To Google+, or Not to Google+? The Social Media Waiting Game

The PR professional’s approach to social media is often a waiting game. Sure there were/are trailblazers, but most of the industry allowed early adopters to experiment with Facebook and Twitter before jumping into the fray… and with good reason. Why invest time and resources in an outlet if a client won’t be convinced of any real return on investment? Even after social media outlets become proven channels for communication, it can still be a challenge to convince clients of their value.

At this time, the public relations and marketing industries have embraced social media as an effective, even necessary communications tool. Whether you are generating buzz about a new product or service, building a virtual community to raise brand awareness, or reaching out to improve stakeholder relations, social media is considered one of the big guns now. We all “know” this, and we’ve all heard it before.

But when is a social media outlet “ripe” enough to take on? Does it require a certain number of users, a certain volume of activity, a certain density of online groups and other digital communities? There are no rules, but we can still make useful conjectures. We can decide when to wait, and when to join the party.

The social media darling of the moment is Google+, which is rising to become (?) a potential contender with Facebook for social networking dominance. Google+ is similar to Facebook, but takes on a more streamlined, minimalist and integrationist approach. Contacts are organized based on their relationship to you: friends, family, acquaintances – so not everybody needs to be your “friend” (Facebook has already attempted to imitate this feature with the “smart” friends lists). The platform is integrated with Google Chat and Picasa, Google’s photo sharing service. It features innovative design elements such as “hangouts”, multi-user webcam chats that zoom in on whoever is speaking. And perhaps best of all, the interface is not (yet) cluttered with advertisements or sponsored pages. Plus, it’s Google – so you know it is connected, comprehensive, and reliable.

So Google+ is great – what’s the problem? In so many words, the problem is whether or not people are using Google+, and if they are, to what degree they are using it. Traffic to the site increased dramatically after it was opened to the general public, but now that initial traffic explosion has subsided. When I first created my Google+ account, I was excited about the prospect of a Facebook alternative, having grown annoyed with many of Facebook’s recent changes and the general direction the cluttered social media giant is headed. However, even as my Google+ network increases in size, I have yet to see activity levels rise beyond the occasional update.

Still, the platform is highly compelling and it will be interesting to see where it goes. A writer on GigaOm recently predicted that Google+ does not offer a service unique enough or different enough from competitors to truly be successful. I tend to be more generous. Google+ may not be doing anything revolutionary, but, in this writer’s opinion, it is a cleaner, more efficient tool that has tons of potential. It just needs to overcome one major hurdle: getting people to spend more time on it! And that is a real challenge, given that we already spend so much time on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

To me, the most compelling reason to use Google+ is the way it is tied into Google’s assets, from Google’s traditional search engine to the Picasa photo albums. This opens up tons of opportunities for putting up integrated content. And the features are likely only to grow more comprehensive as Google broadens its ever-expanding array of tools. Recently, Google acquired social media analytics company SocialGrapple, and some have speculated that this move was done to add an analytics component to Google+. Whether this is true or not, Google is sure to add more and more interesting features as its social networking tool grows.

What are the PR applications for Google+? It isn’t entirely clear yet. It seems that communities will be a big part of the platform, but that component hasn’t really emerged yet. Some organizations have created accounts, but whether or not users will interact with those accounts in the same way they interact with say, Pages on Facebook remains to be seen.

Google+ is not quite ripe enough for PR industry folks to take on for their clients. The media giant’s social network still needs to prove to a wider audience why it is a viable alternative, or complement to, existing outlets.  However, we should be impelled to explore Google+ on our own. That way, we’ll be ready when our clients want to know: “What are we doing with our Google+ account?”

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