March 2014

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Why you don’t need Google +

Google + will probably follow the path of Google Buzz and gain a lot of early adopters who register for the service, but never really end up using it because it was not accepted by the mass public.

Manny Mandrusiak
Manny Mandrusiak

Managing Creative Consultant,
4 Bravo Marketing

Contributing Editor

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Two years ago when Google+ was unleashed to the world it was positioned as Google’s answer to Facebook and social media.  Everything that I read about Google + stated that it was a social media service. I was still confused when I looked at it because I really did not see a social media platform like the others on the block.   I even went and took a social media class about Google + to learn more about it because as a platform it did not appear to be a user-friendly social media service.

I learned a lot about the platform and all of its rich features, but at the end of the class I was as confused about Google + as when I went in.  It had some great features and functionality, but in my opinion, it remains another example of the fact that Google does not do platforms well. It seemed very poorly positioned as a social media platform.  It seemed like it could be something much more.  The question that remainded in my mind was what exactly was Google + supposed to be?

I am not going to spend an entire article slamming Google + for what it is not.  What I would rather do is explain why it is not what we thought that it was, and highlight what it could be used effectively for.

The single biggest reason why I think that there is so much confusion over Google + is simply that no one has a clue how to use it.  As a platform it presents one of the most user-unfriendly designs that I have seen on the market today. In a time where where ease-of-use makes or breaks a platform Google +’s lack of useability has more than likely been a huge contributor to its lack of acceptance in the marketplace. People are creatures of habit, and by nature fear change.  At least they fear change that is not easy to accept.  If a software platform is too complicated, or odd to use, it simply will have a hard time being accepted by the masses.

In my opinion, Google made a mistake by following the Microsoft mentality of design, which is –“build it and the end-user will learn to use it and love it”.

By nature I am a Microsoft guy, but I prefer the Apple and Facebook mentality of –“What does the end-user want to do, so let’s make it simple for them to do it”?  Two completely different mentalities, and that is part of the reason that Facebook gained such acceptance over Google +. Facebook made things extremely easy to understand. I can add someone as a friend, or upload a photo in under three clicks.  I can like something with the click of an icon, and I can see exactly what page or post I liked.

Ever wonder what happens after you click +1 on Google+? I have.  I added this feature to my website thinking that it would increase traffic, and nothing really happened. Not the greatest of examples, but I think that it helps to illustrate my point of ease-of-use and social acceptance.  If a webpage has 1000 likes on Facebook that resonates with someone viewing that page.  It says that this page must be important, or have relevant content for so many people to like it.  An easily understood concept by anyone looking at the page. Having 1000 +1’s just does not resonate with the same feeling. That feeling goes to part of why companies choose to use socially accepted social media platforms as part of their marketing starategies.  It is what their customers are using in their life, and where they spend their time looking for what they want.

That leads to the topic of using Google + for business.  Where do we use it, and how do we use it? Do we even bother to use it?  All very good questions. My natural inclination is to see Google + more as a collaboration service.  Perhaps like-minded people can leverage the hangout feature to talk about topics, or similar views.  This is very achievable using Google +’s built in tools.  Engineers could log into Google + and have long conversations about engineering concepts and problems.

The problem with this concept is that as humans we are creatures of habit. We like to go with what we know.  When we typically think of speaking, or collaborating, with someone online we think of Skype, Viber, or WhatsApp.  The average person does not instantly think of Google + yet it is installed on every Android smartphone.  It just does not come to mind.

In preparation to write this article I went and visited some college and university students that I know, to see what social media and collaboration tools that they were using.  Four international students (the students were from Brazil, Japan, Korea, and China) and two local Canadian students.  All the students were between the ages of 18-26.  I asked them to ask 10 of their friends if they had ever used Google +, and what platform that they used to communicate with friends and family.

Only one student from Japan had used Google + and it was for a university project where a project team needed to collaborate and have regular discussions.  She did say that Google + suited their needs very well for the duration of the project. It enabled them to add different project groups as circles and have different team members have impromptu discussions using hangouts. Once the project was finished she never used Google + again, and keeps in touch with family using Skype because that is what her entire family prefers to use. 

The rest of the people informally surveyed used the more popular platforms and applications.  Facebook and Twitter for social media, and Skype and WhatsApp for collaboration and communication with others.  Several used Apple’s Facetime to communicate with others.  The Chinese and Korean students that I spoke to said that they prefered a proprietary Asian platform that seemed very Facebook like to me.  The main point of my informal survey was that none of the people that I spoke to used Google + for any type of communication or interaction.  They stuck to the mainstream platforms and apps. 

There is little doubt that the trends from our consumer life play a huge role in the tools that we choose to use at work.  My thoughts are that Google + will probably follow the path of Google Buzz and gain a lot of early adopters who register for the service, but never really end up using it because it was not accepted by the mass public.  I always go back to the old argument between Betamax VCRs and VHS VCRs. Sure Betamax had better technology, but VHS positioned itself better with the general public and won the VCR war. Looking at the way with which the digital landscape is changing today, ease-of-use wins acceptance by the end-user every time.

Does your business need Google +?  There are those whose articles I have read that say that ignoring Google + is a huge mistake because it will be as big a return as those who were early Twitter adopters saw in winning huge audiences.  Possibly, but I would have to think unlikely.

There are also those who tout that Google + will be a very good Business-to-Business (B2B) tool because Google + has the ability to have longer conversations and build relationships. I do agree that Google + has some great tools, but so does LinkedIn and almost everyone in business has a profile there.  I like the concept of being able to leverage the platforms that people are already using to convey a message rather than asking them to convert to a new tool and learn new habits.  If a potential customer is being asked to do that many things just to see my message, does my message get lost in the process? That is something that I personally try to avoid in my marketing campaigns.  The only time I attempt it is if I can make learning a new platform or tool as easy as possible.  There are too many choices out there on the digital landscape today and if I have the choice between interacting with a company through Facebook or Google +, I am going to opt for the path of least resistance and easiest acceptance.

There are also those who believe that Google + will really take off because of its integration with YouTube.  Organizers can host discussion forums and share product demo videos straight from YouTube. Hangouts can be recorded and posted right to YouTube with very little effort.  I will admit that these are cool features, but how much effort will it take to convert my client base over to Google +?  Is it worth my time to convert them?

Ultimately, when considering using Google + I believe it comes down to validating three things:

  1. Are my customers and potential customers on Google +?
  2. How much time do I have to invest in yet another platform?
  3. What is the return on my investment of time and money with Google +?

[an error occurred while processing this directive]I always live by the rule that if I can’t satisfy the three conditions above, then I should not be doing it.  My advice is to invest the short period of time to put up a Google + profile if for no other reason than to reserve your company name, and then check the account once a month.  If things start to really take off with your customers, then get on the bandwagon.  If traffic is just not there for your Google + account then the time invested was minimal and worth it to reserve your Google + URL. You may still find that you can leverage some of the cooler Google + features for exclusive chats with experts, or development groups.

When it all comes down to it these platforms are simply tools in the toolbox and no match for a properly executed marketing plan.  I would rather see a business invest the time in producing relevant content rich videos detailing how their latest smart thermostat saves $56.00 per day on heating and cooling costs than invest time in promoting themselves on Google +.  At this time I just do not see the consumer base embracing Google +, and I do not think that the time and effort will garner a reasonable return.  As I mentioned before it is a fast moving digital landscape, those on the cutting edge are not where they think that they might be.  It simply moves too fast to make an investment in converting people to a non-user friendly platform.

At the end of the day it is all about return on investment, so do your homework and invest wisely in the platforms where your potential customers are today.  Knowing where your customers are today will give you a good idea as to where you can find them tomorrow.


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