With its rapid growth, Google+ has been hailed by many within the digital media industry as a potential Facebook killer, just like every other buzz-worthy social platform that came along in the past few years. Google + is growing at a faster rate than any other social network, so surely it has the power to unseat Facebook, right? I don’t see that happening.
A few years ago we saw the same thing with Twitter. Skyrocketing growth and mainstream acceptance had Twitter hailed as a potential Facebook killer, and Mark Zuckerberg’s network even tried to buy the messaging platform when it was still plagued by growing pains and fail whales. When Twitter rebuffed Facebook’s offer in 2008, the larger social network just copied some of Twitter’s features. Both platforms still exist today, and savvy users often have accounts on both platforms, for very different reasons.
Twitter is a place where users share things with their followers. Twitter is where users turn for news, media and entertainment, almost like an RSS feed where they can talk back and share their own content. The relationships aren’t always one-to-one, and the people whom users follow can differ drastically from whom they follow. Users may follow Barack Obama, but their tweets are not intended for the commander in chief.
Facebook, on the other hand, is a place for friends and family, a network built on one-to-one connections, where sharing in public means sharing with your entire network. As business relationships increasingly creep onto Facebook, users are actively thinking before they share, with the knowledge that everyone within their network has a chance of seeing their posts.
Now, which of these models does Google+ more closely resemble? It’s very clearly Twitter, because of the asymmetric relationships between users. But Google+ goes one step further and lets consumers define these relationships – called Circles -- and then pick and choose how they want to share content and news with those relationships. Users are essentially building buckets and then deciding how they want to share and interact with those buckets of friends or contacts.
This unique feature of Google+ could be a major tool for advertisers, due to two factors. The first is that the clustering of users into circles actually makes it far easier for ad targeting. Entire companies specialize in building audience segments based on similar interests and behaviors, and then sell these segments to advertisers. In the case of Google+, users are performing the grouping themselves. All these users obviously have one common link, whether it’s just the single user they’re connected to or a shared interest. All Google has to do is look at the kind of content shared in the circle and use that interest graph data to target advertising to specific audiences.
That’s a huge coup for big G, but there’s a big ad opportunity for brand advertisers as well. Google+ was created for sharing, whether it’s with the family, friends, co-workers or loose acquaintances. Brands haven’t really become part of the Google+ experience, but when they do, it’s very likely that consumers will share branded messaging as well. Research shows that users are comfortable sharing ads with their friends and family if they feel the ads appeal to them, which is good news for brands. If successfully implement, this approach turns paid impressions (the original ad served) into additional earned media (the shared ad that other users see).
Rumors are constantly flaring up that either Facebook or Google will still buy Twitter, but there’s no reason to think that all three social platforms can’t peacefully coexist. Google+ was built to fix some of the sharing mishaps that can occur on the other major social platforms, and it encourages sharing more than any other platform.
By targeting appropriate ads to receptive audiences, Google+ opens the door to more appealing and relevant advertising for brands, in a non-intrusive way that can appeal to users. What remains to be seen is how well Google can pull it off, and whether the network's meteoric growth can continue.