A Social Discourse: Google Plus and the VIP Delusion

The world of social media is still dominated by powerhouse platforms and many competitors are attempting to replicate those sites’ successes. Despite the apparent monopoly, hundreds have popped up over the years and many of them carry enough weight to be considered valid for the social media marketer. However, judging this multitude of sites is difficult, if for no other reason than determining variables that can easily apply to the full gamut of social platforms. Regardless, I have tackled the challenge and come up with general criteria that should define any social site from the marketer’s point of view.

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel that it is my responsibility to intro this blog with some relevant information. I love everything Google does. I am a Google Groupie, a junkie, a willing consumer of everything the Google giant sends down the pipeline. I purchase only Android phones, I do all of my personal browsing in Chrome, and stare in naked confusion when co-workers suggest that SEO on Bing is worth considering.

That being said, this blog will not be all that similar to most of those written on the subject. Many of the marketing-industry blogs I have read regarding G+ are very insistent that we have a simply fantastic product on our hands. These writers stress that – while they are not available yet – the soon-to-arrive business pages will be a Mecca of integrated social marketing and SEO. I’m not going to consider all of that. The simple fact is that technology (especially in the social media space) changes too rapidly and too drastically to make that kind of prediction this early. I have the utmost confidence that Google + will do everything Google says it will do, but I can’t help but think that people are perhaps building up their expectations a tiny bit.

Indulge me in resorting to a metaphor for a moment.

Mission Hill, a phenomenally underrated animated comedy, has an episode perfectly suited for this kind of discussion. In it, the three main characters find themselves frustrated and on the street after another weekend of being rejected from the lines of the city’s most popular nightclubs. As revenge, the group sets up some velvet ropes outside of their apartment building’s meter room, and stand outside of it with a clipboard. Soon, dozens of elitist hipsters stand outside in the cold, desperate to enter the hippest and most exclusive club in town. “No one has gotten in!” they pass along. After hours of temptation, the main characters get bored with their plan, and set off a smoke bomb, claiming a freak electrical accident has destroyed the club. The Meter Room passes into legend, forever remembered as the most heavenly experience in the city.

Mission Hill, "The Meter Room"

Mission Hill, "The Meter Room"

Until recently, Google Plus was an exclusive club. Beta invites were scarce and coveted, and those of us that received them were all too happy to lord it over our pitiable friends and followers. On the inside, however, we found an experience that was sleek, modern, and shockingly empty. During the beta period, it was somewhat difficult to track down people worth following. Few people had truly completed their profiles, so circles became a sea of gray anonymous faces. Those that were contributing content were usually no more than news aggregators, which are technically not allowed on the platform. Mashable.com was (and apparently still is) largely guilty of this. Based solely on those profiles, a lot of discussion was taking place, but people that were willing to comment on these posts rarely contributed anything of their own.

Content on Google Plus, from Sean Bonner

This all comes back to one of the largest flaws that I see in Google’s plan. As pointed out in this blog post, G+’s circles are not organic groups. On Facebook, I can go to a friend’s page, see all of their friends, all of their groups, and all of the people in those groups. It is an invasion of privacy, yes, but it is also an incredibly simple way to find other people to network with. G+ presents you with a general list of whom a given person is following, but it provides no information as to the relationship between those people. This seems like a silly point to harp on, but it makes a significant difference.

Let’s assume that I have created a circle for dubstep artists (I have. It is very small). No one viewing my G+ profile would have any way of knowing that this circle exists, or that any of the people linked to my profile are part of that circle. This means that any interested parties must sift through everyone I am following, to draw their own conclusions as to why I am following them. Facebook’s groups and fan pages solved this problem by making both instances a public entity. When I create a dubstep fan page on Facebook, hundreds of people instantly see that group, and are free to join it and share it amongst their friends as well. The groups grow organically, as more and more networks connect to them. Circles are completely private and personal. It makes it easy to talk behind someone’s back, but not particularly easy to grow a community.

There is an obvious counter-argument, brought up by Chris Brogan:

It’s funny how many people are lamenting the temporary shutdown of brands on Google+. Meanwhile, I’m seeing lots of smart business people connecting with people, making relationships, sharing a mix of personal and business materials, and building relationships that will transcend the vagueness of following an official stream.

Business is about humans connecting with humans. This new platform is the top shelf of potential for doing a great job of doing that. Keep doing what you’re doing as a brand of one, and just be sure your ABOUT page represents your organization well.

Go forth. Be the brand. Just be you as the brand.

Google Plus is a beautiful piece of technology, and it presents a list of features that will make any social platform jealous. At the end of the day, however, a social network is only as good as the discussions taking place on it, and for that, for now, G+ is little more than an empty white room. There are a handful of “celebrity” accounts belonging to high-profile bloggers or industry news aggregators, and almost all of the platform’s content is coming from those people. Unless something changes, G+ will not likely see many Facebook converts.


Tim Howell Andoidified

Tim Howell created 14 circles, and is a content manager for Make Me Social. He studied fine art, psychology, and international pop culture at Bowling Green State University. In his spare time, he is a blogger, bartender, and social activist with a passion for cooking.


1 Comment

Filed under A Social Discourse, Social Media, Tim Howell

One response to “A Social Discourse: Google Plus and the VIP Delusion

  1. Phenomenal post Tim. I really appreciate the depth of your analysis and the relevance of your analogies. One of the best blog pieces I have read in while!

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