Google+ has been released a little more than 2 months ago now. I was lucky enough to get an invite pretty early (I know people ) and I must admit that I have spent a big chunk of the past two months playing with it (is that why I’ve been blogging less than usual this summer?). Now that Google+ is available to all the regular folks it’s time to see if it benefits bloggers or is just another distraction.
Is Google+ Right for your Blogging Business?
Despite the incredible growth of the network in just over a month, I’ve heard many people saying that they were not interested in joining in. Some people think that it is one more social network too many. Some people think that it’s just like Facebook so why bother. And some unlucky people would like to join, but haven’t been invited yet by anybody – after all and despite its 25 million users, Google+ still hasn’t been “officially” released yet. [Update: it is now officially released to the general public]
I thought that now was about the right time to tell you a little about it, with the obvious goal to convince you to join (and Google is not even paying me, sometimes, I think I’m just not a good businessman).
First, let me tell you about the basic features you need to know. Then we’ll see how this can be useful for travel bloggers.
Caveat: There will be a lot of comparisons with Facebook and Twitter in this post. While it has been said a lot that Google+ will (or will not) replace Facebook and Twitter, I believe that the three of them can coexist more or less peacefully. The way you use each of them and what you do on them is slightly different. However, to make things easier to understand, especially if you’ve never used Google+, I thought that comparisons with tools you’re already familiar with can help.
Main Features of Google+
The first thing you’ll notice when you join Google+ are the circles. It may have been the most discussed feature (because it’s the one that everyone saw, even people who didn’t spend more than 5 minutes on the site), but I’ll explain how they work anyway, just in case.
On Facebook, you have friends. You see pretty much everything they post, and they see pretty much everything you post (unless you block some people, types of news, etc.).
On Twitter, you follow people. You can read all what they write. When people follow you, they can read all what you write. You don’t have to follow people who follow you (and vice-versa) and anyone can read your tweets, even if they don’t follow you (following just publishes people’s tweets in your timeline and make them easier to… well… follow.)
On Google+, you circle people! That is, you select what circles people belong to. Friends, family, travel bloggers, you decide. You can create as many circles as you want and include as many people as you want in them (well, you can circle a maximum of 5,000 people, I don’t think any of you is there yet). You can put people in one or several circles. People will know you “circled” them, but they won’t know what circle(s) they’re in.
Circles have a double function, as they both determine what will appear in your streams and what you’ll share with whom. You need to be mindful of that when you create your circles. A good thing to do is to create circles for reading (bloggers, techies, news, specific countries, etc.) and circles for sharing things (buddies, close friends, family, vague acquaintances, etc.).
By default, your stream includes all the people that you circled, but then you can filter it by circle.
When you post something, you can select who can read it; from everyone (public) to a single individual. In between, you can pick various options such as all of your circles, just one, or a few. Note that selecting whom you share with is a inclusive process and not an exclusive one. You can’t decide to share with all your circles except one. If you want to do that, you’ll have to manually select all your circles but the ones you want to exclude.
An “exclude” feature may be implemented in the future. Remember that Google+ is just starting and its features will obviously evolve with time (not mentioning the ones that are already ready to be launched and will show up be little by little).
I admit that it’s a feature I haven’t used (I’m not a big fan of chatrooms and I don’t even own a webcam). A hangout can be public or private (you decide who gets invited the same way you decide who can read a post you write), and then it’s like a video conference, where you’ll hang out with whoever shows up. [Todd here: I think this has huge potential for running webinars and travel chats]
Well, I don’t think I need to explain in details here. You can upload pictures. You can group them in albums, and once again decide who gets to see them or not. You can also, edit them (just slightly of course, this is not photoshop), comment on them, etc.
Note that pictures will be uploaded to your Picasa account (if you don’t already have one, one will be created for this occasion). Also, you may choose to make your pictures already on Picasa visible on Google+ if that’s your wish.
It’s a feature that I almost never see mentioned. Yet, it is one of my favorite. Sparks are more or less Google searches that you can save. They allow you to create new streams about topics you care about from various sources. It’s not exactly like a Google search in the sense that only a handful of results will show up (usually the most recent news and blog posts), but it’s a great tool to discover new sites and blogs talking about topics and keywords that you care about.
Yes, games have just arrived on Google+. You can now play Angry Birds and Bewejeled and compare your scores with people in your circles.
Privacy is a big concern in social media, and Google+ is doing both quite a good job and a not-so-good job with this.
The good: You can easily and clearly select a different level of privacy for any part of your profile; who’s in your circles, your “+1”, your location, your job, your education and whatnot.
The bad: I guess I’m getting spoiled with all of those privacy options, but I wish it went even further. What if I want a photo-album to be public except for that one picture? What if I want some of the links to my websites on my profile to be public and some private? Well, I can’t do that, at least not for now.
The ugly: You may have already heard about the “real name controversy.” Google+ wants you to use your real name on your profile. No nickname, no brand name, just your real name. A lot of people are unhappy about that, understandably so. However, I don’t think it’s all bad. Google says they want only real names to avoid spam and abuse, and they are right somehow. A good way to limit spam and abuse, as well as set a certain tone, is by having “real” people on the network.
I don’t know if you remember, but when the war was on between MySpace and Facebook, I’m convinced that one of the main reasons Facebook came out victorious is that it was “cleaner” than Myspace which had become a big mess at that time (for example, I was friends with Albert Einstein and Voltaire on Myspace). It’s understandable that Google wants to avoid its new network to become a big mess right from the start.
That being said, the way this policy is being implemented is not the best. For example, there have been some cases of people whose real name were unusual who got their account shut down. Apparently Google now leaves you a four day period to change your name and/or appeal before shutting down the profile.
Personally, while I understand that some people can be unhappy, I also think that making a big fuss about it is being a bit over-dramatic. After all, if you want to connect with people who know you, you may want them to be able to find and recognize you, don’t you?
Are you concerned that people may find things about you that don’t want them to find?
I have a rule of thumb as far as privacy on the web is concerned. If I put something online, it means that I’m willing to accept that it goes public, even if I posted it privately. If I’m not ready for this, the thing stays offline.
If you’re a blogger, I suspect that you already have a public page for your blog on Facebook and you want to do the same thing on Google+, right?
Well, you can’t do it just yet, but this brings us to the second part of this post:
How to use Google+ for your Travel Blog?
Of course, Google+ being brand new, there are still many options to explore as far as using it for/with your blog is concerned. Actually, it is one of the things I love with social media, especially new ones; you create its usefulness, you invent the ways a social media is useful for you.
So what did I find useful about Google+ in terms of using it in association to my blog?
Let’s start with the obvious:
Just like with any other social media, the base of the whole thing is sharing information and links with other people, including links to your blog posts.
I don’t know about you, but I rarely become friends on Facebook with my readers. It can happen, but Facebook is a tool I’m using more and more with people who are actual friends offline. It’s not completely true, but while a lot of people say that they can’t wait for Google+ to take off so that they can close their Facebook account, I’m more along the lines of “I can’t wait for Google+ to take off so that I can remove anyone who’s not a close friend on my Facebook account”.
Some will say that there’s Twitter to socialize with people you don’t actually know too well (including your readers). While it’s true, I could never really get into Twitter much. While it’s great to socialize with your readers and your niche blogosphere, this 140 characters limit really annoys me and is too limitative. I like to be able to develop my ideas, just throwing in my two cents in form of a few words is not my thing, and if you follow me on Twitter (@Ogijima), you’ll see that I mostly use it to share links, not much more.
In terms of socializing, Google+ is Twitter on massive steroids, not only is there no character limit (maybe there’s one, but I haven’t met it yet), but discussions take the form of threads, a little bit like what you’ll find in forums and on Facebook.
In other words, it has both the spontaneity and openness of Twitter and the threaded format of forums and Facebook. The best of both worlds.
Of course, Hangouts are also a great tool for socializing. I won’t go into details, not having used it, I’m not in a position of give you advice, but I think it’s self-explanatory. For example, I know there are a few fans of #TOTT (Travel Talk on Twitter) reading this. Imagine what you could do with a TTOGH (Travel Talk on Google Hangouts).
Also, in the past few weeks, I’ve noticed – having in my circles people I only knew from Twitter (and their blog) before – that, because we don’t only talk about our niche on Google+ but also about many other topics, we get to know each other better as people, not just bloggers, much better than we’d ever do on Twitter.
Games can play a very positive role in that domain too. After all this is what games were invented for in the first place, as a social activity (we sometimes forget about it, used that we now are playing alone on our computers and smartphones)
As previously mentioned, Sparks are a great tool for finding new sites and blogs dealing with topics you care about. It allows me to expand my reading list as well as my backlink building (i.e. new places to comment on)
For example, if you’ve ever read my blog, Ogijima, you know that I mostly talk about this region of Japan that is full of amazing islands. The other day, thanks to Sparks, I found an architecture website mentioning a museum that was recently built on one of these islands. I would have never found it without Sparks (except though lengthy Google searches). Will I never go back to this blog? Probably not, I’m not well-versed enough in architecture. However, I had an interesting read and I didn’t leave without writing a (I hope) useful comment giving some insight about the island and a link to my blog.
“Public pages” or lack of thereof on Google+.
I am sure that some people jumped in on Google+ and instead (or in addition) of creating a personal account, they created an account for their blog. The Google+ equivalent to Facebook public pages if you want. Chances are the page was closed by Google or that you quickly had to change it back into your personal account. I know I did it. As soon as I received my first invite for Google+ I created my personal account, and the second thing I did was to send invites to all of my other gmail accounts in order to create a Google+ account for each one of my blogs (I tend to have one gmail account per blog for various reasons).
And even before Google started to close down accounts with fake or brand names, I realized that most were quite redundant. Sure, I had to close one account (created under a pseudonym for a blog written under that pseudonym) with great regret, but concerning my main blogs (written under my real name) it was the logical thing to do. To the point I’m not even sure I will create a “brand page” for them when those will be implemented.
Of course, I have no idea how those pages will work. Maybe they’ll be very different from Facebook pages, and will end up being indispensable for your blog (in this case, I’ll come back to tell you why if Todd allows me to). However, if they’re anything like Facebook public pages, I don’t see the point.
After all Facebook pages are only useful if you don’t friend your readers, and even though, I always found communication to be poor on them.
As a page owner, I’ve never found much interest beyond posting links to my blogs and other blogs related to my niche so that they appear in my “likes” newsfeed.
As a page “liker”, except for liking posts and status updates, I never really use them. I know some of you love having discussions on them, but personally, I always find that these discussions are not “real” discussions. Sure everyone responds to the page owner, but no one really talks to each other beyond that.
What I’ve seen on Google+ so far, because of all the factors I’ve mentioned are real discussions among people, and not only on niche topics, but about many things. Maybe I’m just discovering personal branding, but I suddenly find myself talking with my readers and other bloggers about various topics not necessarily related to our blogs. I find this network of people much stronger than networks of people on Twitter for example.
Years ago, before the age of social media, I was an avid forum user. I was a regular of a few forums, which were mostly populated of regulars, and we created strong bonds over time. Some of them became some of my best offline friends. I even know some people who got married and who met on these forums.
It may be too early to tell, but I see some of that on Google+ already. In a more open and more “2.0” way of course.
Actually I’ve been thinking about creating a new blog for a little while, and the fear of having to start over in terms of networking was the main reason why I haven’t yet (I don’t see myself using my Twitter account and Facebook pages devoted to Japan for this blog that will have nothing to do with Japan). In just a month, on Google+, I built an existing network of people that is both loose enough to not be just a bunch of friends, and tight enough to be a good ground to build this new blog on. I may not even need a “brand page” when they come out.
In other words, I think that Google+ is very powerful thing in terms of developing your name online, and I’m very excited about what the future holds.
What did I miss? How are you using to Google+ to grow your blog? Is it working?