Google Plus Invades the Social Media Scene

by Steven E. Streight

Google has released its own social media site to compete with Facebook and Twitter.

It's called Google Plus, or G+ for short, and it combines the good aspects of traditional long-form blogging and micro-blogging/social networking, while eliminating many of the bad aspects.

Is it the Facebook/Twitter killer? Of course it is—at least for me and what I'm endeavoring to accomplish online. Rejecting Facebook for my own personal use (as I have no desire to connect with old high school pals), I have managed Facebook for clients, but need to constantly stay on top of recurrent phishing scams, spammy game invites, malware exploits and unannounced privacy control changes. Still, I find that Facebook can have marketing value for local business, and I advocate cautious implementation of it for advertising, connecting with customers and interacting with your hometown community.

As far as Twitter goes, I was an avid fan for many years, being one of the first to use it when tech guru Robert Scoble sounded his virtual trumpet and led a mass movement of the tech crowd to this (originally) simple Promised Land of status-update microblogging. However, since they ushered in the new Twitter with an interface mimicking third-party tweet management platforms, I've slowed way down on my postings there, and find the new Twitter to be a mess of convoluted application chaos.

Google Plus. The solution for your online branding, reputation building and customer interaction. It started, for me, as an invite.

Beta Testing the Site
As an official member of the Google Platform Preview Team, I was brought on board as an early adopter/beta-tester, before Google Plus went public, to test-drive the platform and provide suggestions for improvement. I was immediately impressed by the interface and functionalities of G+. Taking my responsibilities seriously, I clicked around and explored the functionalities of this social media site, providing feedback to Google several times a day. Every time I noticed something that seemed to be missing or was not working as I expected it to, I clicked on the “Feedback” button and explained the problem and a possible solution.

When my fellow beta testers discovered something they didn't like, and complained about it in a post, others would scold them and say, “Did you mention this issue to Google via the Feedback tool?” We were enthusiastic to an ecstatic degree about Google's new social media offering. Many were astonished at the sophistication and simplicity of the platform and vividly recalled the failures of Google Buzz, Orkut, Google Wave and other misadventures related to online community and collaboration tools that Google has tried to implement.

In a very short period of time, Google fixed what was broken, added what was missing and enhanced what was imperfect. Responses to feedback were swift and constant. The resulting G+ platform is a powerful tool for anyone who wants to connect with others who share similar interests, interact in a dynamic online community, or promote their products or expertise.

Features & Initial Controversies
One of the original ideas offered by Google Plus was the concept of circles, or groupings of people you follow and publish posts to, based on generic categories like Following, Friends, Family, Acquaintances and Public, or your own labels, like Photographers, College Buddies, Tech Pundits, Musicians, Celebrities, Political Ranters, Marketing Pros, Customers or Interesting Scientists.

You also were given the ability to easily determine which circles would receive your content postings (text, video, audio, photos, etc.), and many users got in the habit of not posting sensitive, political or personal content to the public—limiting it to specific, relevant circles.

For the first two months, you would see long-threaded, heated discussions about Google's controversial policy to ban or kick out anyone using a nickname, fake name or anonymous designation. Furious debates over this issue echoed all over the platform. People argued that some users preferred to be anonymous for personal or political reasons. Others claimed that their nickname was a legacy—it was their official identity online, and nobody would know their real name if forced to use it.

Still others, including myself, argued vehemently that while people in repressive nations and whistle-blowers have legitimate reasons for being anonymous or pseudonymous online, the vast majority of disguised identities were trolls, and if Google allowed such users, they'd open the floodgates of abuse by racists, flamers, stalkers, cyber-bullies, predators and other online ne'er-do-wells.

Another controversy revolved around the ability to manage your posts and stream comments. Unlike many other social networking platforms, Google Plus gives you the ability to edit or delete your own comments on other people's posts, republish a post without any of the comments (if the abusive remarks are just too many to deal with individually), and block people who are troublemakers and not interested in contributing value or sincere self-expression to a conversation. In addition, on your own posts, you can disable comments, delete comments by others, and lock a post.

Blocking a person, the most extreme measure of moderation, means that you no longer see the person's content in your stream, and they won't be able to post comments on your content. They are removed from your circles, but they will still be able to see your public postings. Also, this action is invisible, meaning that the user will not receive any email or message about your blocking them.

Some users—whom I suspect were new to the whole idea of social media, since they seemed naïve and inexperienced with combating trolls—acted like blocking someone was some kind of digital death sentence or unacceptable censorship. They asserted that by adding comments to a topic thread, that somehow made them a part-owner of the conversation, and it was “crossing the line” to delete any comments, including personal attacks, or to block someone.

My Home for Social Networking
One thing I particularly like about Google Plus is how easy it is to see activities related to my posts and comments. In the upper right of my profile page, there is a link to Notifications with the number of updates. I simply click on that link and see a list of interactions (comments on my posts, comments on other people's posts that I commented on, replies to my comments, likes, shares) that I can click on and respond to.

Everything just seems more organized, more intuitive and more manageable on G+. It's a social media platform that has even replaced long-form blogging for many users, and I myself tend to post more of my original articles, photos, audio files, and videos on G+ than anywhere else. There's something about the overall atmosphere and interactivity that makes Google Plus feel like...home.

Google Plus is where I spend most of my social networking time. I'm getting far more comments, likes and shares (when someone reposts your content with credit and a link to your original post) here, and while I have nearly 3,000 people following me (have put me into a circle), I have strictly limited who I follow/circle to those who consistently publish relevant, intelligent content, even if I disagree with a lot of it.

Due to the skyrocketing popularity of Google Plus, the ease and abundance of user interactions, and the sophisticated management tools for branded pages for local business, you stand to gain a distinct and powerful competitive advantage, including terrific SEO (search engine optimization), by incorporating it in your social media marketing.

It's easy to set up your own personal G+ page and any number of additional branded pages for your clients or your organization's commercial operations. iBi

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