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WSJ Take on Google Plus Epitomizes Market Myopia and Opportunity

WSJ Take on Google Plus Epitomizes Market Myopia and Opportunity reveals how conventional wisdom misunderstands Google+ and how to take advantage of the situation.

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Most people have the whole “web 2.0 thing” sorted out by now. They have accounts in LinkedIn for business, Facebook for personal and Twitter for I-don’t-really-know-but-I’m-on-it. They also know that Google “doesn’t get social” as the search behemoth has littered carcasses of failed ventures around the web.

Alas, as I have argued here and in conference presentations since Google+ launched, this misunderstanding is completely understandable—and wrong. Most interesting here, it elevates opportunities and threats for market participants.

The Wall Street Journal’s The Mounting Minuses at Google+ post epitomizes conventional wisdom about Google+. Here are three reasons I recommend doubting the view that Google+ is a lackluster social network that’s late to the party without a valid value proposition. I have argued that Google+ may prove to be a mammal to pureplay social networks’ reptiles. It’s a fundamentally different animal:

  • The business model: Google doesn’t have to make money from Google+ the same way as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace had to “monetize the eyeballs”
  • Social and search can be the killer combination if done right
  • Very few people understand Google’s breadth of engagement and accessibility to social actions

Business Model

At a very simplistic level, Facebook monetizes via display adverts and gaming. Over the last couple of years, its revenue has risen impressively, although it is relatively little compared to the amount of time people spend on the site. LinkedIn has diverse revenue streams and has been profitable for several years. Twitter is struggling to monetize. However, Google is in a class of its own:

WSJ Take on Google Plus Epitomizes Market Myopia and Opportunity: business model
Google+ is a “social substrate” into which myriad Google “products” plug, and its mission is to encourage users to create social data that Google can co-mingle with the kind of data that only Google has. Put another way, Facebook will have relentless pressure to monetize as a public company, and its Timeline initiative shows that it will push further into adverts. It already has a stormy relationship with a vocal minority of its users. LinkedIn will earn handsome returns for its shareholders, but it will remain a niche play relative to Google. Twitter is the weakest of the lot and has an uncertain future.

However, if Google+ succeeds in creating enough social data to increase the relevance and value of other Google products, especially as relates to search, it will have earned Google an order of magnitude more than any pureplay.

Social and Search

Many search pundits are engaged in a hue and cry against SPYW (Search Plus Your World, Google’s “product” name for mixing social and legacy search results), accusing Google of “polluting” “pure” search results with “social” results. Obviously major changes in Google’s algorithms can be severely disruptive to their businesses, but that comes with the territory. The arguments I’ve seen have been weak. Google has grown to dominance on a simple value proposition: returning more relevant and useful search results than anyone else. Some kinds of searches will be less valuable if they include social data; others will be significantly more valuable. Let the customer choose whether to include social results or not (Google already does this).

Google+ has the potential to do what no other social network can: influence search results. I don’t believe that Google is ever going to manage Google+ as a self-standing profit center. The market and government will pressure Google to tread cautiously, but they will use social data to improve search results to the extent that it’s practical. I recommend that ecommerce companies or anyone invested in SEO or SEM to look into Google+ aggressively by conducting feasibility studies and launching pilots.

Pureplay social networks have proven disappointing levers to ecommerce-style sales; while engagement is through the roof, “converting” engagement in the Web 1.0 sense (ecommerce) has fallen far below expectations (it’s a flawed concept, but that’s another post); however, Google searches are far more likely to include people who want to buy; they aren’t on Google to socialize or network; they are often work-focused (they’re looking for things), so the context is more amenable to sales.

Social Actions

Considering that virtually all digital transactions can be seen as social actions when social relationships can be determined, Google has a tremendous breadth of social actions from which to choose. Very few YouTube users ever bothered to build YouTube networks or friend lists, but now they don’t have to. Google Docs users don’t currently socialize much. Google Maps aren’t very social. Gmail has intense social potential, but Google’s former attempts to play with that all backfired. Even if Google+ succeeds in motivating people to link with a few friends, that will help Google tremendously. Imagine these scenarios:

  • You hit YouTube, and videos of your friends and their favorite videos are automatically displayed in the main pane
  • You’re using Google Docs to create a spreadsheet for some light regression analysis for a segmentation study, and Google suggests some public spreadsheets from your B-school cohorts
  • You’re looking for a Chinese place in SoHo on Google Maps, and reviews or Stream Posts (Google+ “Wall posts”) by your friends pop up on the map
  • Ditto for photo albums in Picasa … …
  • The big payoff for Google is that, even if average users spend far less time on Google+ than on Facebook, which I expect in the immediate future, Google can learn from the social relationships and vastly improve the value of search and other “products”
  • Of course, none of this is to mention the exploding Android/geosocial/mobile learning to which Google will have access

Ease of Use

Most of CSRA’s client work with platforms has involved WordPress, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and various Forums, and I personally have extensive experience with these and others. CSRA has invested significantly in Google+, but our investments are based on stakeholder and workstream analysis. We don’t invest in search or SEO beyond writing the best content we can. Here are some of Google+ design advantages that we appreciate:

  • The simplicity of Circles is value-defining. In social business, the conversation is the content. Interaction trumps everything. It is easier on Google+ to create a Circle and communicate with that Circle than it is in any other platform
  • The people interacting on Google+ are high-octane thought leaders
  • If you are used to Facebook, many of Google+’s design metaphors will be familiar to you
  • It’s a new network, so easy to distinguish yourself, which counts if your stakeholders are on Google+
  • If you have a B2B, you should be interacting and leveraging unique and highly differentiating keyword families; it is too early to call whether CSRA’s interactions on Google+ are affecting Google legacy search, but the chance is significant that it will

Recommendations

  • Make Google+ pilots a priority if your firm invests in Internet search/SEO/SEM: There will clearly be disruptive advantages because social data can improve relevance (and search results) for certain use cases
  • Explore Google+ pilots if your firm does not invest in search: Analyze Google+ activity and memberships, and determine how its segmentation and sharing tools compare to your other social business investments
  • Google+ will disrupt the market, so most organizations will benefit from gaining experience with it: Few firms understand it because they think it’s a social network
  • Use their confusion to your advantage
  • Remember, Google+ is social: It will take time to develop a quality community (in circles)
  • Community sharing affects search results and buying decisions
  • One of Google+’s huge advantages is that your competitors don’t get it; seize the day!

 

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