In June, Google launched its latest foray into social media: Google Plus. Within just one month — and despite being open only to those with an invitation — Google Plus had attracted more than 25 million users, a milestone that took both Facebook and Twitter more than 30 months to reach.
While this astronomical growth is undeniably impressive, it still left many of us considering an important question: Do we really need another social media site? After all, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media sites already take up plenty of our time. Everyone has to consider its value based on their own goals, audience and available resources, but understanding what Google Plus has to offer is the first step toward deciding whether it’s worth your time and attention. Here, then, is an overview of three features that set Google Plus apart.
Circles: Social media is designed to connect us to other people, and Google Plus is no different. However, Google Plus incorporates an innovative way for users to manage relationships that solves some of the problems users have experienced elsewhere.
Each person you connect with on Google Plus is placed into one or more “circles,” depending on your relationship and what you want to share with them. For example, I have a “friends” circle, a “family” circle and a “professional connections” circle, among others.
While Facebook and Twitter allow for the same type of customization, doing so isn’t easy, and not many users, therefore, take advantage of those tools. On Google Plus, the circles function is integral to the experience and it couldn’t be easier to use. Overall, it’s an efficient way to share only the most relevant content with the different groups with whom we associate.
Hangouts: “Hangouts” are the video chat module built into Google Plus, and one of the features that has earned the most buzz. Anyone with a webcam and a microphone can partici pate in a hangout with up to nine other people. That alone makes hangouts different than Facebook video chat, which allows only one-to-one communication.
But there’s a subtle difference that also makes hangouts superior: With Facebook video chat, you initiate the session by asking one of your friends to join you. On hangouts, however, you simply “hang out” and wait for others to join you, with the option of only making yourself available to a limited number of circles or connections.
Google’s Vic Gundotra has compared this to friends sitting on the porch versus the act of knocking on a neighbor’s door. The former presents an open invitation for others to stop by and say hello. The latter may be welcome, but it also may be an intrusion depending on when the “knock on the door” happens.
In addition, text chat and sharing of YouTube videos are integrated into Hangouts, allowing for content other than voice and video to be shared as well. That makes it easy to collaborate via hangouts, which has already led to some innovative uses by artists, educators and marketers.
Integration with other Google services: Perhaps the one thing most likely to make Google Plus a long-term player in the social sphere is its integration with other Google services. Unlike just about every other social media site, Google Plus doesn’t demand a trip to a separate page or a separate login to participate. Once you log in to any Google service, you can easily share content and keep an eye on notifications.
In addition, Google Plus works collaboratively with tools like Picasa, Google’s photo tool, to streamline sharing and editing. And the act of giving content a “+1” (similar to a “like” on Facebook) has been incorporated into Google Plus, although with significant room for improvement. These just hint at the possibilities inherent in Google Plus serving as a vehicle for driving traffic to and from some of Google’s most valued properties. One example: AdWords, Google’s main adver tising product and main source of revenue.
Are these features enough for you to spend more time using social media by adding Google Plus into the mix, or shifting time away from the tools you’re using today? You’ll have to decide that for yourself. However, if you’d like to learn more, I’ll be part of two seminars about Google Plus in September, designed to provide more details about what it has to offer. To learn more, email me firstname.lastname@example.org .
In the meantime, spend a few minutes navigating Google Plus (I’d be happy to send you an invite if you need one) and try its features out for yourself. When you do the math, you might just find out that it adds up to another great opportunity to connect with your audience.