New Social CRM Strategies for Google+

Contributor:  Cory Bennett
Posted:  06/29/2011  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Tuesday’s announcement of Google+ – a Google-powered social networking site – is the company’s latest, and most robust, power grab for territory in the social media market. It also adds more ill-defined clutter to social CRM strategies everywhere. If Google becomes a serious player in the social media world, companies will have to clamor to find the new opportunities for customer engagement. 

Although social media managers might not have to move that fast. Google’s past attempts to enter the social media realm – the now-defunct Google Wave and the all-but-defunct Google Buzz – were both virtually dead on arrival. Prevailing sentiment is that Google is a hard-wired engineering company, bereft of the personal understanding that has driven Facebook to the forefront of the social media pack.

“[Google] knows how to tweak machines and make them do unfathomable things,” wrote Om Malik, tech and business writer, on the GigaOM Network, which he founded. “But what it can’t do is internalize empathy. It doesn’t know feelings. It doesn’t comprehend that relationships are more than a mere algorithm. You can see this in its many offerings; they’re efficient, but devoid of emotion, and emotions are what drive interaction.”

Malik is not alone. Business Insider writer Henry Blodget said Google was “embarrassing” itself and “the folks at Facebook must be rolling their eyes.”

Nonetheless, many are taking Google+ seriously – or at least waiting to pass judgment. If you are to believe Google, it will offer new ways for the public to share and connect. These new features could open doors for businesses to engage users in novel ways.

“We believe online sharing is broken and even awkward” Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior vice president for Social, told TechCrunch. “Our online tools are rigid. They force us into buckets – or into being completely public. Real life sharing is nuanced and rich. It has been hard to get that into software.”

Indeed, Google+'s differentiating feature from Facebook is its ability to easily share specific information with specific groups. Facebook’s sharing options are more dichotomous – the entire web or just friends. With Google+, it is easy to drag and drop Gmail contacts (even those you may not have “friended”) into circles for things like “book club” or “running group,” with whom you might want to share niche information.

Social CRM managers might take note of this feature. While Google touts its networking site as more privatized and personalized than Facebook, it represents another highly targeted method of connecting with an audience. And for Google, it represents a chance to enhance its core competency – the search engine – through social and location data culled from Google+.

“Google needs to understand these relationships and basically use those to make search better,” Gundotra said in a briefing about the new product.

Advertiser dollars reflect the increasing propensity of web users asking questions on social sites like Facebook and Twitter as opposed to Google. Their engagement efforts – and money – have thus gone that direction. An enhanced Google search engine could merit yet another reevaluation of the best method to engage a segmented market.

But enhanced consumer information will only grow out of consumer use. Google drove many away with its previous social effort, Buzz. The feature added a user’s e-mail contacts automatically to the Buzz network, setting off a firestorm of criticism about privacy invasion and the company's failure to undersatnd that e-mail contacts often differ greatly from social network “friends.”

The Federal Trade commission agreed, charging the company with deceptive privacy practices. Google agreed to 20 years of audits in a March settlement.

The Google+ developers worked on Buzz and claim to have taken their lessons learned to the Google+ platform. A main lesson was to encourage small grouping of contacts, which Google+ will also promote with group video chat capability, called hangouts. The Google+ mobile apps offer group chatting called Huddle.

Both offer businesses new avenues to encourage customers to become brand promoters through promotion offers targeted at Google+ groups that might consumer your product. That promotion will get shared with a much more targeted audience than someone simply posting a link on their Facebook wall. Facebook rolled out its Groups feature last year, and spawned 50 million groups in the first six months. But the potential capabilities of Google+ groups diminish those of Facebook groups – for now.

Ultimately, we are left to speculation. But Google+ has grabbed enough attention and is the product of enough character-building defeats that social CRM managers will keep a keen eye on development to jump at new engagement opportunities.

Cory Bennett Contributor:   Cory Bennett

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