Is Google+ the new Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn combined?

Many business leaders I speak to greet the opportunity to create and manage another social media identity with the same anticipation as a root canal. They question the necessity of it and the time required.

I’ve been watching with great interest the growth of Google+. At 90 million users (Jan 2012) they are still a far cry from Facebook’s 800 million users.  Arguably with Facebook’s IPO announcement recently, that company has been garnering all the press. However, the power behind Google’s online clout and ownership of search can’t be denied. That and their ownership of Android with a major stake in the mobile market, along with the Google wallet mobile payment system recently launched in the US makes them in my mind, a bigger player. Oh yes, and they own that little station called Youtube. There is a major mud-slinging match being waged between these two titans that have the ability to aggregate human behavior on the web. They want to use that data to offer a predictive user experience, and of course sell micro targeted advertising content.

Commercialism aside, I think to ignore the potential benefits to a business that actively participates in content sharing on these networks is to do so at your own peril. Increasingly having a Google+ or Facebook presence will be as important, if not more important than having your own website, because that content will be tied to social media rankings and ratings, mobile search, and customer feedback in addition to what you want to tell people about yourself. Consider how after spending $3.5 million for their 2012 Superbowl spot “Seduction”, Fiat simply directed viewers to their Facebook Fiat 500 Abarth page rather than their website. They recognized their target was likely to be watching and browsing on mobile devices throughout the game. Viewers could immediately interact with others about the spot, and of course the car.  In a world where 54% of customers trust comments by friends, 35% trust comments by strangers, and 47% say even a single negative review can impact their potential purchase, that becomes important. (TNS Global Digital Media study)

I have to say, that in the short time since joining Google+ I have been able to connect with some brilliant minds in my industry and share valuable content. I have tended to use Facebook for family and friends primarily, while balancing some business use with closer connections and clients. I tend to use Twitter as a follower to gain insights, while pushing out what I think is important from a marketing perspective only when I can actually be insightful. I’ve reserved LinkedIn for a professional circle of business contacts, aiming to acquire quality over quantity. Together, these social media tools are a potent and powerful mix for networking, connecting and professional positioning. My initial experiences with Google+ have enabled me to combine the best of all the other networks combined.  I am able to create circles and manage who receives my posts and shared content. Facebook has also made changes recently to make groups easier, but I find the posting options in Google+ easier, since I can choose multiple groups and different combinations, depending on the content I am posting. With Google+ I am able to “follow” the public posts of leaders and influencers just like Twitter, which Facebook does not allow. And because the interface is built on circles of influence, there is an earned reciprocity based on professional reputation and value of content shared that gives it additional value over LinkedIn. Your digital footprint is aggregated in one place that connects out to everything else you have on the web which is used by Google to further boost your search engine results. Plus Google+ has some very cool features such as “meet up” which allows users to video chat. I participated in the Columbia School of Journalism’s Social Media Weekend global meet up recently. This feature puts a whole new spin on possibilities for conferences, education applications, business meetings and consumer focus groups. Of course, Google+ will only be as powerful as the uptake of users that get on board, and at this stage that is its limiting factor. But it is a tool that holds promise in the face of Facebook’s dominance.

In the end, I admit to continuing my double dating efforts between Facebook and Google+ as well as maintaining Twitter and LinkedIn. I’m just not sure where all this might be going, so I’m not ready to make a full commitment to one over the other. I encourage you to check out the benefits of Google+ for yourself and let me know what you think.

Get ready for 2012 to be the year where huge battles will be waged over the access to human behavior data on the web. And expect the friction between personal privacy and the freedom of information from legislation to be at the heart of it!

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