Monday, 4 July 2011

What is Google Plus?

Google Plus attempts to capture ‘social’ from Facebook*. In other words it tries to mix Google’s successful search, mobile (Android) and Gmail businesses with Facebook’s successful social business.

Why is Google doing this?

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, once said that everything is better if it’s social. By this he means that we are interested in what our friends do about almost anything, whether it’s a film they watch, their job or a restaurant they visit. Market research and data show that people are far more likely to buy a product, and to pay a premium for it, if a friend recommends it.

If a friend of yours clicks ‘Like’ on the new Transformers film, then you are more likely to watch it. If you see a Transformers advert, showing you that your friend John has ‘Liked’ Transformers, then you are hugely more likely to click on the advert and to actually watch the film. This means that social advertising is massively more effective, and lucrative, than simple Google advertising that is based on what you search for or the words that appear in your emails.

How does it work?

Beneath it all Google and Facebook have created two similar systems:

· A stream of content that your friends have posted up. So your sister posts up a video of your nephew, and you can see it.

· Email, messaging, video and phone chat and other communications tools are integrated, so that all of your history of communication with a friend is captured. So if you’ve emailed a friend, shared a photo with them and organised a BBQ that you invited them to, this is all obvious to you.

· When you ‘Like’ or ‘+1’ a piece of content (e.g. the new Transformers film) your friends are told, and this preference appears in their search results.

· Social tools, so that, for instance you can see who your mutual friends with people are.

So what’s the difference between Google Plus and Facebook?

The key difference is how friends are treated. In Facebook the default choice you make is between a piece of content (e.g. your holiday photos) being public or restricted to your friends. More sophisticated settings exist, but people usually just share things with their friends.

The problem with Facebook’s default[1] is that most people have very different groups of friends. So their work friends and friends from university may be very different. And many people have had a mildly embarrassing situation when these two groups have seen the same content. For instance their work friends see photos of them at Glastonbury, or an ex-boyfriend sees your holiday photos.

Google Plus’s approach is to force you to create ‘Circles’ of different friends, so that you can share content with specific groups of people. By doing this they hope to get people to use Circles to share more information, and to spend more time on Google sites.

On top of that Google Plus has many of the useful functions that Facebook has, as well as a few additional ones. In particular, for Android users of Google Plus, any photos taken on your phone will be automatically uploaded to a private website, ready to share with your ‘Circles’.

Who will win?

Both Facebook and Google have huge audiences, lots of experience at creating usable products and very sophisticated strategies. But even if its strategy seems right, at the moment Google Plus feels a bit dead and is not terribly intuitive.

If we had to bet, we’d go with Facebook, but the chances are that both will flourish in time.

Comparison of features between Google Plus & Facebook




Show that you like content

+1 button

Like button

See what your friends are doing

Streams showing what friends are doing, split by circles

Home page showing your friends, and brand, updates

Messaging tools

Email, IM. Unlimited size IM groups via Huddle function

Messaging includes email, IM and Facebook messages


Google search shows you what your friends have +1’d

Bing search shows you what your friends have ‘Liked’

Mobile & location

Integrated with Google’s Android operating system for mobiles. Check In system is very similar to Facebook, using the popular Google Maps service

Facebook Places shows you where your friends are

Voice and video

Multiple video conferencing

Skype partnership


Photos from Android phones are automatically uploaded to your Google Plus account – encouraging you to share them.

Tagging of friends encourages sharing

Recommended content

In home feed, as with Facebook, as well as the ‘Sparks’ feed which caters for things you are interested in, but that come from strangers.

Just appears in your home feed, though you can review content from fan pages and groups later if you missed it.

*Facebook is a BR client. However I’ve tried to be as dispassionate as possible in writing this.

[1] A problem explicitly addressed by Mark Zuckerberg when launching their new groups function.

Digital campaigning

You can find some great views on what great digital campaigns looks like in the PR Week / Blue Rubicon Digital campaigning supplement, which you can find here.

Articles include:
  • Aviva on the YouAreTheBigPicture campaign
  • GiffGaff on their innovative use of members to provide customer services
  • Facebook on social