Google+ and Social Search: Great Potential, Greater Challenges

BACKGROUND

On June 28, Google started a “field trial” for its new social product, Google+.  Google+ has four main features: Circles, Sparks, Hangouts and Mobile.  Users can sort friends into Circles, discover shared interests through Sparks and video-chat about those interests in Hangouts.  Google+ also incorporates the +1 Button—Google+ users have a profile that houses a stream of all the content the user has shared and +1’d.  The +1 Button is Google’s response to the Facebook “Like” button, and Google+ is Google’s response to, well, Facebook in general.

IMPLICATIONS FOR SEARCH ADVERTISERS

Google’s end goal is to create its own network of social connections and shared content that can be used to make search more intimate and relevant.  Conversely, Bing has tapped Facebook to make search more intimate and relevant—Bing now shows “Liked” results from people in the searcher’s Facebook network.  Whether it’s on Google or Bing, there’s no doubt that social cues are transforming the search engine results page (SERP). 

If Google can succeed in driving large scale Google+ adoption—and derive a wealth of social cues from Google+ users—search could be revolutionized.  Google+ users could see highly-customized SERPs that rank results based on recommendations/likes from Circles.  Shared interests discovered through Sparks could float to the top of the SERP.  In other words, the searcher’s friends will play a significant role in influencing where a result ranks and whether it gets clicked—both in natural search and paid search (if social cues are integrated into Quality Score).  Search marketing strategies will thus focus around influencing customers to participate with your brand by sharing your content with Circles, discovering your brand through Sparks, talking about your brand in Hangouts and +1ing your content. 

CHALLENGES FOR GOOGLE+

Early reviews of Google+ have been positive and people are excited about its features.  That being said, the social landscape is crowded.  No matter how cool Google+ is—and how much scale Google has—getting people to adopt another social network or social sharing site will be a challenge.  People are busy managing their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, YouTube and Salesforce Chatter accounts.  This means that Google+—to gain large-scale adoption—must not only be better than Facebook et. al, but significantly better. 


Instead of partnering with Facebook, Google has chosen to create its own social network.  With that comes the challenge of gaining adoption.  Thus, Google+’s great potential is not without greater challenges.  Will you use Google+?  Leave us a comment below!

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