Google+ So what does it mean for Charities?

Google’s much trumpeted rival to Facebook, Google+, is now open to all after an extensive period of Beta testing among the select invited hundreds of thousands few.

For a lot of charities who have just started to get their head around the possibilities of Facebook and Twitter, another Big Boy in the social media playground might be a little intimidating.

So does Google+ mean rethinking your social media strategy? Is it really going to rival Facebook? And if so, what do you need to know?

First off, I’m not going to go into tips on how to use functions in  Google+ – it’s been done really well here and elsewhere, and I’m not going to add to the sum of that knowledge.

But there are some interesting issues from a strategic point of view:

Circles

Google+ USP is a direct assault on Facebook’s less than perfect record on security and privacy. From that point of view, Circles is a means by which users can ring-fence their comments and activity so that only certain people see certain things. It stops stuff like this happening.

That’s great – you don’t post something when drunk/teenaged/forgetful that comes back to haunt you, and you can separate work, social, family and other lives neatly.

The downside is that you separate work, social, family and other lives neatly. One of the great things about Facebook is that if you can engage a person, you engage their whole wide circle of contacts. With Google+ Circles, you engage much smaller circles.

You’re a charity, you’re not a friend. So if they talk to you, or about you, which circle gets to know? They might have 1,000 friends on Google+ but you might be in a circle of 3.

The downside of Facebook – its one-size fits all simplicity – is also probably one of the reasons for its huge popularity. For the casual, non-geek who just wants to chat online, organising your contacts into Circles and working out what to say to which circle is a lot of hassle.

As a result, circles will probably be ill-formed and random – your charity might well simply get chucked in “Other” along with a motley collection of businesses, other charities and people you spoke to once at a conference who contacted you out of the blue months later just to have more contacts on Google+. Again, not great for connecting in a meaningful way.

Google+ or Facebook?

So what’s the difference between Google+ and Facebook? And are they competing or complimentary? Do you need to choose one or the other?

It’s early days, but Facebook is still likely to remain the much bigger of the two for some time. But also – while Google+ is being seen as a rival to Facebook, it probably isn’t a direct competitor.

Google+ seems to be continuing the philosophy of the late, ignored, Google Wave – just doing it better.

Facebook is the big open room – an eclectic and chaotic party to which everyone is invited. Google+ is more about managing your relationships online. Facebook is the more fluid and social of the two, it’s disorganisation is its strength.

Google+ – with its circles and video Hangout and Integration – looks more like a rival to email and Skype than to Facebook.

Google+ is likely to be used by – for the time being- more tech-savvy people to organise their daily engagement with friends, relatives,  work colleagues etc.

This doesn’t mean its not a place for charities to engage, but it does mean that the engagement is in many ways more like your traditional engagement with supporters – less viral, more about genuine relationships.

Google+ is very much in its infancy, but will grow up quick  – no-one really knows how it will take off, but its certainly one to be aware of.

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