Google+ is still a new social channel, and consequently, there is a relative dearth of guidance on how to successfully navigate and stand out on the network. Mistakes will happen, and in fact, may even be probable.
I should know.
You see, my employer’s Google+ Page — the one I created and continue to manage — was recently suspended, forcing me to dig deeper into Google+ and learn some of its nuances. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I’ve learned a lot from the experience, and have decided to share some of the lessons learned here in hopes that others will benefit from the process.
Here then, are some trial-by-fire lessons that I hope prove useful:
1. Leverage both Google+ Direct Connect, and the Google+ Page Verification Process.
Google+ Direct Connect accomplishes a couple of important things. First, it connects Google+ Pages to brand websites via a snippet of code. This code produces a badge to embed on an official website to add a measure of authenticity for a Page. Second, Direct Connect creates a shorthand search operator (“+brandname” — such as “+Angry Birds” or “+Dell“) to enable quick searches of official brand pages — both within Google+ search and via Google’s main search engine. The + shorthand operator even provides a mechanism for re-claiming a brand name that has been high-jacked by clever SEO techniques, as this article points out using Rick Santorum’s Google problem as an example. In combination with Google’s verification process for Google+ Pages, these steps signal to Google that a G+ Page is an official brand account.
Key takeaway: Take the time to send the proper signals to Google that your page is legitimate. This will save you time, effort and possible embarrassment later on.
2. Don’t Fret about Brand Impersonations. These Fears are Overblown.
Almost immediately after Google+ launched Pages for brands, fake profiles — such as this Bank of America spoof– sprung up. This sparked fears among large organizations that Google+ would become a problematic platform that would, (a) require significant monitoring, and (b) place a heavy burden on community managers.
In response, Google pledged that it would monitor Google+, spot fake brand Pages, and suspend them until steps were completed to verify the authenticity of suspect Pages. This approach is what affected my employer’s page.
As a member of the Google+ team explained to me by email, “We do some impersonation sweeps regularly… The best thing you can do to make sure it’s all correct in the future is connect your page to your site,” so that Google “can see a bi-directional link between the two… [which] ensures that you also have control over that website. That tells us it’s the authoritative page for that site.”
Key takeaway: Don’t let fears of “brandjacking” cause you to jump into Google+ before you’re ready. It’s a great idea to get started with Google+ while nearly everyone is a novice and the repercussions of mistakes are minimal. But understand that you have ample time to outline a clear plan for Google+. Nobody is going to steal your brand name.
3. The Google+ Community is Awesome. Leverage Them, and Give Back.
Shortly after learning of our Page suspension, I posted a plea to members of the Google+ community to help identify members of the G+ team who could help expedite the process of reinstating the Page. After a short time, Denis Labelle (whom I’d mistakenly placed into a Circle of Google employees — he now resides in my Most Awesome People in the World Circle), responded with an offer to help share my plight. Denis — along with a handful of other Google+ members — re-shared my post, which quickly caught the attention of the Google+ team and led to a speedy resolution.
The G+ team had also picked up on my original plea for help and was busy working through internal channels to resolve the issue. But Denis’ offer to help was the true catalyst toward quick resolution of the issue. Members of the Google+ community saw Denis’ post, voiced their support, and helped build awareness of the issue.
Key takeaway: The early adopters of Google+ are passionate about the current and future prospects of the network and are extremely engaged and helpful. Now is the time to get engaged on Google+, learn from the community, give back to it, and build an invaluable network that will continue to grow in exciting new directions.
Key takeaway, part two: Denis Labelle is pure awesome. He is not only helpful, but he posts interesting and helpful content to Google+ every day. You should pause right now and go Circle him. I also owe thanks to Chris Vennard, Oscar Fuentes, Raphael Polanco, Yan Tseytlin, Harp Grewal, Kamal Singh and others for their help.
4. Tap Into the Power of Shared Circles.
Google+ makes it easy to share the Circles that you’ve created with friends and other G+ connections. This feature is helpful for sharing Circles of subject matter experts or photographers, for example. It’s also useful for curating a list of customer support representatives for your brand, or from brands that you follow. Google+ is a great vehicle for building a list (or even several specially-targeted lists) that can be shared with current and potential customers, partners and suppliers. Stakeholders can then post queries to these support Circles in order to reach several customer support members at once.
A shared Circle, in fact, is what led me to Denis Labelle and the other Google+ members who jumped in to help resolve our Page suspension. Another Google+ member had created and shared a “Members of the Google+ Team” Circle, which I found and added to my own Circles. While Denis and a handful of other members of the Circle were incorrectly identified as Google employees, the Circle did help alert several Googlers to our Page suspension.
Key takeaway: Consider using Shared Circles to make it easy for your target audiences to connect with groups from your organization. It’s also a good idea to seek out Shared Circles that will prove useful to you in a time of crisis. A good starting point is the list of Shared Circles on G+. It’s also advisable to Circle Google+ Your Business. It provides up-to-date information related to G+ that is targeted to brands and Page owners.
Google+ may be the fastest-growing social network in history. And yet, it’s still far from being a mainstream channel for brands and individuals. There are few established paths to success on Google+, and mistakes are inevitable. Use the guidance that I’ve provided above to help your brand to not only avoid a suspension, but to also overcome obstacles that could impede success.
Do you have any Google+ tips? If so, let me know with a comment below!
Google Music has finally shed its “Beta” moniker. At this week’s “These Go To 11” event, Google announced that it has secured licensing deals with EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and over 1000 independent labels, thereby enabling a music store to emerge as a core component of Google’s music locker.
And the reaction from online and social media? Tepid, at best. Predictably, most of the discussion seems to center around what Google Music is not. It’s not freemium subscription service, like Spotify or Rdio. It’s not as polished as iTunes. In short, it’s not the game-changer that many had hoped for.
But changing the game isn’t really Google’s goal here, is it? Google isn’t really trying to “kill iTunes,” just as Google+ isn’t designed to “kill Facebook” and Google Wallet isn’t a real threat to “kill PayPal.” This simply isn’t Google’s modus operandi. Rather, Google seems intent on launching products in beta, watching them get skewered with criticism in the media, and then evolving them into “good enough” products. Google’s real goal is to be just competitive enough in an array of battles to build out a moat to surround its Search Castle.
Up until now — and even including now, really, as Google hasn’t yet proved that this strategy is a winning one — all efforts to fortify Google’s Search Castle have been largely disconnected. But that’s where Google+ comes in, bringing along the two keys to Google’s castle: (1) data, and (2) Android.
The First Key: Data
Each time a website (or any other object, for that matter) is shared to Google+, a Google Music song is purchased and/or streamed to Google+, or a YouTube video is +1′d, two things are happening in the background.
First, user data is being collected and aggregated to build a more complete individual profile. This data is a prized and saleable asset, of course, as part of Google’s AdWords platform. Second, as information from Google’s products and services is shared to an integration layer (Google+), Google is effectively advertising these services for free on Google+ and encouraging other members of the network to adopt them. Then, as adoption rates rise, more data is poured into the integration layer, thereby buiding a self-reinforcing process and raising the value of Google’s trove of data.
This isn’t a new concept, of course. Facebook has been doing it for years, and they’ve been doing it so effectively that it’s become almost a forgone conclusion that Facebook will release a search engine to rival Google Castle — er, Search — and further siphon away lucrative advertising revenues. So clearly, there is a strategic imperative to get products to market that enable Google to rival the type of data that Facebook is collecting — music preferences, reading habits, social connections, etc.
These products don’t have to be world class, at least not initially. They just need to be of a reasonable enough quality to gain some traction, integrate seamlessly and enable the network effects described above. In other words, lay the groundwork for a larger moat.
The Second Key: Android
This is where Android comes into play. Let’s assume the following scenarios hold for the next few years:
- Google Music doesn’t become as slick as iTunes
- Google+ lags behind Facebook as a fun destination for keeping in touch with real friends
- Google’s Zagat is dwarfed by Yelp in terms of the quantity of reviews
- Google Places is never mentioned as a serious competitor to foursquare.
But Google has something that none of those competitors have — the 1-2 punch of world’s fastest-growing mobile operating system (according to this report by Mary Meeker) and the fastest growing social network in history.
Update 11/17/11: TechCrunch is reporting that new devices running Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of Android, are prompting users to register for Google+ and enter their credit card information, in order to enable Android Market purchases via the Android Market.
As the world continues to trend toward mobile information consumption instead of PC-based consumption, Google is uniquely positioned to ride that growth by placing its portfolio of competitive, albeit flawed, products onto a larger and larger share of mobile devices.
Granted, Android’s fragmentation issues have been well-documented, and they pose a problem for Google’s ambitious ploy. The likely remedy involves Google leveraging its acquisition of Motorola Mobility to set an Android standard that embeds its services so deeply into the Android operating system that music, location, photography and other services become a core part of the user experience. In this scenario, Google Music doesn’t have to be better than iTunes or Spotify, it just has to have evolved to the point where, as a “me too” service, it gets the job done while keeping friction to a minimum for end users.
The Long View
So cut Google Music some slack and take the long view here. There’s a bigger picture to consider, one that extends several years into the future and involves not only music, but also commerce, location, mobility and social networking. Only time will tell whether Google’s strategy is a winner, but its moves start to make sense when you begin to arrange them as pieces of a larger puzzle.
What’s your view? Is Google Music a viable component of a broader strategy, or merely a half-baked sign of desperation? Let me know with a comment below!
Google+, the social networking product from Google, has been available for use by individuals for months. But Google+ had been off limits to companies and other organizations (except for a handful of test partners) until last week, when the search giant opened the door for brands with the release of Google+ Pages.
Many brands have jumped into Google+ right away to begin communicating and engaging with various Circles of stakeholders. Others, however, have stayed away from Google+, as questions and misconceptions about the product have spread by worth of mouth and through social channels. Most of the concerns about Google+, however, are entirely without merit.
You’ve probably heard them. Hopefully, however, you haven’t let these common fears stop you from getting started with Google+:
1. You can’t transfer ownership of a Google+ brand Page!
While it’s true that Page ownership transfers are not currently allowed, Dennis Troper (a member of the Google+ project team) has already posted an assurance that this feature is in work and coming soon. According to Troper, Google+ will soon provide “multi-admin support, ownership transfer and page analytics.”
2. The inability to cross-post to Google+ and other networks (such as Facebook, Twitter etc.), is a serious liability that will doom Google+.
Question: What would Google+ would look like if it provided an API to support incoming posts (from other networks and tools)?
Answer: A lot like Google Buzz, which accepted posts from other channels and quickly became irrelevant.
Google needs to build a critical mass of daily Google+ users before opening an API to permit incoming posts from other networks, and from tools such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck. Otherwise, there will be very little incentive for brands to develop a unique G+ presences.
Update: Google has announced that a handful of third-party apps, such as Hootsuite, Buddy Media and Vitrue have been chosen as partners for a pilot program to enable posts to Google+ via social media management systems. It’s worth nothing that these solutions cater to enterprise customers.
3. You need to hurry and reserve your Google+ Page name! Or it will be gone forever!
Fake brand pages — such as this parody of Bank of America – have already sprung up on Google+. However, verification badges will be made available soon distinguish “official” brand accounts from impersonators. This approach follows Twitter’s verification model, and balances freedom of expression against the need to recognize authentic Pages. Launch partners like Angry Birds and Pepsi already have badges to promote the authenticity of their Pages, for example.
4. Google+ is a ghost town.
Google claims over 40 million Google+ accounts and boasts an early-stage growth rate that exceeds the rates witnessed by Facebook, Twitter and Myspace. Undoubtedly, however, Google+ doesn’t enjoy an engagement rate anywhere close to Facebook’s 50% daily sign-in rate. And Google has been coy about the number of active daily G+ users.
But a ghost town? Hardly. G+ may currently be dominated by early adopters and geeks (I include myself in both of those groups), but anyone who actually spends a significant amount of time on Google+ knows that the “ghost town” assertion is false.
5. Facebook’s promotion guidelines are too restrictive, but Google+ is a new opportunity!
In fact, Google+ is even more confining. While Facebook’s Guidelines permit administration of promotions via third-party apps, Google does not allow any promotions on Google+. The Google+ Pages Contest and Promotion Policies clearly outlaw them, and instead permit only links to separate websites that host contests and promotions.
6. Google+ is just another social network.
Google+ is much more than just a social networking platform. Instead, in Eric Schmidt’s words, Google+ will be “a social component [to Google's core products] to make them even better.” Most notably, Google+ Pages offer a distinct Search Engine Optimization (SEO) advantage over content from Facebook and Twitter. While Google+ already has limited integration with Google search (You can see +1s from your friends in search results! Yay!), Google+ posts will soon populate search results in near real-time. Compared with content from Facebook and Twitter, which Google is unable to crawl as effectively, Google+ content will offer an SEO advantage over content from competing channels.
Furthermore, as Google continues to weave Google+ into its other products and services (as it already has with YouTube and Google Reader), the service will fetch an ever-increasing set of valuable data for use in ad targeting.
7. Too many features are missing; Google+ just isn’t useful for brands.
Do you remember what Twitter was like in its infancy? No lists. No automatic URL shortening. No auto-completing of @usernames within Tweets. No promoted Tweets for brands. Lots of Fail Whales. In short, it sucked compared with the service that we all know and love today. And let’s not even get started with Facebook. In both cases, users demanded features, and the services matured. Google+ will follow the same path, evolve into an increasingly-valuable platform, and offer first-mover advantages to brands that adopt the service early.
8. Circles make it easy to manage Google+ Pages!
The bad news about Circles is that they don’t scale well. After a person has Circled a Page to express an interest in a brand, a G+ Page owner has to then assess the person and then decide how to categorize them into an appropriate Circle. This quickly becomes a time-consuming task.
This cumbersome process may have driven Google to acquire Katango, a startup that has developed powerful algorithms to sort people into groups automatically. For now, however, human-decision making is still required to sort people into groups for targeted content delivery.
Overcome Your Fears and Get Started with Google+
In summary, don’t let FUD dissuade you from building a presence on Google+, but be sure to know what you’re getting into ahead of starting a brand Page. There are many misconceptions about Google+ that can cause a misalignment between expectations and reality.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Google+ in the comments section below.