July 29, 2011

Google+ – a social network site with endless possibilities for businesses

An invite-only launch at the end of June has since attracted an estimated 18 million users to Google+ – Google’s fourth attempt at developing a top social networking site – and so far, so good. It’s getting a largely favourable response with critics and consumers alike.

Google+ is kind of a Facebook/Twitter hybrid with one key USP that might just make it a social network winner: Circles. The Circles feature allows users to arrange their contacts into ‘circles’ of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, etc, and control who sees what. For example, you can exclude workmates from seeing those personal holiday snaps you’d rather they weren’t privy to without the stigma of ‘defriending’ that Facebook currently carries or having to grant limited account access.

It’s also the feature that we think is set to make social networking, for the first time, really work for businesses. It will allow companies the chance to converse with their consumers unrestricted by word count and without the constraints of, say, Facebook’s limited profile option. Circles are really flexible – there’s no limit to the number of circles that can be created and they can all be individually named by the user and privacy settings tailored to suit. What’s more, grouping social connections makes communication controlled, easier, more efficient and more effective making it less likely that consumers will mix up their personal and professional lives.

In a similar fashion to their previous beta invitation only Gmail launch, Google+ will only be available to selected and invited members of the public for the time being. Such an initiative is breeding curiosity in the network with a large proportion joining up as soon as they have an invite, eager to explore what it has to offer.

With users able to segment and control their personal and professional, and colleague, client and customer, etc, guises, Google+’s impressive features open up a number of attractive opportunities for businesses. For example, Circles could be used from an e-customer relationship management perspective. Another handy feature for business is Hangouts. Taking real-time conversation and group interaction to the next level, Hangouts allow users to open a video chatroom. This gives businesses the chance to host video conferences through the site and, in turn, gives customers the chance to discuss products and services in a group chat environment.

Consider the inevitable integration with Google’s existing products – Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs – and it’s clear that Google+ has a whole host of appealing features for businesses. Additional meeting functionality, meeting co-ordination and internal team comms… The possibilities are endless. Plus Google has further features in development, from voice conferencing and a whiteboard feature (for multi-user visual editing), to document and screen sharing.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. While the consumer rollout is in full swing, the business version is some time off with no launch date announced. However, all the talk so far indicates this could well be fourth time lucky for the super brand. And having just received an invite we, for one, can’t wait to have a go.