Google+ and four reasons you should take it seriously

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Gram-positive, Patrick Smith, Stream of consciousness, TheMediaBriefing Experts' Blog, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Digital Media

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"Not another social network I have to update all the time!"

Be honest - was that your reaction to the release of Google+? The search behemoth's attempt to socialise its products and get us talking in more than 140 characters at a time launched in June last year - but beyond tech-friendly early adopters and journalists, G+ can be a lonely place.

With nothing like the stream of consciousness what's-happening-now hit of Twitter or the endless sharing of Facebook, it's yet to become an essential tool. Facebook is filing for a $5 billion IPO and tweeting has become the go-to platform for  journalists. G+ can feel like a third wheel.

But even at this early stage it really does matter to media brands. Google is the world leader in search, it's trying to do the same for online conversations and I for one am not betting against them. Here's why:

(oh and why not connect with me and TheMediaBriefing on G+)

1. It is huge and growing fast

With at least 90 million users at the turn of the year (see Google's Q411 results) and as many as 100 million right now.

Google+ watcher and Ancestry.com founder Paul Allen predicts, not unreasonably, that G+ will be around the 345 million users mark at the end of 2012, which isn't far off Facebook's 845 million - and that's in 18 months. To put it another way, it's adding around 750,000 users per day. There is no question people are flocking to G+ - although it will be some time before it reaches the same level of engagement as its rivals.

2. Google hold the keys to search and content - this isn't just about "social"

If you are signed up to G+ you may have noticed that Google search results now come with the notice "Want to ask your friends about (insert search term here) Ask on Google+".

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If you are the dominant search provider in the world (66 percent of global search traffic according to comScore, via Forbes) you can send your users to pretty much anything you want within the bounds of fair use. Observe also how results now come with recommendations from friends, such as "Dave +1'd this" and "Susan shared this".

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Something similar is happening to YouTube too plus Google have been very open about adding the users' actions (shares, likes) to the Android mobile operating system infrastructure. Just think what the ramifications are here for Google News. It's SEO with bells on. They call this Search Plus Your World - here's a snappy video showing how it works:

3. Google controls how your brand appears in search results

Google is adding social to the fabric of the web - using its advantage in search it's doing things that Facebook and Twitter cannot. As you would expect, those two companies are not terribly pleased about all this, accusing Google of making its results unfair and placing G+ links higher than tweets and Facebook pages.

It bothered them so much that they even created - in partnership with MySpace, whatever that is - a bookmarklet tool you can plug into your browser and create a "fairer Google", giving Facebook and Twitter equal search ranking. This is all explained in a slightly preachy site titled Focus on the User. In its defence Google says it's early days for the SPYW tool and it's always improving what it does.

So as a media brand you could drop a piece of code onto your browser to make things fair and pretend Google doesn't have a monopoly on search, hoping your users do the same, or you could get on the G+ bandwagon and start getting your links and your brand more visible on the web. (Danny Sullivan, as ever, is the person to follow on this).

4. It's a good environment for content and conversation

One of the most pleasing things about using G+ professionally so far is that it's simply a good product for journalists and publishers to use. There's no character limit (at least I've not reached it), pictures look great, video looks great, it's all super easy to use and the filtering of people into different circles has huge advantages when choosing which group you want to talk to (personal friends vs professional contacts, for example).

The mobile app is brilliant (on iOS - I haven't tried on Android) and it's very easy to see people doing this on the go. Check out how people like Techcrunch and Reuters are using the platform to publish what they do.

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For every new post we publish on TheMediaBriefing I post the link and a few paragraphs about it on G+. It's almost like the DVD extra features on the making of the movie. Despite some embarrassing teething problems - I was constantly being tagged as the wrong person at first, which was frustrating - its functionality right now is light years ahead of where Twitter and Facebook where six months into their existence and it's exciting to think how it will get better.

But let's keep some perspective on this

Google+ is small right now. comScore provided me with figures that show Google+ isn't in the top 10 social networks in the world with just 88 million monthly unique users, compared to Facebook's 1.44 billion. This graph shows just how massive Facebook's lead is in the race - and it also suggests that despite 100 million or so registered users, G+ users aren't that engaged.

comscore soc media stats

So Twitter still matters a great deal - it's huge part of what we do at TheMediaBriefing, and the level of debate and discourse on LinkedIn Group has been a genuine highlight for us in the past year (do come and join in).

But potentially there are real benefits in plugging your brand into Google's social ecosystem.

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