google+ logoIf you’re at all hooked in to online news sources about business marketing and social media, your timelines will very likely have been filled lately with apparently endless numbers of articles about the new Google + social network.

To save you some reading time, here’s our digested thoughts about the current impact of Google +, where it might go in the future, and most importantly whether you need to worry about it for your business right now!

The Good

Given the growing influence of Facebook et al, and their increasing control over web traffic, it was inevitable that Google would strike back at some stage. This could be good news for both users and business marketers: Google has a well founded reputation for user-friendly, game changing applications, is very well resourced, and is in a position to learn upfront from all those challenges that the other social networks suffer from. For example, Twitter’s perennial capacity issues, and Facebook’s piecemeal approach to development which means the interface is sometimes cluttered and awkward to use, and features we’ve come to rely on get changed or removed with no warning. So potentially, we may be about to meet a fantastic new tool.

The Bad

On the downside, we’ve been here before. A few months ago the social media world was overexcited about Empire Avenue; before that, Quora. Neither of them have come within a mile of challenging Facebook’s (and to a lesser extent, Twitter’s) dominance.

As things currently stand, Google + is very much a social media / tech geek hangout. Regular folks – your auntie and your mates from school – are very, very unlikely to be there. Nothing proves the point more clearly than recent research showing that, while the “huge” accounts on Facebook belong to celebrities in the traditional sense, the people with huge followings on Google + are all “Tech” superstars which most people wouldn’t even have heard of.

In terms of features, our take is that there isn’t anything we’ve found in Google + (*yet*) which is a really compelling reason for your mainstream social network user to put the work in learning a new platform. Google + makes it easier to compartmentalise your overall network – the contacts you have from different parts of your life such as work colleagues, close friends etc – and control who sees what; but the nature of LinkedIn vs Facebook takes care of work vs home for most people already, and Facebook does allow you to group friends and control who sees your postings already, albeit less tidily than Google + does.

The Google + “Hangouts” feature – allowing group chat / skype / video chat  – will definitely be a major attraction for some, but again for the average user we’re not convinced it’ll be enough to make them jump ship.

So to summarise, the enormous traction that Facebook, particularly, already has, combined with your average punter’s reluctance to put time into learning a new site without a good reason, will be a real challenge to Google +.

The potentially ugly

Okay, ugly might be an overstatement, but it seems likely that Google will make full use of the degree to which they’re already embedded in most web user’s lives – and particularly the amount they know about logged in users via search behaviour and profiles in their various applications – to “suck” users into Google + almost by default.

And for business marketers, it’s inevitable that Google will prioritise Google + influence over that of other social networks in search results, and that will be enough to make a presence near-compulsory for businesses with a fairly mature online strategy.  If you have a couple of extra minutes spare, check out this article on how Google search results are already starting to show the influence of social linking.

The reality – do you need to master Google + right now?

In a word, no. For one big reason – Google + isn’t currently permitting most businesses to create corporate profiles anyway, and has stated that it’ll delete any it comes across.  We doubt that situation will last long, but for now your business isn’t missing out.

But that, combined with the lack of mainstream takeup at present, means that our advice to most businesses would be the same as we’re currently giving our clients –  watch and wait. In the meantime, we’re  exploring  the site through our personal accounts, so that we have marketing strategies ready to go if or when it takes off!

Are you using G+? What are your thoughts so far?