Getting to grips with Google+

I admit I approached Google+ with a certain amount of nervousness. I *really* disliked Buzz and was happy to see it wither on the vine but was a pretty big fan of Wave and felt like a bit of a muppet when that failed to take off. Also my days of jumping onto every new shiny social media tool are far behind me (I have never bothered with Instagram nor Path). So anyway I was a slow starter with G+. More than that I actually gave up pretty early on and deleted my account finding the meta nature of the network (G+ was all people talking about G+) frustrating.

All that said when Google released their Pages in November I decided at the very least I needed to get in and take a look again from an organisational point of view. It was also about the time that this infographic of the G+ demographics was doing the rounds and that also suggested that maybe I shouldn’t have been quite so swift to dismiss it.

I’ve been talking alot at work recently about the idea of a more ‘informal’ publishing platform for the web than our limited corporate site – this slightly odd term is an attempt to avoid talking about blogs which still seem to hold some old school negative connotations with the ‘powers that be’. I was pretty settled on a plan of action for this but the more I explored Google Plus the more interested in became in the possibilities.

The rather draconian efforts to enforce ‘real’ names could/should limit some of the worries around commenting that persist and the ‘Circles’ functionality offers some interesting possibilities around slightly more targeted content for different audiences. Also, for the time being at least, G+ seems to be attracting a pretty interesting user base with a considerable amount of intelligent and thoughtful debate going on – similar to Friendfeed at its best if anything. I certainly think it has attracted some people who might be interested in what we have to say as an organisation and have something to say about it themselves (something I never really feel is true with say Facebook.)

The close integration with Youtube is nice but on the downside its ingestion of other third-party content isn’t great (I’d love to be able to embed Slideshare and Soundcloud content for example) and all the ways to push notifications of new content to Twitter seem a bit hacky as well.

The problem at the moment is finding any evidence that Pages for non-brands are really having much impact and/or attracting much engagement. Alot of people are maintaining a wait and see stance and while something like the NASA page is a great example with regular updates and plenty of engagement others like Save the Children (who were a launch partner) have gone as long as 6 weeks between posts and a lack of involvement from the 11,000 people who have ‘Circled’ them.

Another problem is the lack of a process to become a ‘verified’ page – at the moment it seems this is handled in some kind of ad-hoc manner and comes entirely from the Google side with no way to actually initiate the process yourself. Oh and don’t get me started on the URLs!

From a purely aesthetic point of view you can do a little to ‘pimp’ your page and I quickly found some useful guidance on this. It is amazing how this simple bit of additional effort adds to the professional feeling of the Page.

As it happens the ‘content strategy’ we have been working on is entirely platform independent but I neither want to split our focus (say between G+ and WordPress) nor use G+ simply as somewhere where we link to content elsewhere so I need to make a decision relatively soon. This is all pretty ‘greenfield’ stuff for the organisation so any direction is going to have risks associated and make people nervous but I despite all my concerns I am leaning towards taking a punt on G+ – if it doesn’t work out at least Google Takeout offers a way to retrieve any content we contribute and it feels like it might be a chance to get ahead of the curve a little for a change.

The US Navy are rather randomly leading alot of the thinking around use of G+ for organisations including talking about it almost as an extranet tool as well as the usual social media marketing and recruitment tool that big orgs increasingly see as the purpose of social networks. The slidedeck below is a useful intro:

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