The Google+ Project: A New Social Network Populated by People, Run by Android
Google announced today the launch of its most formidable competitor to Facebook yet – The Google+ Project or “Google+”. This comes hot on the heels of their launch, just eight weeks ago of “+1” – a way that users can vote on web content and search engine results that they like. Google+ is a huge extension to this concept.
What is Google+? What does this mean to advertisers? What does this mean to the competition – Facebook, Twitter, Skype? We will attempt to provide our customers with insights to all of these questions – realizing that this is still very new and much is yet to be learned.
What is it? Google+ is a new social networking site being offered by Google. It is, in concept, very much like Facebook in that it allows users to post information (videos, comments, photos) and share that information with a network of friends, family, associates – essentially any list of contacts. The system also provides “Skype-like” video chat, and Yahoo Messenger like text chat features to allow a user to share via various media. The list of contacts for a user starts with the Gmail account list – which is an obvious synergy point for Google.
According to Campaign Monitor (http://www.campaignmonitor.com/stats/email-clients/) , Gmail is the #5 desktop email service used by consumers with 7% of the users, and also growing the fastest at 22% per year. Other sources have them at #3.
So having Gmail contact lists already distributed at this scale is a powerful competitive advantage for the launch of the platform. Google has a robust blog on this that can be found at here. Overall, this is a compelling launch and one that advertisers should take seriously.
How is it different from Facebook? The system has a couple of differences from the leading social networking site – Facebook – that are important.
· First, Google is marketing that it allows a user to direct with whom information is shared in a very simple way. Facebook has similar capabilities, but they are harder to control and in most cases a users’ entire contact list gets pinged on a post. With Google+, the user will be able to direct which of its groups, or circles, get the post.
· Second, the system does not require one to accept a connection in order to get postings from another party. So one can receive updates without having to share their own.
· Third , access to this system will be even more ubiquitous than Facebook. Chrome browsers will allow easy access. Android operating systems for mobile phones will have this embedded through a system called Huddle. And there will be easy ways to post YouTube videos to Google+.
Google is intending to make it very easy for people to share information from videos through Youtube, contacts through Gmail, mobile usage through Android, and web data through Chrome. This will be the major technical advantage of the system.
What does this mean for advertisers? Nothing yet. The system is in beta. Google learned from the Buzz launch, which has a very closed beta process, and was considered both insight and outside of Google as unsuccessful. Google+ is being beta tested with a public audience of Gmail users, according to their blog. And, the system does not yet have advertising options – but Google does mention that they will evaluate opportunities for advertisers in the future. We already recommended that advertisers should embrace and try out the +1 system and we continue to recommend that this is the best way for advertisers to prepare for the potential success of The Google+ Project.
What does this mean for Google and Facebook? Google clearly sees Facebook as a major competitor. May data from Comscore shows that Google gets 187M visitors monthly and Facebook 157M, but visitors spend 375 minutes on Facebook on average in a month compared to 231 minutes on Google. The theory is that advertising dollars, particularly in push advertising like display and video ads, will ultimately follow where the consumers spend their time. So Google sees this “mindshare gap” as a huge threat – to their advertising revenue stream around ability to promote banners to relevant consumers. Google+ is designed to win back some of this consumer time – and ultimately provide access to advertisers.
Google will have a couple of key advantages.
· First, Google is making no secret that they see mobile as the most compelling future trend, and we would expect that they will push Google+ through Android and Chrome hard. They have a strong lead in this area over everyone. And the mobile centric nature of Google’s apps may provide the opportunity for Google+ to displace Twitter as the mobile alternative to short text conversations through the Huddle product. There appears to be no character limit!
· Second, Their position as a top email service provider gives them natural advantages and their users can easily move their contact lists and group them, which is a key enabler of social networking platforms.
· Third, it is true that they have a large number of gateways to connect a social media platform with key data sources like videos, apps, mail, contacts etc. This should make usability simple.
The one concern we see is that Google+ is allowing users to push content to people who are not necessarily accepted friends or connections. We do not yet know how that works mechanically, however, that sounds like an area people should keep an eye on, as it could easily be abused. This could be a source of spam. Again, we will investigate how this works mechanically once the platform is further released.
Will The Google+ Project Work? It’s too early to tell. The marketing of The Google+ Project will come down to two issues – how easy will Google make it for people to build their networks on Google+ (answer: very easy) and whether the privacy issues they are bringing up will be salient (answer: less likely). If Google really sees the key metric being the “mindshare gap,” then keep an eye on this statistic. For Google to even the “mindshare gap” based on Comscore’s May data they would have to increase users time on Google for the average monthly user by 80-85 minutes.
For advertisers, if Google can provide the same types of advertising opportunities currently seen on Facebook, Linked In, and other social platforms, this will be a huge opportunity for advertisers. Ads served through Doubleclick to target the social platform, integrated with search functionality on YouTube and the main search engine for PPC – that is a powerful combination. Google Analytics can be used to track user behavior all the way through to conversion either on the social platform, or on the search engine, with seamless reporting and analytics.
Facebook’s Response? Nothing yet. The big issue continues to be when/whether Facebook decides to build a search engine – or leverage Bing as the search engine within the platform. Remember, Microsoft is an investor in Facebook. If/when that happens, then as they say in football: “It’s on!”
In the meantime, Facebook continues to grow, and the advertising response quality is good.