Though I hate to admit it, I may have been a little harsh on Google these past months. Like many, I've rushed to judgment, dismissing the tech giant's year-old Google+ social network as a flash-in-the-pan, a pet project gone bad. Given Google's general trajectory over the years, you'd think I would give the gang in Mountain View more credit. Mea culpa, Larry, Sergey, Eric, mea culpa. By way of apology, here's a brief but heartfelt exposition outlining why I think Google+ may end up being the social media site du jour when the (pixel) dust settles.
Let me start by admitting that I've picked an opportune time to see the light, considering these numbers released from the American Customer Satisfaction Index today:
The ranking, released in partnership with the analytics company Foresee, has Google+ edging out all other social networks (and trouncing Facebook) in the battle for the hearts of social users.
Now back to my paean to Google+...
Simplicity: In my completely unscientific opinion, Google+ provides a "cleaner" social media user experience. Perhaps it is because I am an old timer (at 39), but Facebook, with its news feeds, sponsored stories, timelines, etc, is way too visually busy for me. Google+, on the other hand, feels less cluttered.
Convenience: Google+ is highly integrated with most Google services, including its search engine. Earlier this year, when Google rolled a bevy of services into its Gmail account sign-up, I was waiving the red flag along with many others.
Essentially forcing users sign up for multiple services (many of which they did necessarily realize they were signing up for) with one (key)stroke seemed a bit shady to me.
Admittedly, so is Facebook's practice of selling user data to the highest bidder.
What I've come to realize is that these kinds of chicaneries are par-for-the-course in the knock-down, drag-out world that is today's Internet.
Economies of Scale, aka The Wal-Mart Effect: A brief sidebar. My family has a cabin near a smallish town in central Minnesota. Initially, my wife and I had a dreamy-eyed vision of us strolling down Main Street purchasing our food, spirits and other household necessities from a host of small merchants that surely lined the way. In reality, most of those shops have closed, driven out by the local Wal-Mart that looms in the darkness on the edge of town (pardon the Springsteen riff).
Sad to say, I'm no longer fully convinced this is a bad thing either, at least not on a practical level. Why? Many people in the region have been hit hard by the prolonged US recession. The truth is, because Wal-Mart can employ massive economies of scale, it's able to sell a wide array of items at really inexpensive prices. I must admit that I am (albeit begrudgingly) now a Wal-Mart shopper, at least at the cabin.
I make this point because I think it exemplifies the main reason Google+ will work in the long run. Though nobody likes to admit it, practicality trumps principle. If Google can offer a social network that is fully-integrated with its search engine, YouTube, and all other services, and if most online users are already enjoying many of these services anyway, it stands to reason that people will eventually use Google+ for social as well.
Humans socialize to learn from each other and share experiences. Isn't that how many of us are using Google services right now ("I'll Google it;" "check it out- I put it on YouTube")?
A marketing tech blogger by trade, I'm also a consumer. In today's economically-uncertain, information-saturated, content-choked world, three factors tend to drive my purchase decision: price, simplicity, and convenience. I want to get the best deal as quickly and easily as possible. I want to get in and get out.
I'm not alone. The IBM Institute for Business Value found that 60-65% of business leaders believe that consumers follow a company's brand because they want to be part of a community. Only 25-30% of consumers agree. The biggest reason consumers listed for following a brand on social media was to get discounts.
In a recent Forbes article, Patrick Spenner, Managing Director of the Marketing LeaderShip Council at Corporate Executive Board (CEB), wrote about a recent survey CEB conducted in which they asked over 7,000 consumers and 200 marketing executives to list the most critical factors that impact purchase decision and brand loyalty. The top answer was not deeper engagement, but simplicity. The survey found that marketers are ramming way too much information down the gullets of consumers, causing many would-be consumers to overthink purchase decisions.
When considering a purchase, consumers use the Internet and social media for information gathering and peer advice (thus the increasing relevance of user-generated ratings and reviews). In other words, they go online to learn and weigh their options. Brands that offer prospects objective and informative content, transparent user-generated reviews, and a clear and simple path to purchase, will be the real winners. Think Amazon.com.
What does this have to do with Google+?
Given its unique structural advantages, I'm starting to see how the site can make my social media user experience simpler and more convenient. Even though I see the Google Empire eventually gobbling up all of its foes, I'm not sure I care all that much. I'm inherently lazy and congenitally busy; at least in this instance, I'm willing to sacrifice principle for practicality.
All rhetoric aside, if Google can offer me a fully-integrated online experience - from search to social, from m-commerce to mobile - that is simple and convenient, I will end up using their products and services more than any other.
Don't get me wrong. With over 900 million active users and a lot of cash, Facebook remains the dominant force in social for marketers and users alike. However, given that Google is bending the full might of its formidable online empire toward the success of Google+, I expect the fledgling social network will eventually find purchase with other users like me.
Info-graphic courtesy of CNET