Musings on Google + (and whatever comes next for social media)

Google Plus? G+? Really? I thought all social media brand names were required to be verb-able. Anyhow, the arrival of Google’s latest effort in the social arena is teaching us some interesting lessons about social media. The space is relatively new, but there are some undeniably human, long-standing phenomena in place that will prevent it from being the immediate slam-dunk that Google surely hoped it would become.

For those who have not yet been invited behind the curtain, Paul Greenberg did a good job of describing Google + here and Brian Solis digs a little deeper (and more optimistically) here. basically, it’s a little like Twitter and a little like LinkedIn and a little like Facebook and a little like a lot of other things.

And therein lies the two-part problem for any second-generation social media platform: in order to find a place among the heavyweights of social media, you have to offer something different and unique in the way information is presented. But, at the same time, the other platforms out there are now fairly well developed (Twitter’s five years old, for Pete’s sake!) and the interfaces and navigation of the first-generation social media sites is now well established and comfortably familiar.

The first generation of social media didn’t have to worry about familiarity – they just threw themselves out these and hoped people would catch on. To most observers, it looked like these social media sites appeared out of nowhere, but in reality it took a little time before a Gladwell-esque tipping point was reached and it became harder to not be on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook than it did to be on them. Since most people had never worked with social media, the way these sites presented and collected data became the de facto standards. And the more people used the sites – meaning fewer earlier adopters and more ordinary people, less flexible in their capacity to handle change – the more resistance there was to moving from those standards. Witness the outrage voiced about Facebook’s interface changes for evidence of how powerful the reliance on the familiar can become.

So there’s the rub – you need to be revolutionary and familiar at the same time in order to draw the mass of users needed to make a social media site effective. How do you do both at the same time? And does Google + do it?

Well, circles are a nice idea, and the tie-ins to other services (like Picassa) are good, but I don’t see these things as revolutionary – and certainly not enough to wrench users away from what they’re already using, in most cases. Don’t forget that most people on Facebook are not youngsters – they’re older people who took several years to move to social media, and they’re less likely to be fickle and switch platforms (especially since, in the near term at least, that would mean leaving their friends behind, and friends are the reason they went to Facebook in the first place). I just don’t see it delivering enough unique value to ordinary users to get them to switch in large numbers to Google + for a while, and I don’t think there’s room enough for more than a few dominant, horizontally-oriented social media channels. As much as we’d like to think these channels are changing the ways we interact, they’re really just acting as productivity tools to enhance the way we already behave. LinkedIn mirrors data we share with those with whom we work, Facebook mirrors how we interact with people we know, and Twitter… Well, it’s a little like trying to be heard in a crowd. Which we all need now and then. How will Google + wriggle its way in there? How many behavioral metaphors are left, and is Google + really targeting any of them that have not been served yet?

From a social CRM standpoint, the development of Google + is going to be interesting. You can’t count it out, because Google’s resources will allow it to develop and nurture the platform, so CRM vendors hoping to create connections to social media (like SugarCRM’s activity streams) will have to keep an eye on its growth and decide when to integrate it into their built-in sources of social media data. If you’re a business in the technology field, you would certainly want Google + as part of your Social CRM mix – the audience it attracts right now trends distinctly in that direction. Google’s also said it plans on introducing a set of more business-oriented features, which bodes well. This all assumes that Google + catches on. In has 10 million users today, before its general availability, which is nothing to sneeze at, but social media lighting is tough to capture.

It could split audience from Facebook and Twitter – I’ve already seen some people making splashy “I’m Leaving!” announcements – but that could be a good thing from a CRM point of view, making the audiences for these various channels more distinct. But what I really see happening with the arrival of new, massively popular social media channels – whether or not Google + succeeds or fails – is an increase in the social media personas of the users who use multiple social media channels. They’ll behave one way on Google + (or whatever’s next) with all their fellow technology-philes, behave a different way on Facebook around their parents and family members, and behave the way they’ve always behaved on Twitter. It will become part of social CRM to understand these personas and try to make assumptions that unify them into a view of a single customer. That could be the next-generational social CRM challenge.

In the meantime, I plan on coming up with the verb equivalent of “Tweet,” “LinkedIn with” and “Facebook with” for Google +. I’ll “Plus” you? Yech. I’ll “Google Plus” you? Too web-searchy. Any ideas?

 

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