On Wednesday, I finally received access to Google Plus, the latest creation from Google and a new social media site to the market.  Overall functionality in Google Plus can be broken down into:

  • Circles – The contact management and organizer in the system.  Similar to how contacts work in Gmail – tagging contacts, but with a much better user experience.
  • Sparks – Basically topics that you can add to follow.  The system will present you the relevant posts on the subject.  Topics, such as sports, technologies, cars, etc.
  • Hangouts – simply put, group video messaging
  • Instant Upload – On mobile, when you take a photo, it is automatically uploaded to your private collection.  You can choose to share it with your circles at a later time.
  • Huddle – You can think of it as a mobile group text messaging and chatting
  • Stream – On the main page, each spark and circle will have its own stream available.  Think of it as a subset view of your friends and people you follow.
After spending a night playing with Google Plus, I have realized that Google designed the new social media site with lots of learnings from Wave and Buzz.  The most important improvement of all, is actually the launch strategy!  Not every functionalities are implemented just yet, but the new service covers many different features that would certainly appeal to all types of users.
  • Unlike Buzz, which was a single feature targeted only at Twitter users.  It really was a little web application or plugin, not a platform!
  • Unlike Wave, which was a was a new product, new methodology and probably way ahead of its time.  (Design a platform for the masses, not only for geeks and power users!)
  • And unlike Google TV, which was announced in May 2010 at Google I/O, but the product didn’t ship until October 2010.  All the hypes were dry up!
At the end of the day, Google is not a startup anymore.  When a new service is launched, people expect more.  We don’t want to see you make a big fuzz around a small feature (e.g. Buzz) nor an announcement of something you will launch in 6 months or  year (e.g. Google TV.) At least they got this right with Google Plus.

What I like so far

  • The user interface of Circles is very well done!  Extremely useful for organizing people into different circles.  It makes group messaging via Hangouts and Huddle much useful.  Let say if you find a good article about wine, you can share with your Wine Tasters circle and not necessarily share with all of your friends.
  • If I feel like reading posts by the people I follow, I don’t need to open a new tab in Chrome.  I can just click on the Stream.
  • The group messaging capability seems useful.  Good start for collaboration and sharing information with specific group of friends.
  • Group video conferencing under the same UI.
  • The Google Plus settings is somewhat mature.  It integrates with other Google services already, this make it seamless for the users.
  • The system automatically grab your Picasa web albums and share them with your peeps appropriately.
  • The mobile app is available since day one, and it is pretty slick too.
  • The photo view in the system is decent and simple.

What needs to be done (and soon)

  • The Google Plus platform is still somewhat buggy.  For example, the people recommendation to create Circles needs to be more refine.  Once the system retrieved my contact list off Gmail (about an hour after I created the new profile) the list changed. The system is not reading my list off from my Twitter profile.  I had to go elsewhere (http://socialstatistics.com/) to find people to build up my “following” circle.  The circle recommendation only limits to my friends now.  When I open up the “following” circle, you will show me a few folks that I may be interested in following?
  • Sparks is not integrated with Google Trends.  So I have to manually define the list again.
  • The Google Plus settings is only somewhat mature.  I like to see more privacy and security settings around setting up the new circles.  It feels like I was robbed out of something great.  And I like to be in control, specially in social media sites.
  • Why is that Posts and Buzz are separated?
  • The Google Plus mobile app is not necessarily optimized for Android tablet.  Seriously guys, add some Pulse like feature for Streams and Sparks!!!
  • Where is Aardvark then?  Google’s Q&A acquisition from Feb 2010.

Bottom line

Google Plus is a good start and looks promising.  Will I switch to it 100% from Facebook?  Not just yet!  Will I continue to use it?  Definitely.  I always prefer the one-stop-shop approach and Google did a nice job from both business and end-user perspectives. IMO, Google Plus will threaten Facebook in some ways.  (Give it 6 months to a year?)  But I think that Google Plus also competes with companies like Twitter and Tumblr, as well as startups who are currently working on group messaging or mobile video conferencing.
And by the way Like vs. Plus.  Take your pick!
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In response to this article from MediaPostRazorfish Study: Special Offers Drive Engagement In Social Media – one thing to note is that Dell (@DellOutlet) has been doing really well in using Twitter to offer special sales deals in the last two years.  They have earned additional revenue with the low-cost Twitter marketing.  So both Dell and Whole Foods are strong examples.

Though, some of the interesting stats from the FEED report that I want to highlight:

  • 40% have friended a brand on Facebook or Twitter
  • 77% have watched a commercial or video ad on YouTube with some frequency
  • 73% have posted a product or brand review on sites such as Amazon, Yelp, Facebook or Twitter
  • 70% have participated in brand-sponsored contests or sweepstakes

It is inevitable that sales and marketing will become real-time.  With Twitter lists, techniques to market new products and offers in social media can become more focus to meet customers’ needs.

Here is the original article:

Much has been made of the ability of social media to help brands connect with consumers in new and deeper ways — to establish a “dialogue” with users through various interactive tools that blend seamlessly into their online activities.But a new study suggests the key to engagement on social properties comes down to old-fashioned direct marketing techniques like offering discounts and special promotions. “Based on our research, it’s not so much about some type of ‘shared passion’ for a brand’s values. Largely, it’s about deals — pure and simple,” states the 2009 FEED report from Razorfish examining consumers’ digital habits and attitudes.

The findings were based on a survey of 1,000 “connected consumers,” or people that roughly mirror the 63% of the U.S. population with broadband access. It also encompasses Internet users who have spent $150 online in the last six months, visited a community site, and consumed or created some type of digital media.

So social media marketing isn’t so much about boosting brand awareness as enticing users with concrete offers. “That to me is a big ‘Aha!, said Garrick Schmitt, Razorfish group vice president of experience planning and editor of the study, in an interview. “What we’re finding is that with Facebook and Twitter, marketers are assuming some deeper dialogue, but what’s really going on is — people want deals.”

Of those who follow a brand on Twitter, for example, 44% said access to exclusive deals is the main reason. And on Facebook and MySpace, 37% cited special deals as the main reason they have “friended” a brand. The report points to companies such as Starbucks, which has amassed nearly 5 million fans and soared to the top of Facebook brand pages by offering coupons for free pastries and ice cream.

Whole Foods, meanwhile, leads brands on Twitter with more than 1.5 million followers by promoting weekly specials and shopping tips. Razorfish identified customer service as the other key driver of consumer interaction in social media, with 33% friending a brand on Facebook and MySpace for that purpose, and 24% on Twitter. Companies such as Comcast, Zappos and Virgin have all gotten high marks for using the latter as a customer relations management (CRM) tool.

The report also draws a direct link between brand engagement online and sales. Of those surveyed, 64% had made their first purchase from a company as a result of a digital interaction — such as through a Web site, microsite, mobile coupon or email. Nearly all (97%) said a digital brand experience had influenced whether they went on to buy a product or service from that marketer.

“Consumers are not only want to engage with brands, but engaging with brands is having an inordinate effect on affinity for brands and the likelihood to purchase,” said Schmitt. Among the factoids on online interaction in the report:

– 40% have friended a brand on Facebook or Twitter
– 77% have watched a commercial or video ad on YouTube with some frequency
– 73% have posted a product or brand review on sites such as Amazon, Yelp, Facebook or Twitter
– 70% have participated in brand-sponsored contests or sweepstakes
To retain and add customers, Schmitt stressed that marketers need to shift focus from brand awareness and impressions to creating campaigns that drive people to make purchases and spread the word about products and services they use to friends.

That can cut both ways, of course. Sixty-five percent of survey participants said they had been influenced by a digital interaction with a brand, both positively and negatively. “A premium brand may not come out with a premium digital experience, and that could change someone’s perception,” said Schmitt.

Nonetheless, companies neglecting or underestimating digital marketing risk at this stage risk looking “as if they’ve shown up to a cocktail party in sweatpants,” according to the Razorfish report. “Invariably, consumers will choose to converse with a savvier — and hopefully more stylish — partner.” Or one simply willing to offer them a better deal.

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