It’s no secret that people are dropping like flies from Facebook at the moment and since adverts and sponsored posts have started littering up my timeline I’ve decided to follow suit. If I’m honest though, Facebook’s clumsy approach to advertising (like suggesting dumb pirate games at the top of my news feed and throwing McFlurries in my face) was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. Poor page management tools, companies poaching for ‘likes’ and seemingly directionless interface changes have all added to the frustration. And have you ever tried to set up custom tabs on Facebook or dress up a company or business page? Most of us have to resort to third party tools like Shortstack (which is excellent by the way) to get the job done, because Facebook’s own app development tools are just too disorganised and complex to bother with. It shouldn’t feel like a great technological triumph to get your business page looking the way you want it to on a networking site. The shortcomings don’t stop with mechanics or aesthetics though. In using Facebook exclusively we’re missing out on a rich world of communication and information and people are slowly but surely beginning to catch on. Facebook may have pioneered something but they were never going to be around forever. Seeds are planted and flowers grow – this is how technology works.
Google Plus has now been around for a couple of years and initially struggled to gain a footing in the world of social media. It’s hardly surprising. People who use social platforms tend to do so exclusively. They get comfortable with the format and as they upload photos and tags and make friends they become invested in it, making it difficult to abandon in favour or something new. For a long time I used Facebook exclusively. It rose to fame just as I was starting at university and if you weren’t on Facebook you didn’t exist – it was a sad and simple truth. I railed against it at first, turning my nose up at it, deeming it unnecessary and a poor alternative to a phone call (yep, I was one of those stubborn luddites), but as my experience with social media grew I found it a useful tool to document my memories, keep in touch with friends, but mainly blog – like a rudimentary interactive journal. Now I stand firmly on the side of social media and the art and practice of sharing.
After a while with Facebook though, I started to get the unsettling feeling that something was missing. It seemed too personal, too inwardly focused. Something more could be done. Around about this time there was a Twitter boom in the media and I got involved. Twitter is everything Facebook is not. It’s concise, quick, organised and more importantly, it isn’t self-serving. Facebook is, essentially, an ego trip for most people. I’m guilty of it too. Everyone has updated their Facebook status to tell their friends what a lovely meal they’ve cooked or posted a picture of themselves at the top of the Eiffel Tower. There’s no shame in it and I have no problem with it between friends but this is a very basic and limited aspect of social media and Facebook doesn’t offer much beyond it save for fan pages which seem to do little more than generate a graphical thumbs up. If all you use Twitter for is telling people what an awesome bath you just had you aren’t going to gain much of a following or really get anything from the experience. Mediums like Twitter actively encourage users to share valuable and interesting information to a wider audience and often feel more like social forums than small groups of friends exchanging day-to-day experiences and cat photos. Google Plus is an evolution of this and, at the moment, it’s up with Reddit and Twitter at the forefront of online social media. Here are some reasons why.
1. Circles – a more efficient way to connect.
Google Plus isn’t as simple as its Facebook or Twitter counterparts in terms of ‘friends’ or ‘followers’. This can be daunting but it’s actually a relatively simple concept. With Google Plus you have the option to welcome people into your ‘circle’. These circles are customised by you. You may have a ‘work’ circle or a ‘family’ circle. You can then choose to either share your status updates with these particular groups or simply share them publicly. This function has more than one benefit. The first is that you can target specific groups of people in your life independently of the other which offers an extra layer of privacy and efficiency. Ever want to post something on Facebook that pops up in your friend’s feeds but not your family’s? Now you can. The second benefit is targeting specific communities with your posts with a couple of clicks which can be a great way to get feedback, share thoughts and find like-minded folks. We’ll go into some more details regarding this next.
2. Communities – get involved, share and grow.
Not only can you post things to specific groups but you can also share links and opinions with specific groups of people. Anybody can start up a community on Google Plus but those with a big following are good to start with. For example, say you have a specific interest in Xbox and a news story catches your eye. You want to share it and chat about it with people. You post it to Facebook and you get a couple of ‘likes’ but nobody is really as bothered as you and no comments follow. You post it on Twitter but this information isn’t of interest to your particular group of followers. And that’s it. How self-containing is that? Enter Google Plus. I can join the ‘Gaming’ community in 3 clicks. This means two things. Firstly, popular posts to the ‘Gaming’ community will find their way onto my news feed and secondly, when posting I will be able to select this audience instead of one of my circles (it was also tell you how many people currently follow this community – in this case, a lot!)
In this way I’m able to connect directly with over 136,000 community members who are likely to have an interest in what I have to share or say. This is brilliant in so many ways – not only can it spark debate and an interesting exchange of comments but it also keeps you on your toes, broadens the range of things you want to discuss and helps you grow your own communities.
Another thing to mention is that each community has subcategories.
In the instance below I selected ‘Gaming’ then ‘Xbox’ after finding an interesting article I wanted to share. You’ll see the ‘Gaming’ tag on top of my post and under my name, the subcategory ‘Xbox’. Anything you post in a community is also shared on your public profile (wall) or with other chosen individuals so nobody is left out but the people who read your post from the targeted community are far more likely to respond.
In this way, Google Plus is more like an interactive blogging tool than a personal ‘profile’ space. Of course, you can still use Google Plus in the way you use Facebook and share cat photos with your friends and check-in to places, but with so much more at your disposal!
3. The embracing of #hashtags
Twitter is of course responsible (or perhaps more accurately, its users are responsible) for the success of hashtags. Some people are still very damning and judgemental of the little tag but why is completely beyond me. It’s basically an excellent rudimentary way of categorising information. Of course it’s often used ironically or pointlessly (#ThatSometimesReallyBugsMeToo) but for the most part, if you use Twitter or Google Plus you’ll get a real use out of them and find some gems. You’ll notice in the image above, my post on the right of the screen mentions Neil Young’s new Pono device. I shared this publicly and didn’t even bother hashtagging #NeilYoung but Google Plus is smart enough to know that Neil Young is a popular topic and hashtags it for me. The hashtags on Google Plus are banded at the top right of a post and will help people find your update if they’re searching for that kind of thing. Hashtags basically help a community communicate and determine what is popular or trending. Where Facebook took years to (very reluctantly) come around to the idea, Google Plus saw the value and implemented them immediately. Did you even know you could hashtag on Facebook? A lot of people don’t because they didn’t even mention it. It was a kind of peer pressure yielding to the trend type of thing that they weren’t very proud of.
4. Google Authorship – every blogger’s best friend
Google dominates internet traffic. It simply reigns supreme and if you don’t rank on Google you don’t get anywhere. It’s that simple. How many people use Ask Jeeves? Bing? Yahoo? Why would you even bother? Search engine ranks used to be about link spamming and playing the system but not anymore. Google loves content. Google adores information and language and words and they are rewarded accordingly. Every website has a blog these days (it’s one of the best ways to keep organic content flowing through a site to make Google happy) and many individuals blog on their own websites (like me). With a Google Plus account you can set up Google Authorship which can, if you want it to, link everything you post on the internet to a single profile. You simply tell G+ where you are a ‘contributor’ and pop in some HTML code to your posts to link them. If Google likes you, this will happen in search results;
This is a ‘rich snippet’ and the click through rate on a result like this is vastly improved. Moreover, I can get my picture and author tag all over the internet depending on where I’ve guest blogged. All I have to do is include the HTML and it all links to my Google Plus profile. Google even help by offering a Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure you’ve done it right. This can help you build an audience and also grow your credibility with Google as a useful source of information.
There are many other reasons why I’ve made the switch to Google Plus. The G+ Community seems more mature, the system is more sophisticated and information oriented and I feel in control of things. Far too often with Facebook the control is stripped from the user and they bombard you with poorly targeted adverts and confusing changes. Of course Google advertise via Google Adwords (a little more tastefully I’d say) as you browse the internet so they don’t need to force feed you Candy Crush Saga through your G+ news feed which is VERY refreshing.
I will stick with Facebook for a while though. Purely because it takes people forever to catch on and all my friends are there. It’s going to be a gradual move but I do hope that more and more people expand their online horizons and begin to use platforms which really do the term ‘social media’ justice.