5 Challenges for Google+ Business

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Image by Sean MacEntee

Chatter about Google+ for business is abound, but other than the SEO benefits, arguments for a pro offering have not been compelling. In reality, there is no formal business offering yet. While Google+ is at or close to 30 million members, they are distributed globally, and are largely technologists or social media wonks. At this early stage, consumer businesses, nonprofits and non technology B2B plays have little to gain from Google+ other than SEO (can you say Squidoo II?).

Moving forward, Google+ needs to provide a substantive growth curve and a robust business offering to effectively complete. Here are five challenges facing Google+ for businesses:

1) Beyond SEO

It’s great that bloggers and corporate content producers can yield strong search results using Google+. It makes a compelling case to integrate +1 technology and sharing within content marketing initiatives. But beyond SEO, most of the business chatter about Google+ is, well, bloggers talking about setting up personal profiles. Businesses need more than that. They need paths towards tangible outcomes and ROI.

Until Google+ launches its business solution, there really is nothing for businesses and nonprofits to do other than to experiment with the existing personal features. The one exception is technology companies marketing to early adopters. Having your social media team get active on Google+ as individuals makes total sense. Dell is an early leader in this sense.

2) Geeky Is Great, But…

It’s nice that the social media and technology communities are enthused about Google+. For many, it makes life easier and more public than Facebook. But the non-indoctrinated “normal” person isn’t using Google+ yet.

Until wider stakeholder groups adapt Google+, most companies and nonprofits will find themselves marketing to the virtual wilderness. Instead, they should wait for core stakeholder groups to come to and stay on Google+ for a sustained period of months. When that happens, businesses and nonprofits should set up serious outposts.

3) Facebook Isn’t Giving Up

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Ironically, the most followed person on Google+ is Marc Zuckerberg. Strange as that may seem, it is emblematic of Facebook’s staying power.

Facebook’s continuing evolution sacrifices individual privacy to serve the larger business community. And make no bones about it, Facebook definitely offers the business community quite a lot. The offering rages from free community pages and social ads to customized contests and promotions and deeply integrated applications.

The most important part of Facebook’s offering is its widespread, global consumer appeal. The social network has more than two times as many active bodies in one place than LinkedIn, Twitter and the fledgling Google+ combined.

Facebook has yet to respond to the Circles challenge to its user interface. It would be surprising if the network that likes to opt in social technology challenges ignores Google+’s innovation. It’s very early in this competition. Really, the thing that Google+ can always beat Facebook on is privacy and an insistence on open commentary.

4) Twitter and LinkedIn Have Mature Offerings

Both of these second tier networks have more than 100 million active users, and are very mature with loyal communities. Twitter has finally figured out its business model with its new advertising package that retains 80 percent of customers. LinkedIn is an extremely strong B2B-only play with robust Groups, strong HR offerings, and increasingly well-used business profile pages. Google+ needs to determine where it fits in comparison with these two growing proven offerings.

5) No Proof of Concept

This one really isn’t fair given that the professional offering has yet to launch, but there’s no proof that Google+ will be a good play for businesses. Any company or nonprofit that participates in the initial offering will be an early adopter, experimenting with the medium. Most companies don’t feel so publish about testing a new medium with their precious dollars. Instead, they prefer to wait until the medium is proven. And that won’t happen until the end of the year.

Conclusion

Google+ is likely to succeed so stay tuned, but hold onto your wallet until 2012. There is still a lot of hype and uncertainty when it comes to Google+ for business. The exceptions to the rule are those marketing to the early adopter community and content marketers who can benefit from an uptick in SEO courtesy of Google+.

How Not Talking About Myself Doubled Blog Traffic In One Month

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In an effort to increase writing quality, one month ago this blog took on the Me, Myself and I Challenge. The behind the challenge assumes that by eradicating obvious references to blogger narcissism via the words “my, myself and I,” people would find the content on the blog much more interesting. Indeed, the above results overwhelmingly confirm the theory.

Traffic increased by 100%! And it was the first time this personal blog surpassed its predecessor — the professional communications blog, the Buzz Bin — in traffic.

One post went semi-viral — How the Grinch Stole Green Christmas — bringing in a vast majority of the traffic. In addition, overall traffic to main site URL increased by roughly 20%. RSS subscriptions increased by 12%. Retweet and Facebook shares also increased.

At the same time, the additional traffic also brought a dramatic drop in read time (Grinch averaged 1:22) with the a 60% drop in read time. People left quicker, also demonstrated with a slight decrease in page views (7%). However, the bounce rate improved slightly by (3%). Traffic increased, but the type reader also expanded, and the content was less compelling for these new readers. The old quantity versus quality debate could be waged at this point (Metcalfe’s Law).

Subjective Writer Observations

Overall, removing first person pronouns increased the quality of writing on the site, as evidenced by the generally positive trend of statistics. It also increased from the writer’s perspective.

While slightly more challenging, opinion is still obvious as the author. If one states it, then they must think it. In fact, the tone seemed more authoritative, relying on links and facts to justify opinions rather than conjecture. In context, losing the words me, myself and I were not so hard.

At the same time, it was not easy to stray off topics outside of business and activism. So parenting and personal activity posts were removed because of the Me, Myself and I challenge. While such posts can be written without the first person pronouns, they are not easily done so, perhaps a sign of how personal these matters are. Facebook provided an easy substitute medium for such conversations.

Moving forward, the experiment seems worth continuing. Beyond the traffic, the posts just felt better with the less self-centered tone. And building a blog — whether one for personal purposes or a client’s site — is always a fun challenge. As readers did you enjoy the blog more over the past month?

How Social Semantic Search Defines People

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(Cartoon by David G. Klein from the New York Times)

Search is the underpinning of the Internet today, from the 1 billion traditional searches everyday on Google to providing references about a person on Twitter and delivering their stream feed on Facebook. Search has moved from simple page rank to an increasingly complex algorithm that weight’s social and semantic data points to deliver the outcomes most likely to please you. Personalization of search continues to evolve, but in turn it defines people and their choices.

Search — the technology itself — doesn’t bear responsibility for this. People do. People who use the Internet and its many free tools without understanding how the information is provided to them. They blindly accept search results or the search-based content feed without considering the source.

Consider the DecorMyEyes fiasco broken by the New York Times. Owner Vitaly Borker explained how he used intentionally created negative complaints about DecorMyEyes to game search results and place himself as a top ranked eyeglasses vendor. To Google’s credit, they promptly changed their algorithm to include more semantic weight (all negative or all positive disqualifying you), and the Department of Justice followed up with charges.

Social networks and applications also use search to source preferred content. Facebook’s activity feed is designed to source the most “interesting” content to people in your friends network are using the Open Graph API and likes. Search on Facebook is completely driven by the Open Graph (Like) protocol.

Of course, hashtags have demonstrated the power of search on Twitter. Twitter search was originally based on the acquired Summize search technology, and has been used to reference mentions and trends, too. Now Twitter (and other services) suggests people like you using semantic data.

The Danger of Homogeneous Definition

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The danger in all of this personalized search — particularly when it’s largely based on peer interests — is creating a society of homogeneous sycophants that blindly accept the content sourced to them, either via search or feeds. Lest we think that people actually think through the click, consider organic click through rates on Google (as pictured above by SEO’s Neil Walker). Clicking through on the first few search terms is and has been the norm.

The addition of local semantic data to search only further complicates concepts of popularity. Algorithms tell people which burger joints, music venues, theaters, etc. are most likely to meet their interests.

When popularity is defined by an algorithm and served to people, homogeneos or mob thinking becomes the norm. This thinking feeds on the popular. Society is not currently trained to question the information presented to it. Thus algorithms — designed to create the output that will generate the most click throughs — become a critical determinant in defining people’s lives, and society as a whole.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Semantic information can weigh in when a system is gamed, and social search can provide the latest information based on people’s actual use and check-ins. However, idea markets are increasingly influenced by the popular, and not necessarily in a good way. Algorithms can keep bad ideas popular for longer periods of time.

It all points back to the need for society to teach better information skills. In an information economy, the ability to question and discern quality data presented via a plethora of media is an essential quality for democracy and individualism. It’s important to look deeper at online search, whether that’s because a search provided direct information or because an algorithm sourced a friend or influencer touting an idea or product. Quoting Doug Haslam, “Think for yourself. …you needn’t be part of some pack that can’t brook disagreement with your heroes.”

An educated Fifth Estate creates an evolutionary society, a mindless one creates results like Kim Kardashian as the number one search term on Bing for 2010. While many people find Kardashian attractive, should social semantic search tell every person — man and woman alike — what the icon of attractive is? Parents across America may object.

What do you think about how search and algorithms are defining our society?