and Sparks (mentioned above) are currently missing from Facebook, but you can rest assured that Facebook will have similar, competing features very soon. For instance, Google+ Hangout video chat has already been added by Facebook in the form of Facebook’s recent integration of Skype video chat into their platform.
- Photo uploading in Google+ is more seamless and instantaneous, versus the time-intensive process on Facebook.
Again, as you look at that list above, many of those “differences” quickly start to disappear when you realize that Google is the search engine giant and will soon be able to bring the power of its search engine users over to Facebook to compete with them, size-wise. And, the features that are currently unique to Google+ won’t be unique for long.
How Can I Use It For My Business? This is the big question right now for companies all over the world.
The main thing to know about how Google+ affects your business is to understand that Google+ is tied into the most widely-used search engine in the world, so there are significant search engine optimization (SEO) implications to it. Simply put, as a business owner, you need to be aware of your company’s online reputation – what your customers are saying about you and where they are saying it.
One feature on Google+ is their “+1” button, which on the surface is pretty much the same thing as Facebook’s “Like” button. They both serve a similar function – to allow users to indicate their support or approval of a contact’s posted content (whether it’s a status update, a picture, or a video). Where things differ, though, is in the potential for the Google+ “+1” button to affect SEO results. Although the specifics haven’t been worked it, it seems very clear that down the line, the more users who “+1” a piece of content online, the more relevant that content will seem to be to Google’s search algorithms. It’s entirely possible that, by using the “+1” button, a user will end up creating a personalized set of Google results over time, which would vary from other users of Google Search. While this is great for consumers to be able to tailor their Google search results, it could create a whole host of issues for SEO management. It’s too soon to tell what exactly the implications are, but most people predict there will be some sort of connection between “+1” and SEO.
The last thing you should know as a business owner is that currently, Google+ has said that businesses should not create profiles just yet – they will be coming out with special business profiles later this year, which Google says will contain features that will important and useful to companies. So, you can “play around” with Google+ now to dip your toes in the water and explore its features, but if you’re a business, just know that, chances are, you will have to recreate your profile once the business profiles become available.
So, all wrapped up, what does this mean? Google+ looks to be the first serious competitor to Facebook in years, backed up by the full weight of Google search. While it is in its infancy and, on the surface, it seems superficially similar to Facebook, there are significant implications for businesses moving forward, so it’s a good time to start exploring it while it’s still new.
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