Why police forces should not move to Google+
Google plus was launched in a ‘restricted beta’ form recently, and there has been lots of interest in how the search engine giant has approached social media. Google’s track record in coming up with something to compete with Facebook and Twitter has not been untroubled – Google Wave is no more (despite being a brilliant concept, it was too complex for people to grasp easily) and Google Buzz is a forgotten backwater in social media terms. So why do I think that forces should not engage with Google+?
1. Too early – despite high demand for invites (which have been limited by Google) it is too early to say what the takeup will be on Google+. The technology is very slick (Two standouts for me are the ability to separate personal and professional posts via the use of G+ Circles, and the fantastic feedback/bug reporting tool, which you really must try), but slick technology will only work if people are using it. It is too early to say if people will abandon Twitter or Facebook for G+, or use it alongside existing social media platforms.
2. Not ready for business – Google themselves say that the beta site is not yet ready for business, and whilst some are already using personal profiles to build a business presence, I think that there may be some extra business features that are planned that will be worth waiting for. Remember that this will be the first serious social media platform that has been developed from the ground up since businesses started getting serious about social media. Facebook and Twitter have developed from essentially personal tools – and it shows.
3. Clarity – Google+ looks like another social media platform, and in many ways it is. What is interesting to me is the strengths that Google bring to this field, which others lack.
* Integration – Google own YouTube (which incidentally is the world’s second largest search engine…after Google), the online photo site Picasa, the blogging site Blogger and many more tools, which are either leading the field or second/third level contenders. They have an integrated calendar, one of the leading mobile smart phone operating systems (Android), and have launched their own PC operating System (Chrome) alongside Chrome Browser. Each of these is or will be integrated into G+ in many different ways. I imagine that these integrations will adapt over time in response to customer demand. Until detail of how integration will work in practice is made clear I think it makes sense to hold fire on a move into G+. Crucially for those already using non Google services like Flick’r and WordPress, or other browsers and smartphones how non-Google services are integrated into G+ may also change. Google likes to own everything in a process, and forces wishing to move may find that they need to migrate existing platforms to Google platforms to get the best out of G+.
* Search – Google own the world of search, and already have pretty good search links with Twitter (although much less with Facebook). The rise of social media is in some ways a threat to the traditional search engines, which rely on static websites and incoming links to identify high quality content. Social media updates – often ephemeral and short – are harder for search engines to rank, and most rely on some form of user ‘thumbs up’ to rank good content (likes, re-tweets, follows etc). G+ is heavily integrated with Google’s +1 button which you will see increasingly on many websites. This has the benefit for Google of increasing their search effectiveness by taking account of this user input, but exactly how this will affect existing website search results is hard to say at this stage.
* Privacy – Google’s record is reasonable here, but they make profit from selling user information to advertisers, and are far better at this that either of the two leading social media networks. Whilst I am taken with the possibilities of having a single account that allows me to share personal and professional updates with different circles, I am cautious about how this information may be used by Google. Currently I use Facebook mainly for personal and Twitter for professional information, with a second Twitter account for specific interests. Many others have multiple accounts on Facebook for the same reasons.
4. History – the tech world is littered with examples of superior technology that came along too late (Mini Disc which failed to compete with emerging MP3 players) or was allied with the wrong partners (Betamax, which failed to get the content in the VCR market). Public opinion can be surprisingly hard to predict (look back at early coverage of the Nintendo Wii for examples of people dismissing this console as simple, low powered, and having a silly name). There is little early adopter benefit to getting on board with G+ yet, so history would teach us to wait, to be patient and see what happens over the next few months.
5. Still learning – police forces in the main are only just coming to grips with Twitter and / or Facebook. One or two have ventured further afield and looked at blogs, Flick’r and YouTube. Adding another possible platform into the mix, before the benefits are clear, is just not sensible at this stage
Of course you may well be curious about G+. If so go and have a play (you may still need an invite, but there are plenty of people with them – ask me if you are desperate!). This post from the Marketing Professor gives 40 tips for newcomers, just to get you started. (Hat tip to Stuart Davis for this link)
I agree with Greg – the potential use of Google’s “circles” is what is most interesting here, and worth exploring.
Law enforcement agencies that adopt Google+ should have an increased ability to target messages and content to specific groups or demographics. This will help to avoid much of the clutter and sheer volume on Facebook, which can only increase as more participants get into the conversation – both law enforcement personnel and the public.
Since most organizations have a variety of different demographics to serve – not just techno-savvy youth – it makes sense to be able to create content and messaging that is specifically tailored and relevant to your target audience, and delivered directly to them. What is of interest to commuters, for example, (i.e. traffic updates) may not be of interest to high school students (youth rallies, student initiatives) and vice-versa. We have to keep the specific audience in mind when creating our communications…and go where the people are!
With any social network, new or old, I think it is best to begin with a personal account to become familiar with usage and opportunities before establishing a business/agency/organization presence.
The Google+ “circles” features is what really stands out to me compared to Facebook. On Google+ I can easily and selectively share photos and stories about my kids with just my family and my actual friends. Facebook lists have never been easy to organize and require opting people out of sharing rather than opting them in. Thus Facebook has always been focused on my professional endeavors and not a place I share meaningful content with actual family and friends. Plus my family gets deluged on Facebook with all the content that I am really just trying to share with professional colleagues.
Scott – I mean ‘not yet’, but maybe not at all. If G+ fails to take off, or if the issues around linking public and private information in one profile start to cause an issue, or even if G+ is a success, but fails to make a dent in Twitter or Facebook and carves out some other niche for itself…Time will tell, and I think the first thing of interest is the model Google adopts for corporate accounts, of which there are now a few.
Justin.. you mean ‘not yet’ right? ….
And Mahalo for the great article. I agree with what you posted and strongly advise law enforcement to heed your “warnings”.
I’m still trying to see how this new service is going to play out. I was recently quoted saying that the Internet was “The Digital Elephant”. Well, Google then must be it’s handler (or wants to be). Also, here’s something to think about:
Google -> Picasa (online photo web sharing service) -> allows geotagging photos + Google Earth. Hmmm? Something to really think about.
Thank you for another excellent post Justin. I would add to this, in line with your point about it being “too early”, Google+ is still in Beta. Only those with invites are able to use it. All of the social media “bigshots” are using it and hyping it right now and it’s no accident that the biggest social media users were invited from the get-go. While many of those people are hyping it pretty hard, with at least one already offering training on it, whether the hype continues long enough is up in the air.
Google is test running some applications with business and organizations and we hope to hear more about the roll-out of that soon.
Until then, if anyone wants and invite, let Justin know or email me at email@example.com. You have to have a gmail address.