Can Google Plus Pass the Social Narcissistic Litmus test?
Heads Up: Being the weekend and all, I’ve taken the liberty of straying from enterprise-y stuff in this post.
There’s some excellent analysis on Google Plus out there. Even Twitter investor, Fred Wilson is rooting for a successful outcome and Chris Brogan has done a really good job summarizing every conceivable benefit. For me personally, Google Plus is a combination of Friendfeed, group messaging such as Beluga or Groupin, and Delicious. All absolutely indispensable social interaction metaphors for me. So I’m thrilled its here.
There’s also a lot of good commentary on the value of Google Plus for the Enterprise from folks whose reasoning I respect. Personally, I don’t see Google doing this in any intentional way. Google really needs to get it’s act together on the consumer social web to protect it’s advertising turf and adapt it to the social web. Employee collaboration is far more nuanced and purpose driven for Circles to be all the rage, as is. Instead, expect existing Social Software companies to clone Plus features as they have done with Quora, Facebook Like and Activity Streams, etc. That said, small businesses will adapt Google Plus ad hoc.
On to what the consumer web and marketing departments expect….
Does Circles represent win/win/win here?
Chris Carfi lists solid customer touch point value propositions for Circles including Demand and Lead Gen, Marketing, Co Creation, etc., and I see Google paying attention to these way before thinking about enterprise collaboration. And Developers are starting to think this through as well.
Three constituencies need to be satisfied to make Google Plus a success:
- A unique value proposition to participants such as you and me
- Marketers trying to reach and engage with you and me
- A scalable social advertising model for Google and its Shareholders.
There’s no question that the monetization opportunity for Google is huge. What’s simple +Circles to you and me can be the gift that keeps on giving to Google Adsense. They have us by the tender parts when it comes to monitoring our search. Now they get a shot at showing ads based on our self declared social and professional interests and unlike search, for as long as the conversation continues. Add that to the existing interest profile that Google already has on us based on our private emails, calendars, searches and maps and you get a sense of the larger picture.
But I really do wonder how Google+ will mushroom in the way it needs to, in order to attain critical mass. To do that it needs to understand the certain level of good and bad narcissism that exists on the social web. Whether we like it or not, the I/Me/Myself web plays a big role in the social web. Many abuse it by incessantly talking about themselves. But many also use it wisely by providing great information.
The most successful use case for Twitter has actually been broadcast, not social. And it seems to be working. Whilst we might complain that Oprah, with her 6 million+ followers, breaks the spirit of social networking by following back only 33 people, its also important to note that 5.99999 million people happily follow here without any expectation that she will follow back. The question is, will Oprah or Proctor and Gamble, or Joe Biden get the same level of reach if conversations get fragmented inside Circles? What came in via one giant stream exposed to everyone (Twitter or Facebook Fan pages), now gets partitioned inside folders. To a large degree the network effect of creating engagement is significantly harder. Google Plus can do a lot to address this (Make Circles sharable for instance) but theres no question that those very blabber mouths that keep the majority of eye balls on social content are going to need some level of loud speaking capability to move the conversation over to Google Plus.
The In-bound Marketing Battleground
Some brands have done an excellent job of embracing inbound marketing to build trust – the kind where meaningful content is offered to generate discussion instead of spray and pray advertising and email marketing. Analytics company Kiss Metrics’ use of Twitter is a cornerstone example of how to do in-bound marketing.
The social web has been characterized by the 90-9-1 rule thus far where 90% are lurkers who are a large and extremely important constituency that gain information from source content as well as the conversations created by the remaining 10%. While they may not speak up, marketers can hardly afford to ignore them. With conversations fragmented, on one hand you can argue that the net volume of conversations each lurker sees will get reduced. On the other hand, they may see fewer conversations but more meaningful ones that matter to them. Better for them, better for brands looking for qualified leads from social conversations, and of course, better for Google’s targeting. But the question still remains: in-bound marketing relies on a large volume base to start with before honing in on qualified conversations; can Circles offer this facility? Of course Google can, but I don’t think the design today considers this strongly enough.
Dirty Interest Graphs
The first iteration of the social web was based around Places (think Geo Cities). The recent incarnation of the social web progressed from Places to People and saw exponential scale almost instantly (Facebook and MySpace). Circles on the other hand is less about places and people – its segmentation by our interests. But is it really?
Circles are messy in practical terms My first reaction when I signed on was "Great – I can break out my wider contact base into meaningful chunks”. Then I tried and failed for the most part. The thing is we have multiple conversations with each person. Take R ‘Ray’ Wang for instance: An insightful fellow enterprise tinkerer but also one of my most trusted sources when it comes to restaurant recommendations. I can’t really segment what Ray says and so the idea that my circles represent my segmented interests is not really accurate. Google needs to use its algorithmic magic to let me separate Ray’s discussions so my stream quality is preserved. Hard to do of course but really, price of entry for any social network that wants my mindshare for yet another tsumani of use generated content. Not much of a concern for Google as it knows behavioral targeting, but as participants, we might lose patience if our circles can’t keep conversations separate.
One thing is for sure: For most users, there ‘s little to no room left for yet another general purpose social network and so Google needs to displace an existing property for many users by providing (as Hutch Carpenter describes) exponential value beyond easy and clever design which it has accomplished in my opinion.
Can Google Plus pass the good/bad narcissism litmus test? It can but I think the first iteration of design hasn’t really worked out all the kinks when it comes to balancing our niche interests (currently drowned out by fire hose social design) with a sometimes terrible but important reality of the social web – successful federation of loud mouths, good or bad. The sooner they have this sorted out, the better their chances of realizing large scale participant and marketer transition.
As I said above, the early adopter in me is sold on the promise and I’m hooked. I think Google Plus can re-cast the definition of Social Networking all together. Now Google Plus needs to really deliver.
Update: Some comments popping up on where else but Google Plus, here. Blog comment syncing is another P1 feature Google needs to take on.
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SVP, Enterprise Social and Collaborative Software, SAP