SXSW: Google+ is not (just) a social network

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The beauty of South by Southwest is having the opportunity to attend events such as a fireside chat about the Google+ project with Vic Gundotra, Senior Vice President of Engineering for Google+. Hosted by Guy Kawasaki, there were some interesting points to take away about how Google sees its offering with Plus.

The main points were that Google+ is much more than a social network (something that we have discussed before here at FreshNetworks) - and really is destined to apply a social layer across all of Google’s existing services.  An example of this is with video: it seems like a glaring omission from Google+,  but Google is already geared up to provide video functionality through YouTube.

The purpose of Google+?

What it’s really about is allowing Google to understand more about you and who and what you find important. This is clearly important for social search results, but also has benefits in helping you with your email. Obviously this won’t just apply to helping serve you with relevant content, but also targeted advertising.

Google’s primary revenue stream comes from advertising, so as you might expect Google has some clear ideas about where, or more importantly, when adverts should be shown.

For Google the key concept is “Commercial intent” , Google only wants to show you an ad when you have shown a clear signal that you are looking to purchase something.

Vic said that Google don’t want to get to a situation like Facebook where they are injecting ads into every aspect of your life. For example, he vowed that you will never see a ad when browsing photos you have uploaded onto Google+, but they will use the information you add about those photos when targeting you with ads on a search result.

A different approach from Facebook

This desire to learn lessons from Facebook came up again later in the same discussion, when asked about why a G+ API had not been released. Vic stated that he wanted to be sure that if an API was released it would stay forever and be stable, unlike Facebooks API which fequently changes, Vic said “We hold ourselves to a higher standard”

One final point is that Google now counts any user who logs in with a Google account to be a Google+ user, even if they haven’t posted anything onto Plus itself - so it might be prudent to be careful when analysing the network’s user numbers and demographics.

The social media landscape in 2012 - infographic

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2012 social media landscapeLast year I wrote about the social media landscape infographic, highlighting the placement of Facebook and Google as all-encompassing, central networks. Fred Cavazza has published his 2012 version, and this year’s edition has quite a bit to take in - (click the thumbnail to see the full size image).

The big three

Facebook remains the go-to network, and the arrival of OpenGraph and Timeline mean that other networks (such as Spotify) or brands, can really integrate with a user’s experience through Facebook apps.

Twitter, while it may not offer options for “playing” or “buying”, does deserve its place as a central network, with it being a significant driver of news, links and information from other networks.

The arrival of Google+ since last year’s infographic is the most obvious change - and while it’s still early days for Google’s take on social, the implications for social search mean that we’re likely to see much more of it in 2012.

Almost as many devices as networks

One addition to this year’s “landscape” is the broad range of devices that we can use to access the social web. There tends to be a strong temptation to declare each new year as “the year of mobile” or “the year of social TV”. With smartphone ownership in the UK exceeding 50% of market share, the need to make content accessible and optimised for platforms other than lap and desktops is key.

What does this landscape mean for brands?

Even though this infographic is a summary of the range of social networks out there, it really goes to show the need to have a clear social media strategy.

  • Think about how to maintain consistent branding and tone-of-voice across your chosen networks.
  • Really think about user-experience, especially for bespoke websites, and consider all the devices that users may connect with.
  • Stay abreast of the constantly shifting landscape! This time last year Pinterest was a relatively unknown platform, today it is the new social media darling. It will be interesting to see how it fares in 2013!

‘Search, plus Your World’: Why your social search strategy will fail without Google+

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Here at FreshNetworks we’ve been keeping a close eye on the significance of Google+ for brands.  We were very excited about the arrival of Google+, and predicted, a back in July last year, that it would impact  social search:

…”Potentially, in the future, this could mean that the more popular pages from within your Circles could outrank those pages that are better optimised in the traditional sense of the word.”

The launch of Google’s new personalised search results display, known as ‘Search, plus Your World‘ means that this has indeed become reality, suggesting a presence on Google+ is something that brands should be considering now more than ever, especially as the network grew to 62 millions users by the end of 2011, with predictions for that figure to reach 400 million by the end of this year.

Google+ and the new school of linking

To briefly touch on a key factor of SEO, Google places weight on the quality and quantity of links that a page receives from other sites – which Google view as impartial endorsements and indicators of relevancy.

The importance of these links will not go away, but as sharing links is a key activity on social media, the average user is now effectively in the position of a publisher. In terms of relevancy, a display of recommendation from a person or entity that you trust or are interested in enough to follow on social media will have a strong boost, as an attention grabbing indicator and also as a sign that it is something you may well be interested in.

Will Google+ content be promoted above paid for advertising?

Just seeing the recommendations from your connections is not where it ends though as Google is aggressively promoting its Plus profiles and shares.

As Rand Fishkin, CEO of SeoMoz explains in his excellent video, certain elements of Google+ are receiving significant prominence on search results for users who are logged in - to the extent that, for certain terms, the avatars of influential brands or individuals are placed above the paid ads, which link you to information on “Learn how you could appear here too”

For example, when logged in to to Google+ and searching for “SEO”, well-known SEO experts Rand Fishkin and Danny Sullivan appear in my results even though I haven’t connected to them on Google+ (yet…) and also shows that within the results, 120 of them will be personal to me and my network:

Google+ search results

How Google calls the shots

The recent changes have caused some controversy from the clear bias that Google+ is receiving over other networks such as Twitter and Facebook, which clearly are significant drivers of link-sharing and endorsement. While integration may take place further down the line, the current tension between the key networks and Google suggest that, for the time being, Google+ is the place to be.

While these changes are currently only applied to searchers logged into Google+ and using the US version on Google.com, all signs are pointing towards “social search” becoming the norm across all of Google’s domains, and one that brands (and individuals) need to prepare for.

Identifying influencers using Google+ Ripples

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Google+ Ripples is an app that sits natively within Google+, allowing anyone to see the reach and influence of a particular post in G+ once it has been shared. On top of this, you can visualise the spread of the post over time with a scrolling bar that allows you to see the impact a post has at any point along its lifeline.

The magic of Google+ Ripples, however, is the ability to search out and target influencers.

People that re-share your content and get large numbers of subsequent re-shares have larger ‘ripples’ which makes it very easy to see who people pay attention to, and quickly.

While there are people who argue that influencers on Google+ don’t mean anything as the service is minute compared to Facebook, you have to consider the fact that influencers on other social networks that move to G+ often carry that influence across, so not only can ripples be used to find influencers on G+, but there is a good chance that these people exert clout in other arenas too.

There are other levels to the Google+ Ripples tool though. For example, if you were a recruiter looking for android developers to work on a project you could use Google+ Ripples to find people talking about and sharing content about android development.

As Ripples is completely public, this means that if two competing brands release content, they can effectively benchmark how successful those pieces of content are at a very granular level – to the degree where brand ‘x’ might get 500 shares, with 100 of those occurring at a second level, while brand ‘y’ might get 500 shares with 300 of those at the second level. In this example brand ‘y’ is more effective at leveraging key influencers to spread their message, while their first level influence is lacking. This creates a highly competitive environment in which brands need to stay creative and innovative in order to be successful in capturing the maximum share of voice.

It’s worth noting that Google does plan on plugging adwords into Google+, and that they will have something to do with Ripples. While industry chatter on this is vague and unclear, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that you could run adwords campaigns to reach out to influencers with  pretty impressive levels of detail and optimisation.

We’ve said before that Google+ isn’t a competitor to Facebook but the future of search engine marketing and with functionality like Ripples being one of the key USP’s of Google+ we think there are some exciting times ahead for the service.

If you haven’t added FreshNetworks to your Google+ circles yet, then make sure you do so now!

Forget being a Facebook competitor; Google+ is the future of social search

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If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already signed up for Google+ or you’re teetering on the brink. At the very least, you’re probably wondering why you should bother signing up for Google+ at all.

At the moment it seems like most analysts and digital types are being quite mean about Google+ , but whether you like it or not, Google+ will be a ‘success’. This is not a revelation - Google simply has the resources and network to make Google+ work.

Take Google’s staggered roll-out, for example. It wanted to get something out there early to make an initial impact; to say “We’re here in your social space”.

This, of course, led to condemnation and fear that it would be the next Google Buzz: “Nobody’s on it. What’s there to do? I’m going back to Facebook.” But a lot of this attitude and negativity comes down to viewing Google+ as a Facebook competitor. It’s not.

What Google+ is, though, is part of the future of search engine marketing and social search. It’s becoming clearer that instead of taking Facebook head on in Facebook’s domain, Google has created a network that will be an integrated part of Google’s entire ecosystem.

Google started by creating a seemingly ‘stand-alone’ social network. It has now reworked YouTube to focus on social video discovery and social video search. Google+ is not the only network to feature in its recommendation engine – you can add Facebook too.

What’s next? Well, this is only the beginning of these changes. We’ll see similar social integration in Google’s main search offering, Google Docs and even Gmail. This will be the culmination of a mix between improved search and the collaborative principles that underpinned (the sadly failed) Google Wave. With improvements, the extended Google+ integration will make sense. Imagine:

I’m studying history at university. My lecturer or course has a Google+ account and the video is broadcast live as a hangout to a group of students who may not be able to make it to the lecture hall. After the lecture is finished, the hangout will be uploaded to YouTube to share. Students can import it from YouTube into Google Docs as a video document which can then be annotated and shared on Google+ with other members of the class or directly to a mailing list from Google+ by clicking the ‘gmail’ option. We can base a hangout on one of these video documents as an informal seminar.

Soon, Google+ won’t be a choice; It will be a tool we use as naturally as gmail and Google.com. It will change the way we collaborate on, share and discover data. It will help change the way we enjoy information. Don’t think of Google+ as a social network;  think of it as part of our social future.