In a world where Facebook has become the Kleenex of social networking, all other social media sites seem to be vying for second place. Facebook leverages its network externalities and brand name to lure new users and it facilitates high switching costs to retain existing users. Even if better alternatives existed, you would still join Facebook because that’s where your friends are, and you would stick with Facebook because it would be too difficult to switch (years of your life are documented there, right?). Facebook seems unstoppable right now and it would be a major undertaking to dethrone the biggest social network. Still, I think one service, Google+, has the potential to do so.
Although the hype of Google+’s launch has since faded, it nonetheless has surpassed twitter to become the #2 social network, with over 350 million active users. I’m not predicting Google+ will ever overtake Facebook, nor am I advocating anyone to switch (I know I’m not), but I will present a case for Google+ to make moves in the next couple of years and become a viable threat to Facebook. Here’s why:
WE USE GOOGLE FOR EVERYTHING ELSE
Gmail. Search. Youtube. Drive. Google has a breadth of Internet services, so many in fact that they were able to make their Chromebook laptops run only by using Google products. Because of this reach, integrating a social aspect to existing services seems only natural. This blending of products creates synergies which add value to the user. When you search for businesses or people using Google, their Google+ pages will also be displayed. Even if a business doesn’t have a Google+ page, you can still read reviews written about it on Google+, all within your search results. Profiles can be embedded in Youtube and Gmail accounts too. Soon, all of Google’s products will become saturated with Google+ access. As of last year, in order to signup for Gmail or Google Drive, you also have to create a Google+ account. This has contributed the growth of its user-base. Google+ has evolved from a destination site to a social layer across all of Google’s products. Google+ will soon become so engrained in the rest of Google’s offerings that it will only make sense to join.
Facebook groups tend to be extensions of existing clubs or organizations where groups form in person, and then create Facebook pages to stay in touch online. Google+ communities work in reverse because they can arise organically online, based on common interests. Users can connect with others based on common interests and engage in communities that are relevant to them. I think users will find tremendous value in this as online-only relationships become more common.
BUSINESSES WILL ENGAGE AS A COMPETITIVE NECESSITY
Traditional Google Search has started to include +1’s (the Google equivalent of Facebook “likes”) in their search algorithm. This means that companies engaging in SEO will have to maintain a strong Google+ presence to garner +1’s and remain in the top results. Furthermore, with reviews becoming popular on Google+, businesses will want to join to monitor conversations their customers are having about them. With businesses adopting Google+, their employees will also be expected to use the service and they may be inclined to recruit their friends as well.
One of Facebook’s biggest advantages is that it already holds all of your information, making it unappealing to leave. Google answers this hassle by including several chrome extensions that help you easily import photos and friends from Facebook. Furthermore, you can integrate your Twitter, Facebook and Google+ accounts so that a post to one, ends up cross-posting to the rest.
HANGOUTS ARE AWESOME
Google Hangouts are group conversations that blow Facebook Messages out of the water. They are streamlined message threads that are easily searchable and sharable. You can videoconference with up to 10 people and even live stream a videoconference to the public. Then, you can post a recording of the conversation to your page or on YouTube.
While Facebook is familiar and safe to us, Google+ is a sleeping giant. It has too many resources and features to be counted out and Facebook needs to be cognizant of this. l’m not sure if Google+ will ever succeed, but it is certainly a real threat that Facebook is taking very seriously.