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Early Reactions to Google+ - 7/25/2011 -

A great new potential tool for associations—or just another darn thing to check?

By John Mancini

Like many of you, I have waited for a long time for Google to enter the social realm. Well, they’re in it now, and it’s called Google+.

In typical Google fashion, Google+ was introduced as an extended beta; this means participation is by invitation only. Open access will supposedly begin the end of July.

So the first question to be answered before moving on to thinking about the implications for association publishers is: What the hell is Google+ and why should I care?

Here are a few articles to get the basics…

Google Plus and the Social Media Moonshot

How Google+ Stacks Up Against Facebook

Google+: First Impressions

Google+ a clean, intuitive mobile experience so far

So with that as background, here are my initial impressions about Google+, particularly in the context of associations. In thinking about this, I asked 60 early Google+ users for their impressions, and these comments are reflected in the data that follows.

1. Google+ appears to be winning the PR battle with Facebook.

Based on a very superficial level of usage so far, I am stunned at how receptive my little set of early adopters is to throwing Facebook under the train. Here was the question I asked, Based on what you know right now or have heard, how do you think Google+ compares with Facebook relative to the following...(percent indicating Google+ better among active Google+ users):

· 85 percent—Privacy

· 89 percent—Security

· 93 percent—Portability of your data

· 93 percent—Flexibility of different messages to different audiences

· 87 percent—Suitability for business networking

Perhaps even more impressive—even though the sample is small—those who are not currently using Google+ responded in roughly the same percentages. Given the intensity of the anti-Facebook feeling among some, it comes as no real surprise that Google+ is being given the benefit of the doubt. But by this big a margin?

I got this comment from an association colleague: "It reminds me of when Facebook was getting its start. MySpace was getting more and more complex as users were adding too much content to their pages. Facebook came along, and it was easier to use because of the crisp and clean pages that had a standardized layout.

"Then, Farmville happened and all of the other apps. The news feed becomes an app circus as I see how my friends have leveled up to 'master farmer.' The reason I got away from MySpace was because of all this ridiculous content, and now it's happening to Facebook. Then Google+ comes along and it's back to crisp and clean content pages. I think it will become a serious contender to Facebook.”

There clearly is an opportunity for Google out there.

2. However, Google+ has a major switching cost problem.

If Google+ had been introduced 2 years ago, it seems like a no-brainer to say that it would have been incredibly successful.

But it’s not 2 years ago.

I remember the great enthusiasm that greeted users of Google Wave a few years ago. It was rolled out in a similar way—with a beta to the "in” crowd. The functionality—while a bit dodgy —was really impressive. However, the user interface required a great deal of patience (to say the least). And more importantly, when you tried to collaborate on anything, there wasn’t anyone to collaborate with. Because only the "insiders” had received the invitation to the beta.

Facebook has a gazillion users (technical term). I’ve been asking my kids and their friends over the last few days whether they have heard of Google+. Guess what? Not a peep of recognition. Without the kids this will never take off, no matter how much more compelling the Circles concept is to old people like me who don’t like that Facebook exposes my nephew’s bodily noise jokes to my business colleagues.

It is going to take more than insiders to get to the sufficient critical mass that will actually get people to switch. As one of my mini-survey respondents said, "It will take G+ more than a pretty UI to lure whole communities (especially non-IT) away from Facebook. What would be the compelling reason to move, if Facebook has been good enough to achieve the success it has now?”

3. The rich get richer.

A great site—Google+ Statistics—has emerged to keep us in the loop in terms of the sheer numbers of what is going on out there. There are two pieces of depressing news for me in this.

First, the list of the "most influential” is the same list you always see on every single new social tool that comes down the pike. I love these guys, but it would be nice if things weren’t somehow so hard-wired to wind up with the usual list of "influencers.” There is a bit of interesting variation in the trio at the top of the list, which are Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin. I want to be present when they get together to celebrate their 1-2-3 ranking.

The second bummer? 86.3 percent of Google+ users are male. As if we aren’t all nerdy enough.

4. Initial reaction positive, but not overwhelming.

Here’s what my sample of early adopters said about the potential for Google+ relative to communicating/networking with external audiences such as members, constituents, customers:

· 25 percent—Terrific

· 47 percent—Good

· 18 percent—OK

· 10 percent—Terrible

Not bad, but there seems to be an attitude (with good cause) of wait-and-see relative to using Google+ for serious networking.

5. The name of the game initially seems to be peaceful co-existence with existing tools.

Which brings me to my last point: Who will Google+ potentially hurt the most?

The answer seems to be that Facebook (surprise) is the biggest target. But the most depressing thing is the feeling that Google+ will be a complement to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn rather than a replacement.

Here is my question.

Imagine that one year has passed. What would be your guess as to how significant Google+ will be relative to how you communicate/network with members, constituents, or customers? (e.g., "outside" audiences)

· Google+ will replace Facebook (24 percent)…will replace LinkedIn (7 percent)…will replace Twitter (14 percenet)

· Google+ will play a complementary role to Facebook (53 percent)…to LinkedIn (53 percent)…to Twitter (47 percent)

· Google+ won’t have a role relative to Facebook (14 percent)…relative to LinkedIn (34 percent)…relative to Twitter (33 percent).

This comment perhaps captures things best: "LinkedIn and Facebook already divide the space pretty clearly: LinkedIn for business, Facebook for personal relationships. It's going to be hard for G+, as a ‘me too’ offering, to insert itself into this landscape. Google has faltered with Google Wave and Google Health, and this could easily be the third misstep in a row. We're in the fad/hype phase. It may fade and people will go back to LinkedIn and Facebook, in which they have invested so much time building their connections.”

So there you have it. My advice to associations? Get an invite to Google+. Play with it. See how the next stage of open access works out beyond the public beta. Keep an open mind, but don’t jump on the bandwagon quite yet.

John Mancini is president of AIIM, the leading industry association focusing on improving the effectiveness of information management and social business systems. He blogs under the title Digital Landfill and can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn as jmancini77 and on Google+ as +John Mancini (he thinks).


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