I've come to realise that when looking at G+, as with all social media networks, I do so with two heads; one which is me (Tom), and one which is me with my 'digital marketing professional' hat on (let’s call him Tom+) 1. Back in 2009 Mark Zuckerberg said "you have one identity… the days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end" 2. I don't know about you, but this isn't quite true for me yet, and the implications of this distinction are, in my opinion, central to the success or failure of Google+ and, ultimately, all social networks.
To give you some background; I have a G+ account, a Facebook account, and a Twitter account. I update them sporadically and tend to use them (certainly Facebook) as a CRM system for my friends. None of the social networks have a massive impact on my personal life and so far none of them have managed to become the one network tool which is central to my daily life; as 'Tom' I have no clear preference between the networks.
Tom+ has a differing view however and is heavily in favour of G+ over any of the other social networks, particularly in the context of search. One of the key issues is that monetisation of these social networks can lead to weak, underdeveloped and inefficient advertising platforms if not done right. Facebook theoretically offers fantastically relevant access to groups of users with similar circumstances or interests (think dating sites for single men, driving schools for those approaching 17, or… Bridezilla). Compared to traditional above the line advertising this is all really good stuff, but we have all been spoiled by the individual user intent, auditable feedback and the capacity to test, learn and refine in real time offered by search marketing. When compared to AdWords, Facebook's current advertising offering is hard to justify for the commercial returns it can offer to most businesses because Google is all about context and relevance, and crucially offers a captive audience that is actively searching for answers. The 70 character ad is pretty un-compelling on its own but in the context of the search query you spawn a multi-billion pound business which has recently surpassed the US print industry.
G+ has approached the social space differently from many of Google's previous failures (I'm thinking of Buzz and Wave) and has heavily capitalised on the increased breadth of Google's online suite of products and the strong integration between them - including the recent addition of YouTube - to offer a social 'layer' to your Googling. G+ offers 'search + influence', where the views and opinions of those that I trust can influence my results. Google have been seasoning search results for a while now (shaping search results for those logged in to Google), but this allows those I trust and value to do this for me. Tom+ sees the commercial potential in this and thanks to Social Extensions in AdWords we're already seeing the benefits. The contribution to the CTR from a search ad with a social extension can be strong; 5% to 10% uplift is not unusual, with this rising to 15% to 20% if personal contacts are featured.
As like-minded people tend to associate, these social elements of search act as recommendations from your friends or peers, and from the public in general. As a business, encouraging people to engage with your content, be it your website, ads, or Google+ page through a +1, helps you to stand out and be discovered by new, relevant potential customers. In this respect, Google have pieced together a very powerful recommendation engine, which improves the relevance of search results for everyone.
Given that social extensions already offer measurable opportunities to maximise relevance within search, display and YouTube there is a strong commercial application to understanding, engaging and utilising G+.
Key Google+ stats for 2012
- 500 million users have upgraded to Google+
- 235 million users are active across Google+
- 135 million users are active in the Stream
1 Sadly, despite my best efforts, this hat remains figurative rather than literal. Apparently it's not in the budget.
2 David Kirkpatrick's The Facebook Effect. If you haven't read it yet, read the prologue for free here, then realise that you really should read the rest of it.