Google+ : Is Privacy the Key?

Google+ social networkingIn most discussions about Google+ thus far, the conversation seems to boil down to “Can it beat Facebook?” And when the answer is yes, the reason is usually privacy issues, which are regarded as Facebook’s Achilles’ heel.

But in a recent post about Google+ on Search Engine Watch, Jonathan Allen makes some very thought-provoking points, which are summed up nicely by this rather lengthy excerpt:

“Yet, if we let go of the broadcast purpose, and return to the way in which we actually network in real-life, Google+ starts to look more like a set of collaborative workflow tools that can be put to any purpose. Putting aside any notion of similarity to Facebook, the major differentiator between Google+ is its focus on live sharing…

In this way, the Google+ platform brings with it the promise of being in step with real-life rather than the promise of fame. To get the best out of it, we will have to step beyond the notion of ‘engagement’ much touted by social media gurus and solely focus on ‘purpose’. If Google wants to gain ground in social it is going to have to drop the dialectics of privacy, and refrain from asking its users “what are you up to now?” or “what is on your mind?” and squarely focus user attention on the question, “what do you want to achieve?”

Google+ needs to elucidate its own purpose fast – and privacy is not the purpose.

Rather than asking me to organize my contacts into friends, family, followers and acquaintances, the Google+ UI needs to bite the bullet and ask me what I am up for in life. If Google can get me to focus on my real-life goals, I would gladly organize those contacts into social circles that can help me achieve them.”

Privacy issues, then, are not the ammunition Google+ can use to become a viable Facebook competitor, at least according to Allen. And he may be on to something. Let’s look at the implications for business by addressing 4 key points (never mind the fact that Google+ does not have business pages yet; they’re coming).

  1. “Its focus on live sharing”: Allen describes Google+ as a “set of collaborative workflow tools” – Dilbertesque jargon for “tools that help you work with others to get things done effectively.” If we accept Allen’s argument that this is the key difference between Google+ and Facebook, that “broadcasting” is Facebook’s primary function, then Google+ could outshine Facebook for B2B businesses, a category where Facebook’s usefulness has been marginal. By allowing B2B companies to communicate in real-time with clients and potential clients, Google+ could become a legitimate driver of business for B2B users.
  2. “Privacy is not the purpose”: Privacy is not as big of an issue on Facebook for businesses as it is for individual users – so Allen’s point that Google+ better be about something else holds true for businesses as well.
  3. Engagement vs. Purpose: As a business, isn’t your purpose in using social media to engage with customers, and allow them to engage with you? Well…maybe. Social media marketing is a very new phenomenon. In fact, a recent article by Dan Zarrella (find it here) shows no correlation between engagement in the form of Facebook conversations leading to increased page views. In other words, engagement is probably not going to increase the number of fans you have. We still think engagement is crucial, though. But whether your purpose with social media is engagement or something else, the most critical point is…
  4. “Real-life goals”: Whatever social media platform you are using for your business (and you should be using several), you cannot think of it as an add-on, an internet doohickey to complement your “real” marketing program. Social media is a part of your marketing program, plain and simple, and if it’s not, you’re not doing it right. This is a notion that many businesses still struggle with. If Google+ helps businesses bring their social media strategies in line with their real-life goals in ways that Facebook has not yet been able to, it may prove to have a long, healthy life.

Of course, all these conversations about Google+ vs. Facebook present an either/or dichotomy. The history of social media is too short to preclude a scenario where Facebook and Google+ exist side by side, leveraging perhaps different strengths for users’ different purposes. In any case, it’s going to be an interesting ride in the social media world for the next little while.