Embracing the Next Social Network (or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Google+”)

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Google+I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s this new social network called Google+.

I know, I know, that’s a bit of an understatement. Currently, the social network has more than 20 million users. That’s twice as many users as Foursquare has, and Foursquare has been around for two years. Google+ blew past them in two weeks.

Google+ may still be quite a way off from Facebook’s impressive 800 million-ish users, but here’s something else to keep in mind: Google+ is still invite-only. It’s obliterating records as the fastest growing online social network in history, and it isn’t even open to the public yet.

Generally speaking, the instant success of Google’s latest project has elicited one of two responses from my own social circles; either “Yes, finally, an alternative to Facebook!” or, more often than not, the much less enthusiastic, “Ugh. Another social network?”

Personally, I’m excited about Google+. I love the clean, simple look of it, and the user interface makes it really easy to use. The idea of sharing certain posts only with certain people whom I’ve put in certain circles is, I think, ingenious. But I also sympathize with the naysayers. For most of my friends who already juggle Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Foursquare accounts, the idea of maintaining yet another (and not really very different) social network makes them wither like the picture of Dorian Gray.

I haven’t yet spoken with many business managers about Google+, mainly because Google is still working out its Google+ pages for businesses, but I get the sense that their responses will be by and large the same. “I’m already spending a lot of staff time marketing through the other major social platforms. Are we really going to need to use Google+ too?”

The simple answer is, yes. Of course. Not because it’s the newest thing, not because it’s a hot topic right now, but because it’s where your customers are. And if they’re not there yet, they’ll be headed there soon. Some of your current Facebook fans will wind up trading in their Facebook accounts for Google+ accounts—a few in my circle have already done so—and the messages you post on Facebook aren’t going to reach them. And let’s not forget about the youth. If Google+ really is here to stay, then soon we’ll have a generation that doesn’t see it as, “Ugh. Another social network.” They’ll see it as one of the networks they’ve basically always known, just like Facebook and Twitter. It won’t be long before Google+ starts acquiring new potential customers for your business that you might not be able to reach anywhere else.

The question isn’t whether or not you have to set up a business page for Google+. The question is, why wouldn’t you?

My guess is that the big reason a lot of companies won’t be thrilled about adding Google+ to the social media regiment is that they’re simply unequipped to do so. In my experience, there is a pretty surprising number of businesses that still treat social media as an afterthought. Much of the social media management work falls on anyone with some spare time on his hands, or it doesn’t fall at all. For businesses that still rely on their interns to manage their social media instead of giving it the serious attention of the marketing department, of course Google+ is going to be a drain. Maybe the problem isn’t that there are too many social networks; maybe the problem is that too many businesses aren’t taking social networks seriously.

Let’s put it in terms of traditional media. Your radio advertising budget may be maxed out, but if a brand new station pops up in your city, and in less than three weeks it’s already more popular than almost every other station in town, and growing quickly with key demographic audiences, you’re going to find a way to buy ad space on that station. How could you afford not to? It’s where the listeners are.

The same is true of Google+. The hottest new social network isn’t a hurdle for your business. It’s an opportunity. You’re going to use it to reach brand new customers in fun, new ways. So get excited! It won’t be long now until Google+ starts enhancing the way you do business.

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