Amidst a bevy of feature changes by Facebook—and two days before the Facebook f8 Developer Conference—Google stole some of Facebook’s thunder on Tuesday, Sept. 20, by opening its invitation-only Google+ network to the public.
Marcy Massura, digital community manager for Weber Shandwick, says the timing was by no means a coincidence. “I believe that this was desperately needed to combat the tension growing on Google+ about wanting new changes, more open API, etc.,” says Massura. In conjunction with the open beta, Google announced some game-changing features Tuesday to Google+’s Hangouts. The video chat feature is now available on phones, and chats can be broadcast to anyone who wants to watch, which Massura says could ultimately make it a huge contender to LiveStream and others.
Launched in June 2011, Google+ gained 10 million users in its first two weeks. According to The New York Times, however, some detractors have recently said they do not find Google+ useful and have questioned whether the initial enthusiasm will wane. “Google's challenge is to persuade users who already have a bevy of social networking options to use another," said the Times. Now that the platform is open (although still technically in a beta format), Massura says the adoption rates will be more accurate to track. “It seems the general assumption is that there is not room in the social space for an additional platform and it has been an either/or discussion,” says Massura, who believes that it’s possible that Google+ and Facebook could each serve different segments of the consumer base.
Massura says Google’s ability to provide value is what will ultimately determine whether or not people fully adapt Google+ into their digital repertoires. “People are fickle and are ready to go to the next ‘great’ thing with no regret," she says. "But Google+ needs to provide a great value to encourage adoption. Ease of use, group video chat, long format content, image editing etc. are all unique to Google+ and will no doubt tempt many to try the platform.”
While it's clear that Google is squaring up against Facebook to corner the social web and enhance its search capabilities, it has lagged in one area that makes Facebook so valuable to PR pros: brand pages. While Massura says it may have better served Google to open Google+ to brands sooner, she notes that it’s important to remember that while people in the PR industry are hyper-focused on having brands in the space, the majority of users might actually have been turned off by that in the beginning. “I have been told they are working closely with some key brands to help craft the brand pages, which gives me great hope that they will be full of competitive features,” says Massura.
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