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Is Google+ a Game Changer?

August 03, 2011
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Much of the talk in the social media world over the past few weeks has been on Google+. Will it compete effectively with Facebook? Will it become victim to "social media fatigue?"

So what exactly is Google+? 

Google+ (pronounced and sometimes written as “Google Plus,” and sometimes abbreviated as “G+”) is a social networking service launched on June 28. The initial launch was an invite-only "field testing" phase. The following day, existing users were allowed to invite friends, who are above 18 years of age, to the service to create their own accounts.

Google+ integrates social services such as Google Profiles and Google Buzz, and introduces new services Circles, Hangouts, Sparks and Huddles. Traditional media outlets like the New York Times have declared it Google's biggest attempt to rival the social network Facebook, which had over 750 million users in 2011.

On July 14, Google announced that Google+ had reached 10 million users just two weeks after it was launched in a "limited" trial. As you can understand, the whole thing then propagated quickly, and before you knew it Google+ had 20 million users.

As far as social media fatigue is concerned, I’m sure many people are saying, “I simply don’t have the time to learn another social media network.” 

Chris Brogan makes an excellent point about this. “If you were fortunate enough to be a CMO back in 2007, and you said that about the transition from MySpace to Facebook, then you know what happened to people who didn’t surf the new wave instead of riding the one that petered out.”

Brogan has logged over 250 hours (and counting) inside Google+ and has this to say: “If people are asking for what the next big thing is for online marketing, mobile marketing, digital communications and social media, this is certainly my pick for 2011.”

Brogan, who we brought in to Nashville a couple of years ago for an excellent seminar, lists 10 reasons in a recent Forbes article on why Google+ has the potential to be a big deal. I encourage you to read the entire article, but here are a few important points from Chris:

• A social network made by Google impacts search. Google isn’t saying it like that, because they wouldn’t want to cause a panicking stampede, but think about this: Google has all the data from Google+. They can’t get any data from Facebook. Google controls search. Where would you cast your vote for search-improvement activities?

• Don’t think “social network.” Think “communications backbone.” Tools like Circles and Hangouts allow for private collaboration (privacy is much easier to understand here, but it does require some learning), and permits a “one stop” kind of area for talking internally and externally without causing problems. And it works with e-mail, not in lieu of e-mail.

• First movers win. Okay, this depends on you and your marketing strategy. Are you a “second to market” kind of marketer? This might not be as useful. But Google+ is one way to get out there ahead of the competition. At the time of this writing, Ford has a huge presence on Google+. GM and Chrysler (not to mention the other companies)? Not so much.

Personally, I feel confident that Google+ will become a valuable resource for certain groups, such as marketers, entrepreneurs, geeks, etc. The big question is, will it have enough differentiation and usefulness to make typical consumers switch from Facebook? More than 700 million people have gotten used to Facebook. They like it. Getting them to change behavior will be a tall task, but if any company is up to the task, it is Google! To anyone who says that Facebook is untouchable, I just have one word – “MySpace.”

At the same time, does Google+ even have to supplant Facebook? Can its collaborative tools and business nature take it well outside the current definition of “social media” and make it a way for far-flung families, friends, groups, affiliates and businesses to share ideas, information and materials?

As far as tire dealers are concerned, can Google+ be a unique, even more personalized way to connect with customers or groups of customers?

I guess we will all find out together.

Christine Taylor is vice president of social media marketing for JTMarCom, a Nashville-based marketing agency that helps companies with online reputation management and integration of social media into their traditional marketing programs. With a combined 35 years of experience in the tire industry, the agency places a special emphasis on working with tire and automotive aftermarket companies. Follow Christine on Facebook and Twitter (@chrisgtaylor). She can also be reached at 615-714-5469.