Google+: its prospects and likely implications for PR

Google Logo from Robert Scoble

With a relatively low-key blog post, Google has announced details of its long-talked about new foray into social networking – Google+.

Google’s hit rate with its new projects is fairly low. It knows that if it tries out enough new ideas, the occasional one will be the sort of success that more than makes up for the efforts which went into the flops. Even in social networks, there have been plenty of flops already – remember Google Sidewiki, Google Buzz or Google Wave to name but three?

However, Google+ has three things going for it that make it look, at this early stage, more like a Chrome or an Android – something that is set to become a major success.

First, Google has invested very significantly in the project, as Wired’s excellent feature on Google+’s development explains.

Second, it introduces a significant new focus for organising your social networking, albeit one that others will be able to imitate if it’s a success. Google+ uses the idea of "circles" to organise your friends or contacts, so you can have different groups of (possibly overlapping) people have access to different content. Work colleagues can see some content, for example, whilst personal friends (who may or not include some work colleagues) other content and family possibly some of each. Compare that with Facebook, whose privacy settings simply let you allow wider groups of people to see less, and you can see how Google+’s approach more naturally fits with the way people actually live their lives.

Third, if circles is one of Google+’s hearts the other is Google’s search algorithm expertise, used to find and present content the algorithm think you will find useful from all that being shared online (called "Sparks") – using your network of contacts to refine what you’re shown but pulling content from across the internet. By contrast, Facebook with its newfeed relies on what your friends have already decided to share on Facebook – a far smaller pool of information, and one necessitated by Facebook not having a global search engine technology at its heart.

If all this turns out to be accurate (and checking back, my initial reaction to Buzz was appropriately sceptical, phew!), what dose it mean for people working in PR?

By bringing together search and social media in the Sparks results, Google+ will heighten the need to run integrated communications operations. Getting media coverage from mainstream news outlets these days often results in very search-friendly content going online – such as if a daily newspaper puts a story up on its website – but that will be only half the job to get it appearing prominently in people’s Sparks. The other half will be having it shared by networks of interested readers, which means both choosing shareable topics and encouraging the formation of those networks.

Google will be even more closely entwining the results of customer service, marketing and public relations – making the costs of having siloed approaches to all three that much higher.