Google+ and Community: Not Quite Yet

I went on a rant against Google+ (via Twitter and Facebook, of course) last week, and I won’t do that here. For the record, I don’t actually have anything against Google+ itself. My only issue with Google+ personally is that people are abandoning other social media in favor of the new kid on the block for reasons that don’t make much sense to me. (To learn about those reasons, you’ll need to see my Twitter rant.)

Tonight, Jeremiah Owyang, internationally recognized social media guru with Altimeter Group, tweeted that it might be time for a change:

All: The Google+ is richer, easier embedding of media, longer comments, less fragmented and easier to find. Google+ is threat to Twitter

I’m sure he’s right. Google+ is a threat to Twitter. He’s not the only one who has said that, and he’s not the only one who is voting with his digital feet, so to speak. But Owyang’s comment brought to mind one very real complaint about Google+ as a social media platform from my perspective as a former Community Manager at Omniture/Adobe. Here it is:

I don’t understand how Google+ at present allows the creation and growth of community.

Round one. . . fight!Jeremiah is right that Google+ is less fragmented. But at the same time, it has no concept of free-flowing conversation organized around a topic. You can say something about, say, web analytics. Anyone who has added you to his/her circles can see your thoughts and comment on them. But unless your post is “reshared” by others, it ends there.

One of the great benefits of Twitter is that any of the service’s millions of users can see the world’s stream of consciousness on a topic. I don’t necessarily need to be following @usujason or @vabeachkevin there to see and respond to something interesting that they say. At least a handful of real-world friendships have developed out of the #omniture and #measure communities on Twitter among people who may never have found one another via a “less fragmented” service such as Facebook or Google+.

When I wake up in the morning, I check out #measure to see which new blog posts are causing a stir, and to read the conversation among a huge variety of practitioners, vendors, agencies, etc. I can’t do that on Google+. I can see what Eric Peterson is saying, and I can see what Keith Burtis is saying, but their reach only extends to those who have explicitly added them.

That’s a key element to community building, in my experience; you need a platform that crosses all lines and allows people to interact around a topic of shared interest—not simply because they happen to already be in one another’s circles.

Similarly, as a community manager I needed a way to follow the conversation about my brand. My angle was one of technical support. How could I have reached out and engaged with frustrated users unless I could see their complaints? For example, Rudi Shumpert (@rudishumpert) is a web analytics superstar. Three years ago, he was brand new and was struggling to understand some Omniture documentation. He complained. I was there. I didn’t see him because I knew who @RRS_ATL (his former handle) was. I saw him because he mentioned my brand and I had a Twitter search running all day long. Brand detractor became brand advocate within a matter of minutes.

Also, why I hate Hootsuite

This is actually a tangent. I hate Hootsuite. I tried it a few times, but the idea of keeping a browser window open all day so I could monitor the conversation has always been abhorrent. It’s too easy to close a browser window to work on some other task and then realize four hours later that you’ve been sitting out of the conversation. In my particular role, I could never do this.

But that really isn’t my point. Google+ apparently has a rudimentary API, but nothing that developers have used to build their own apps for organizing Google+ content in a way that is conducive to community-building. This is, of course, related to the previous points. (In fact, maybe I only have one point, but, by Jove, I’m going to stretch this thing out.) With a solid API and some additional ways to organize conversations, developers can churn out enterprise-ready social media management tools and integrate Google+ into existing social media management tools. Until that happens, Twitter’s API still rules. It remains, by far, the easiest source of raw social media to work with.

Longer comments = more windbags

Look, this is a blog. It’s the ultimate celebration of windbaggery. But at least you know what you’re getting with blogs. Jeremiah seems to think that the ability to pontificate at length in the comments on Google+ is a good thing. I think it has its place. (Blogs? Facebook? Google+? Probably all of the above.) But I really feel that—at least in the communities where I participate on Twitter—the 140-character limit is a good thing.

It’s not that I don’t want to hear more from my friends in the community, but the exercise of whittling down a thought into 140 (or 280, or 420, etc.) characters forces you to be succinct and straightforward. This often makes it easier for community members to process conversations with minimal distraction. I can read a tweet in about three seconds. I can read a four-paragraph response to an Avinash posting in, what, two minutes? Too often, the three second investment provides equal or greater returns than the two minute investment because the author has been forced to say in 40 words what he could have drawn out into 500.

(Of course there are crappy tweets, too, but at least they’re short.)

He’s 100% right about the ease of sharing on Google+

Yep. No argument from me there.

Conclusion: In defense of Google+

Later (still on Twitter, somewhat amusingly), Jeremiah pointed out (correctly, I’m sure—after all, this is what he does) that Google+ will undoubtedly add the missing community elements in the near future:

I’m sure those features, APIs and hash tags will come.

I’m not opposed to this at all. I will embrace Google+ for community when it is ready, but it certainly isn’t there yet. So what am I saying?

I’m saying that, right now, in my opinion, Twitter still has tons of value for business.

I’m saying that, right now, in my opinion, the best place to connect with brands and get help or provide feedback is still Twitter.

I’m saying that, right now, in my opinion, the best place to build communities around topics that matter to you is likely still Twitter.

As for what the future holds, I’ll defer to Jeremiah and other thought leaders. And I’m certainly playing around with Google+ so I’m ready if/when the shift happens.

So am I “doing it wrong?” Am I missing some feature that makes Google+ a boon to communities? What else do you think Google+ needs to do before communities are possible there?

11 comments

  1. yourwife says:

    You forgot something. Google+ doesn’t yet have a _verb_ associated with it. You can’t “Google+” something. But you CAN Tweet it. or even facebook it. Facebook has been verbified, so it could still happen, I just don’t think it rolls off the tongue.

  2. Jenn Kunz says:

    I’ll admit, while I jumped on the google+ bandwagon as quickly as possible, I’m rarely on it these days because it takes too much energy to mantain a presence on tiwtter, facebook AND google+; and I do believe the other networks still have value that g+ hasn’t (yet) replaced.
    HOWEVER, I think what people are excited about is not what google+ currently is, but its potential. Since it’s so new and so “beta” it’s become something for us to project our wishes for an ideal social network onto. I know that twitter is never going to give easy, flexible privacy settings. If I post about my personal life on twitter, all my friends, coworkers, boss etc. will see it. On the other hand, I know that facebook is never going to catch on as a great place for “community”-style discussion.
    But I don’t know what google+’s limits are, so I’ll pretend like it’s going to go the direction i want it to, and I’ll be patient in the meantime.

    • Ben says:

      Right, Jenn! I didn’t even start to discuss the fact that I have a hard time introducing anothersocial site into my routine. I once asked when Google+ would be integrated into TweetDeck and someone told me that he (or maybe it was she) preferred not to have it there because then it’s just like Twitter. But if it’s in TweetDeck I can do all of my social stuff in one place, which is important because of the sheer amount of interesting content being created in all of these places.

  3. I too joined early, but not so much because I wanted to, but to know what it was about and understand it. So far (and I’ll completely admit that habit and inertia likely have something to do with it) I can’t see replacing anything with it. (And really, can’t something new be released without it “killing” something else?!) I like the enforced brevity of Twitter, that people can’t rant for too long. (And I am not a fan of the “1 of 47″ tweets. Write a blog post, people!) I actually see G+ as better replacing Facebook, for me, anyway.

    The truth is, wherever people eventually end up, I’ll be, because for me it’s not about being committed to a network, but to a community, and wherever they go, there I’ll be. I certainly won’t be giving up anything to jump on the G+ bandwagon. (E.g. The “I’m going to quit Twitter and only use G+.”)

    But as a total last-minute 2 cents – sometimes the issue with new Google releases (Wave, anyone?) is that when they roll out slowly, and not many of your friends/contacts/etc are using them, it’s hard to see the value. Maybe if everyone I knew used G+ I’d see tremendous value. I don’t yet, but who knows. Wait and see.

    • Ben says:

      Absolutely right, Michele. We go where the community is. I also agree that Google+ seems like a Facebook replacement (and, for what it’s worth, my rant last week against Google+ was inspired by people ditching Facebook, not by people ditching Twitter). The way you interact on Google+ more closely resembles Facebook. Then I saw Jeremiah—a champion of community—announce that he was considering ditching Twitter, and that he sees G+ as a greater threat to Twitter. Now I’m all confused (but that’s nothing new, really).

  4. Randy says:

    I agree wholeheartedly Ben. Google+ has become uninteresting to me in just a few week’s time. Some of it has to do with most of my friends staying with Facebook. But a lot has to do with the conversation.

    People who I friend on Facebook know what I’m about (they know me). I use my @randyzwitch Twitter account to converse professionally, mostly about #omniture and #measure. That has been an amazing learning experience. And I use LinkedIn as my “public” set of accomplishments.

    Google+? I had to unfollow a very prominent tech/web guy, because he dominated my stream. Not that his posts were bad, just that I wasn’t interested in reading them. I’ve also noticed people such as Jenn above asking others where to list them in Circles, so they don’t get bombarded by content they don’t want to see. Wha? I’ve got to organize MY circles, so that YOU don’t see content you want? That’s a tough thing to wrap my head around (no offense to Jenn, just an example that I’ve seen many doing).

    Like you, I’ve got a blog. That’s where I write as much or little as I want, about whatever I want. You choose to “follow” or don’t. Twitter is my participation vehicle for “community”. Facebook is my real life friend vehicle (meetups, life changes, some chatter about mundane topics, etc..

    Google+ is? Still waiting…

    • Ben says:

      Thanks, Randy. I’ve also had to do some unfortunate unfollows—people whom I would never unfollow on Twitter. I asked myself, “Where do these people find the time to write these lengthy Google+ updates?” Then I realized, in some cases they were replacing both Twitter and their blogs with Google+. That’s one approach, I suppose, but I don’t think Google+ is the place to blog because people like you and me get annoyed by the domination of our feeds.

  5. Tim Wilson says:

    You *nailed* it with the lack of topical conversation discovery. That’s the biggest current shortfall. Of course, I’d add that circles are awesome…but I wan’t Venn diagrams (so I can target people in my “Columbus” circle who are *also* in my “Web Analytics” circle to discuss an upcoming event, for instance).

    I second Michele’s comment about going where the community is. I was a heavy, heavy Yahoo! webanalytics group participant…until the conversation migrated to Twitter. As it turned out, Twitter was a better place for those discussions (with blog posts replacing long-form musings).

    We’ll see what sticks and what gets improved (huddles hold more promise for me than sparks or hangouts…but I haven’t had much success with any of them yet).

    • Ben says:

      Tim,

      Great comment! I love the Venn diagram idea. The concept of circles is definitely nice where there is no overlap, but I’m in the same boat as you; 80% of my analytics friends don’t care about my sports-related tweets, and 80% of my sports-fan friends don’t care about analytics. I suppose you could solve this problem by creating *really* granular circles (“Web analytics AND Columbus,” “Web analytics AND New York City,” “Improv Class AND Columbus”) and then also creating wider circles (“Web analytics,” “Columbus”) for posts of broader interest.

      Jeremiah is the first person I heard suggest that community managers for brands need to “fish where the fish are,” and he’s right. I think that was the point of my post; for a variety of reasons, I don’t see the “fish” (the community members) moving their conversations off of Twitter just yet. But Google+ has all kinds of potential.

      Ben

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