The launch of Google’s new social network (Google+) has poignant significance for CMOs—in predictable and surprising ways. The launch is significant because Google+ is an exciting new social venue with the potential to disrupt.
But even more importantly, it can teach us how the ecosystem works and how organizations can learn to use it to garner support for things they care about.
Here I’ll outline my first impressions and give general guidance for CMOs to take advantage of Google+’s potential.
Google+: A Star Is Born
I am not predicting the rate or scale of Google+ adoption as many have, but I encourage you to operate as if it will soon rival existing players Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others. This prospect is far more useful; moreover, it is inevitable that existing players will have to make way for new entrants as Web 3.0 evolves. Just as our galaxy and universe evolve through the birth of new stars and the death of others, the Web-as-ecosystem gets reconfigured when supernovas explode on the scene.
All the current leaders were unknowns when they first appeared. Time will tell whether Google+ is a supernova as many claim, but you can use abrupt changes to the ecosystem to your advantage when you know how to act and where to look.
The other key principle here is that ecosystems are, well, systems that are composed of bodies (here, social venues) that inter-operate.
The venues that survive and prevail succeed in creating USPs for defined stakeholders and engaging them to try their venues until they get critical mass.
To profit from the ecosystem, CMOs need to create and leverage a strategy that understands and focuses on the unique attributes of each venue in which they invest and how their interactions in various venues work together to add value across the ecosystem.
This is how leaders of brand and enterprise initiatives create the most value by connecting with and serving people.
So, CMOs should be asking, “What can we do on Google+ that we can’t do (or, as easily) elsewhere?” As platforms compete, you need to ask and answer this question continuously, so you can evolve your investments.
Platforms Don’t Matter
It is easy to get wrapped up in the latest tech development, but I have learned repeatedly that platforms matter far less than people.
Platforms are merely spaces in which we can create, develop, and maintain relationships with people.
This fact has a deeply practical application that can help you manage the risk of investing in the wrong space that subsequently flames out (i.e. MySpace) or missing an important new entrant like Google+. Having built several digital ecosystems for my business and clients during the past fifteen years, I have taken my networks en masse from one venue to another, and it is actually quite simple to migrate people when you give them a studied, valid, and relevant value proposition.
Think of platforms as bars or restaurants:
There’s always another one, but your friends (connections, contacts) are your friends; most of them will follow you to new spaces if they see a reason. The market has platforms vying for our attention by calibrating the wonder of digital tools to let us do more of what we want. We will constantly have new choices. We need to be ready to reconfigure—and to avoid certain new entrants.
Google+: Key Features
In case you haven’t been swept up in the Google+ launch so far as an individual, I’ll describe a few of its key features which are significant.
- Circles are brilliant. When you invite people on Google+, you put them into one or more of your circles. The circle metaphor is far more easy to use than Facebook’s Friend Lists, a feature for which I’ve lauded them for years. LinkedIn is very limited because you are connected or not; there aren’t easily distinguishable ways to connect with people for different reasons. Ditto for Twitter: you can follow someone or not; true, you can put them on a list, but that’s only two speeds. We need more. What’s easier than graphically putting someone into a circle that you have named and defined?
- Circles have their own Walls. Facebook’s Friend List failed one huge test: there was only one Wall. Yes, certain lists could see your Wall and others couldn’t, but why have only one? Therefore, you can post an update in Google+ that goes to the web (“Public” like Twitter), “Extended Circles” (friends of friends), “Your Circles” (all of them), or one or more circles individually. You select these with simple clicks.
- Walls analogous to Facebook. Thumbs up, in-post commenting, and threading.
- Example 1. Let’s say you define circles for your triathlon buddies, work colleagues, grad school classmates, French friends, and family. Maybe you did an awesome workout that you want to share with your tri buds but no one else, so, one click. You just got drafted to go give a conference presentation in Paris, so you share with all circles. Two clicks. Hit the buttons.
- Example 2. You have a brand that’s engaging people around grilling in all seasons. You could create circles with specific use cases, like football tailgates, family picnics, bachelor/ ette parties and formal entertaining. It would be super easy to share things with one or more circles. Click, click.
- Net net. Circles and Google+’s ease of use have the potential to be breakthrough. Circles is a tipping point feature because it more closely resembles how we act socially in the real world. Moreover, I don’t think it will be easy for existing players to bolt on a multiple Wall feature, so Google+ will have the lead in this area for a while.
- Twitter comparison. This is beyond the scope here, but you can think broadly about Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ as giving you similar ways to share and interact “very naturally” in a (tweet)stream or Wall interface. Twitter has a huge stable of tools that makes it very compelling, but Google+ will have developers mobilizing very fast to provide analogous tools.
- Facebook comparison. Unknown so far is how Google+ will develop as a social space. Facebook has a very defined social aspect to it, which will prove durable as will Twitter. I encourage you to remember that we live in an “and world” not an “or world.” Digital has not eliminated paper, we use both. So I don’t predict the death of any platform right away. More likely is people will migrate, and you need to know your stakeholders.
Your team needs to discover how Google+’s unique attributes might add value to your stakeholders.
Google+: Next Steps
- “Experts” and pundits are glibly talking about how Google+ will destroy Facebook, Twitter, and whatever, but these arguments have minimal value in themselves. I urge you to consider the most studied analyses for general trends, but your team needs to discover how Google+’s unique attributes might add value to your stakeholders. You can bring serious value to your stakeholders by discovering this and introducing it to them.
- I urge you to join Google+ as an individual and/or have a few people on your team to vet it as soon as possible. You undoubtedly have colleagues who are on it, but you should ask them to evaluate it and compare it to other platforms you are using in a serious, structured way.
- Right now, Google+’s most compelling feature is the elegance of Circles, so think about initiatives where that would be useful and start a pilot.
- Facebook has tried to proclaim the “end of search” because people would ask their social graph instead of searching. These comments have always been overblown. People will do both.
- I speculate that Google will incorporate our search histories and integrate them into our social interactions in useful ways. Example: you are talking about Nike’s popularity in Shanghai with one of your Circles. What if Google gave you a setting that would let you share your Nike/Shanghai Google search results with that circle? I already do that with Delicious and Twitterfeed, but it requires several steps and most people don’t have the patience to configure that little ecosystem ;^).
- Similarly, it’s obvious that Google wants us to improve search metadata by giving thumbs up. This functionality will probably arrive next year at the earliest. That would be the killer app and how Google+ could be a supernova.
What is your take on Google+ so far?
- Techcrunch on Google+ launch
- Jim Worth: Seven Days with Google Plus
- In-depth review of Google+ features
- Even more… ;^)
- My Google+ Profile (shortcode http://gplus.to/csrollyson)