Google+ and Digital Trends

Google+ and digital trends for marketing, PR, advertising and salesGoogle built it and people are coming, well coming to create profiles anyway.

Google+ still feels pretty empty and only full of those who particularly like the sound of their own voices, but so far so good. The stats are reassuring so far and ‘everyone’ is talking about it. But will the ‘the people’ come, will they use it, and most importantly will they end up staying on it?

It remains an open question at the moment despite the huge amount of column inches written and an even greater amount of media speculation in the weeks since launch. Most of which, it’s fair to say, has been written by men and a great deal of it by the early adopters, many of whom are in their 30s and 40s ie Generation X, who appear to make up the bulk of the GooglePlusers so far.

Now forgive me for being unduly commercial here, but unfortunately the Gen X’s might make a lot of noise but there has never there been a more cash-starved generation in recent history – they are the true Squeeze Generation. Many are wrestling with high debt, high mortgages, high-maintenance offspring, rising cost of living (and the cost of educating said offspring in the UK), aging parents and a very difficult personal economic situation whereby most don’t have any savings or pensions.

Boomers and Seniors are in a much better state, generally, with more disposable income per head – in the US in 2011 the biggest age group is 50 and the 50+ age groups have $2.4 trillion in annual income, which accounts for 42% of all after-tax income. The Millennials aren’t doing so badly either if they are living with their parents ie the Boomerang generation, or being bank rolled by them, which seems to be a growing percentage, certainly in the UK.

So what do these top and tail generations all think about Google+?

If you ask your average CEO, teen or grandma about Google+ and she (she because 85% of brand buyers are women) will look at you blankly. All of the ones I asked are on Facebook, and they still looked at me blankly. Most haven’t even registered the furor and to be honest, none of them seemed that bothered. Now, I hate to get commercial and pedantic about this, and I know it was hardly a large sample and this was the general reaction to Facebook and Twitter in the early days, but this isn’t the early days of social media and so if we accept that they might just be representative, where does that leave us?

As a digital Consultant I spend a lot of time reading, researching and looking into the future at how things might pan out. At the moment I think there are a number of issues at play and no one can predict the way it’ll pan out with any confidence given Google’s weight and ability to influence users, but the strongest issues I have noted already are:

1. Mobile Creating Social Silo’s – most Millennials don’t use email except for sign ups and they bypass Search unless they are doing a school, uni or research project. They are surprisingly slow to adapt to new networks and most stick with what they know. Just because they ‘grew up with’ social media doesn’t mean they are quick to adapt or comfortable being early adopters. The way they use social media is also interesting – they frequently seem to adapt the way they use the site to do what they want it to do, so there is no added incentive for them to leave.

2. Habit. Most peeps haven’t the time to use more than two or three social networks and most are entrenched in Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and struggle to keep up to date with those. Most ordinary people “CBA” (“can’t be arsed”; it’s a Millennial term apparently) it would appear, especially Boomers (who are surprisingly techno phobic or Millennials (who are surprisingly techno lazy). That leaves the smaller pool of generation X peeps, who are – hardly surprising – the ones rushing to use Google+. They like shiny new tools and tend to be mavericks – perfect for early adoption. Whether they will stick it out or whether it’ll be like Wave, Buzz, FriendFeed, Quora and all the rest that they have played with and abandoned, well that remains to be seen.

3. Gimmicks. So what if Google+ has Circles? Facebook has lists, as does Twitter. Few people use them. Trying to force people to use circles isn’t go to work outside of the uber-organized and geeks amongst us (and that does include me, yes). Why? CBA, mate. Especially Millennials. Don’t want your grandma or boss to see your drunk pictures? Unfriend them. Job done. Don’t want the boss or your parents to read your bitching? Use chat or IM. And ignore the fall out. Like wearing tights with holes in them, it really doesn’t seem to bother them what people think. Don’t like it? Tough.

4. Late to the Party. Google are, sorry, but they just are. Social Media is no longer the Wild West, it is accepted, integrated, corporate. People don’t like change but having adopted something they are then unwilling to give it up or change again, there’s just too much history. It’ll have to be forced down their throats, and if Google do that, they may just see most people start to avoid Search and anything ‘Google’ completely. Can they do that? On either side? Oh yes, they really can.

5. Marketplace. Google is obviously after advertising revenue (have you SEEN the vast expanse space it has built in everywhere on Google+?). They want brands in there selling and the people to come and buy from them. They also want to be able to sell advertising space. But to do that they need an audience that has disposable income. I refer you to the points above.

6. Impact on Marketing. Well it’s a game changer, that’s for sure. Demoting search for Twitter and Facebook is one thing, but it won’t stop people using them, just make marketers job more difficult unless they can persuade brands to completely buy into Facebook and Twitter… which they will have to do if that is where people are socializing and sharing and ultimately buying. So in a way Google’s actions may actually backfire because it’s going to be difficult to persuade brands to invest in a network when the actual people who buy are happily socializing elsewhere….Yep, welcome to silo world.

7. Impact on organic SEO. I think the temptation for Google to swing Search towards brands on Google+ is going to be nigh on impossible for them to resist. The trend we already see towards Social Shopping whereby you see what your friends recommend on Facebook is only going to accelerate and that’ll distort SEO as well. The business of SEO is going to get very messy and people may just give up on trying to make content or sites SEO friendly and just pay for social-site specific advertising instead.

So maybe advertising will be the game winner in all this, after all. Just not, perhaps, in the way Google are hoping. I am sure Google have done their research, but whether they have researched the right things or reached the right conclusions is another matter, and whether people (and businesses) will behave in the way Google wants them to is yet another matter altogether.

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