Ignore Google+ at Your Peril

On October 27, I joined communications pros on Bulldog Reporter‘s webinar “An Advance Look at Hot, New Google+: How It Will Impact PR Pros, Social Media Strategy and Your Customers.” Co-panelists were Jennifer Lashua, Global Social Media Strategist from Intel; Vidar Brekke, Chief Product Officer from Converseon; and Mark Traphagen, Internet Marketing Manager from Virante.

A lot of our value-add from Ogilvy comes from helping clients anticipate which platforms will win. There are a million ways to optimize your social media presence, and spending more time on yet another social network is something many social media pros are not wont to do. That said, despite social media fatigue, and despite the enhancements on Facebook released in the last few months, I’ve become more convinced that time spent on G+ is well spent. The panelist laid out a compelling case.

“My friends aren’t in G+” is no excuse. We should never forget that Zuckerberg made a decision in establishing the “real identity” and “know in real life” folkways of Facebook. Google+ doesn’t share these; in fact, panelists said that much of the value of Google+ comes from meeting new people around interests in the platform and having meaningful, thoughtful conversations.

Right now Google+ audiences cluster around early adopters. Talk to your journalist, designer, and developer friends and, as likely as not, they will have had a good experience with Google+. If you’re interested in what these folks think (and if you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you are), you should be in on their conversations.

+1 could fundamentally change the way we use the web. Anti-trust and privacy issues notwithstanding (and not to be underestimated), +1’s effect on search results may change user behaviors we’ve been seeing for nearly a decade. Transparently, users see that a friend has found a link valuable and are more likely to click on it; behind the scenes, Google may add this layer to the relevance of search results and shift the very content of search results. Seismic shifts are possible.

Don’t bet against Google. While the track record from Google on new product introduction is spotty, when it counts they make it work. They have deep pockets, a very real competitive threat to their search business in Facebook, and a gmail install base they can use to push the platform. In effect, Google+ is a company-critical product like Android, not a “die in beta” product like Rooms. (Do you even remember what that was?)

Having a second, strong social network will benefit advertisers. Having an 800 pound gorilla across the table when it comes time for advertisers to negotiate does not benefit anyone, except the 800 pound gorilla. You will likely see brands flock to the upcoming release of brand pages and support the platform aggressively with dollars when they can. It’s just good defense.

“Interest orientation” may make Google+ an ideal vehicle for thought leadership & social business. G+ groups people flexibly around topics that matter to them. A new product feature allows you to share the name and composition of your circles, making it possible for circles to come together around functional areas, companies, passions, products and brands. Facebook’s constructs, around friend lists and brand pages, aren’t quite this flexible. Early attempts at this, like ning and yammer, were islands without the backing of a huge, well funded company.

So. What should you do? How do you spend your precious time on this platform?

Open your mind. We’ve all spent so much time on Facebook and Twitter that they’ve become synonymous with “social media,” but if you want to have a meaningful, threaded dialogue with people you don’t know well, you’re sort of out of luck. There are needs that the FB/Twitter suite can’t address, and Google has incentives to listen to their community and introduce them appropriately.

Engage as an individual. Find where the conversation is in Google+. There is likely one that appeals to you. Google has spent time improving their in-application search. Start following & participating.

Get clear on your company’s “interests.” If you are not actively engaged in building a content strategy with key message pillars, you likely will be in the next six months. Think through what topics and interests are driving the conversation around your product. Market theorists are starting to call this “purpose-driven branding.” If you’re selling cars, you’re in the transportation business. Join the transportation conversation in Google+. Encourage your internal subject matter experts to do the same. Follow some people. Comment & engage.

Get creative. No one is exactly sure where the community is headed, but isn’t that the fun of engaging with a nascent product? Follow Friday, RTing, and even Facebook’s brand pages emerged from smart users building useful applications within fairly flexible tools.

Stay tuned. Google brand profiles are near on the horizon. This is where it gets interesting.