Whether the company behind the world’s most popular search engine can attract a mass audience to its Google+ social networking platform will depend on its ability to evolve and on the moves of its rivals.
The service, which is similar to Facebook in many respects, is available to businesses wanting to share company updates, industry news, photos, videos and links with customers, investors, businesses partners, journalists and other stakeholders. And, as with Facebook or Twitter, within a few minutes even the non-technical business user can register an organisation, create a page branded with a logo and start communicating.
The likes of Dell, UK mobile phone group O2, Pepsi and Coca-Cola have set up Google+ accounts. The service boasted 40 million users within 100 days of its June 2011 launch. Even at the 90 million user level reported for Google+ this week by “The Wall Street Journal”, its following is a drop in the ocean compared with Facebook’s 800 million users, many of whom Google’s new service is trying to win over. And there are questions about how much time people who have signed up on Google+ are spending with their accounts. "The Wall Street Journal" cited new research by comScore Inc. showing alarming low user activity.
Just how successful it will be will depend on the level of enthusiasm its unique features, including “circles” and “hangouts”, create.
“Circles” allow a user to group followers into specific categories – vendors or fellow finance directors, for example – and target posts to send them.
“Hangouts” enable users to video-chat, while also allowing teams to work remotely on shared files from remote locations in real time – a useful tool for keeping in touch with staff who often are on the move.
Other functions include “hangouts with extras”, which allow users to screen-share and invite phone participants, while “hangouts on air” enable up to ten users to participate. Here the content is recorded live on Google+ and YouTube, and made available for later playback so many more followers can see it. This is ideal for broadcasting a technical tuition class for management accountants, for example.
But perhaps the biggest draw for companies is that – because more than 1 billion people use Google’s search engine every month – Google+ allows them to start tapping into that traffic, as Google+ pages are now showing up in search results. Users with personal Google+ profiles can also recommend a company with a “+1”, which can bring more traffic to the company’s Google+ site. A +1 can help improve a Google search too, because people can see which pages your social connections have “+1’d” right beneath search results and ads.
Peter Chadha, founder of DrPete, an IT strategy consultancy in the UK, says that if Google+ does one day eclipse Facebook and reach a billion users, it will benefit a company if it has had a presence and an established following of its brand from the beginning. “Also, having content related to your organisation on Google’s social network will certainly increase its chances of being listed highly in Google internet search results,” he says.
But not all feedback has been complimentary. Some users have complained that promoting different content to different “circles” is too time-consuming. Others are unimpressed by the template layout. Matt Polsky, social media director for Veterans United Home Loans, the US’s leading dedicated provider of loans guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, complains “that there’s nothing overly special about these business pages, since they currently lack a vanity URL, have no setting for multiple admins and merely resemble a personal page”.
Tristan Rogers, CEO of brand consultancy ConcretePlatform.com, which specialises in working with UK retailers operating in Asia, thinks Google+ could be “revolutionary”, but adds that “the obvious way in which a business is required to rely on this page rather than their own site seems heavy-handed or clumsy”. However, “if Google+ takes off, and consumers start socially tagging the internet, businesses will increasingly rely on their Google+ page to get a handle on this dynamic and mine its value”, he adds.
Certainly, Google+ appears to offer potential for the outward-facing functions of companies, such as sales and marketing. But the jury is still out on how valuable Google+ will be for management accountants. Bill Sheridan, e-communications manager and editor at the Maryland Association of CPAs (MACPA) in the US, recently set up a Google+ account on behalf of the organisation. While he admits that he is still “figuring out how we can use it in the long term”, Sheridan says he can build up a professional community, as he has on LinkedIn and Facebook. He believes that the “hangouts” application will be valuable for connecting with CPAs around the world and could be “used to share ideas and experiences, and problem-solve in real-time”.
Sheridan says that the MACPA may use Google+ to broadcast video tutorials or post round-table discussions that other members could benefit from. “There are some great possibilities from using Google+, but one drawback so far is that not many professional users have signed up. There aren’t many CPAs registered, and because take-up is low at the moment it makes us reluctant to invest much time in building it up. We’re waiting to see how it develops,” he says.
Just how quickly management accountants take up Google+ will depend on whether its features are judged to be superior to that of rivals, says Charlotte McEleny, a journalist specialising in social media at UK publication New Media Age. She says that the biggest factor to determine whether Google+ can attract a mass take-up with communities, such as management accountants, will depend on its ability to evolve. She says Google has already made several false starts building a social media platform but is determined to get it right this time, especially after investing heavily in its development. “I think Google+ has the potential to have much more sophisticated video and broadcast tools in the future,” she says.
Google’s determination to keep reinventing social media could also be driven by the prospect of powerful new competitors joining a heavyweight pack that already includes Facebook, LinkedIn and Myspace. Microsoft is expected to throw its weight behind an “all-singing, all-dancing” alternative to Google+. So far, however, Microsoft has maintained radio silence on So.cl, the name given to the service under construction. When approached for further comment, Microsoft would only reference recent independent blog reports that So.cl would be limited to the educational sphere.
McEleny does not believe Microsoft will be rolling out a powerful social media tool any time soon. “I doubt they’ll launch anything on the scale of Google+, given the issues Google had along the way,” she says. Google launched Orkut in 2004, GChat in 2006, Lively in 2008, Latitude and Google Wave in 2009 and Google Buzz in 2010, all of which failed to build a mass worldwide following.
McEleny says that given the breadth of offerings already in place, Google+ should be seen as complementary to platforms such as Facebook, which already offers a variety of sophisticated options for building communities [See Facebook’s five-point guide for CGMA members below].
McEleny says management accountants should incorporate Google+ into a portfolio of platforms, including LinkedIn, Myspace and Twitter. They can then be integrated with Tumblr, a hybrid of social media and traditional blogs, which keeps the universe of tweets, hashtags, connections, pages, likes and check-ins in balance.
Despite its competitive instincts, Google acknowledges that its new offering will have to fit into an already jumbled landscape. Just how successful Google+ will be is likely to depend on its reliability, and its ability to become a more sophisticated service over time. Its fortunes will also be determined by how fast the rest of the pack innovate. The rapid collapse of Myspace users is a sharp reminder of how fickle the huge following of even the most popular offering can be.
Google’s tips and tricks to help CGMA members communicate with their counterparts globally through Google+
1. Jump in everywhere and don’t be shy.
Google+ has a search bar that is updated with fresh entries second by second. So if you type in a topic you're interested in, such as “management accountant congress”, you'll see the latest entries. Even better, these events usually have a “hashtag”, such as “#management accountants week” (add that hashtag to your Google+ posts so that people can find it.) That search term will give you a view of all the things happening; don’t be shy, make yourself a part of the conversation, respond to questions on other people’s posts or jump into public hangouts that look interesting. It will all help to put you on the map if you have a scheduled event.
2. Get conversations going
If you pick the right question, you’ll find that the comments can flow and be surprisingly lucid (in internet terms). It sometimes helps to post an article about a tricky issue in your area and then just ask the question. By using the “+” sign, you can ask specific people questions in your post. When you type in ‘+’ in the search box in Google+ or when you are creating a post, and then followed directly by the name from the person or brand you want to add, they will be added to that post and will see that message in their stream as well. You can use the comments as source material for a follow-up post – those comments often give you the best idea of what people are really interested in.
3. Go global
How do you go global? Post constantly on Google+, using hangouts and replying to colleague management accountants. Not everyone speaks the same language, so you can use the “translate function”, which goes through the posts and adds translations in the comments (including Thai, Bahasa, English and Mandarin).
4. Put your contacts into circles
Different people have different interests, and on Google+ the way you talk to them can reflect that. “Circles” let you group contacts and interested parties by location, interest and more, which in turn lets you send the right messages to the right people, and makes all your content more valuable to all your followers.
5. Engage with your contacts with face-to-face hangouts
Hangouts let you set up one-click video conversations with colleagues, or members alike, in your own country or beyond. Now you can get face-to-face feedback on news and issues, help people solve problems, get to know them better and collaborate with remote colleagues on shared documents in real time – all over high-quality, easy-to-use video, which is usually provided through your computer.
Facebook has responded to the emergence of Google+ by unveiling a series of new functions. Unlike Google+, however, Facebook’s guide for management accountants, which follows, is focused much more on managing your personal profile than that of your business:
If you want to share things with colleagues, but don’t feel close enough to add them as a friend, now there is a solution. You can now turn on “subscriptions” so that your colleagues can see your public updates – and you can use it, in turn, to listen to what influential business people have to say. Just click “subscriptions” on your timeline to learn more.
2. The “view as” button
It is now clearer who can see what on your timeline. Facebook’s “view as” button lets you see what your timeline looks like to different people – whether close friends, your boss or other management accountants.
3. Timeline review
Keeping your personal life and your business life separate on social networking sites can be difficult. Now, if someone in your network tags you in an image that you’d rather not share with those in your professional life, “Timeline review” allows you to block it.
4. Smart friend lists
It has always been possible to make lists on Facebook and share different things with different people. But most people don’t have time to make lists, so Facebook now makes some automatically. “Smart friend lists” will be created from your timeline information for your colleagues, fellow school pupils, family and people from the same city.
5. Simpler privacy settings
Privacy shouldn’t be complicated. Previously, your sharing settings on Facebook were complicated, and separate from where you actually shared content. Now, language around privacy is simpler – so “everyone” is now called “public” and you can see the audience you’re sharing with as you post, and next to the content after you’ve posted it.
Quick guide: Google’s guide to getting started with Google+
- First, set up your Google+ account by visiting https://plus.google.com/
- Customise your profile for everyone to see.
- Organise your contacts into “circles”.
- Start sharing content with your contacts: other accountants, other colleagues, etc.
- Add a +1 button to your website properties.
- Connect your Google account with a YouTube account.
- Connect your YouTube account with Twitter.
- Use existing social media and web properties to tell your contacts, colleagues and clients about your new profile on Google+.
- Test out and use as many features of Google+ as you can.