One of the most audible complaints about Google+ is the lack of mainstream users and activity. After all, it’s hard to be social if there’s no one to connect with.
While 2011 will end with the question still lingering of whether or not Google+ will succeed, I think there already are tell-tale indicators that the social service will enjoy mainstream usage by the end of 2012. (And no, not all of the signs are as obvious as some of this week’s strong-arming efforts, such as Google+ brand pages being fast-tracked to the top of the SERPs.)
Here are five reasons why Google+ adoption and usage will increase in 2012 for businesses and individuals alike:
Google + will officially marry social and search
While the foremost purpose of Google+ is to challenge Facebook’s social empire, the platform has obvious SEO implications as well. It’s no secret that social signals affect search. But with the widespread proliferation of Google’s “+1″ button (both in- and outside of Google+) the search engine now can determine the social value of Web content. When logged-in, this social influence will not only push “+1’d” sites and Google+ posts into your SERPs, but will send signals that can boost these pages’ rankings outside of your network as well.
Time will tell just how strong the SEO benefits of Google+ are, but it’s clear that the network was envisioned as more than just another passing attempt at social media. Google is weaving a social layer into its fundamental engine functionality and making Google+ an inescapable component of everyday search activities.
Google+ soon will affect all of the Google apps you use
Google+ is being integrated with far more Google products than just search. In the past few months, Google+ has gained various levels of integration with Blogger, Gmail, Reader and YouTube, with the latter’s homepage being radically changed for logged-in users. As Juan Carlos Perez of IDG News notes, this is a vast and risky gamble by Google that is generating some early complaints. But in my opinion, this is a clear indication that Google is rallying the troops throughout its product suite to help drive (aka force) people to use Google+.
Google Instant will help guide search queries to Google+ pages
Google developed Instant to enhance a user’s search experience by “providing better results, faster.” One new social feature of Instant is the Direct Connect shortcut. Direct Connect gives the ability for people to add “+” in front of an organization’s name and automatically be taken to their respective Google+ page. (For example, if you enter “+Team Coco” you’ll see a custom Google+ query, image and direct link to Conan O’ Brien’s Google+ page.) However, I don’t think Instant’s role in Google+ adoption will stop here.
Since Instant shows suggestions and results before a user finishes typing, Google itself has the ability to influence the final search term. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see Instant’s “smart predictions” become more self-serving and guide users to search for a Google+ page in general queries, even if they didn’t use the Direct Connect shortcut. As I mentioned above, Google was quick to include Google+ pages in SERPs, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they take this one step further and favor these pages in Instant predictions as well.
Integration with third-party apps will make Google+ easier to manage
When Google+ was announced, many people groaned and looked at the platform as a needless addition to an oversaturated market, rather than an innovative networking service. In other words, people didn’t dislike Google+ itself, so much as the idea of needing to take additional time to manage “yet another social profile.”
Last month, Google finally took steps to alleviate page administrators’ time-crunch by launching a pilot program that would enable Google+ business pages to be managed via third-party apps. While only six companies received early access to the Google API – with HootSuite and its 2 million users being the largest included – continued integration with productivity apps will no doubt help businesses (and eventually individuals) better manage their accounts and more seamlessly use Google+ in their day-to-day social media strategy.
Brands, marketers and tech geeks will lead the way
Right now Google+ is dominated by big brands, marketers and early adopter technologists, but I don’t think this is anything Google didn’t anticipate. In fact, I think Google’s slow, methodical roll-out is a smart long-term decision.
Google has created a detailed guide to show businesses how to create, promote and measure the effectiveness of Google+ pages, and the hand-holding appears to be paying early dividends. Some early analysis shows that, at a minimum, brands have interest in the network, even if it’s simply trying to determine whether or not this new channel fits into their larger digital strategies. My guess is that once businesses see the sweeping reach and benefits of Google+, they’ll prioritize it alongside their other online channels, such as Twitter and Facebook. These businesses, in turn, will facilitate more mainstream adoption from loyal users following their brands across the Web – or simply users who succumb to the deluge of signals steering them towards Google+.
At the end of the day, Google seems wholly determined to carve out a hefty share of the social media marketplace for itself. Given the search giant’s influence across the Internet, I’m not going to doubt that they’ll achieve this goal – even if it requires thrusting adoption upon its users in some unexpected places.
What do you think? Will Google have to continue to “force” usage for Google+ to succeed or will adoption occur naturally over time? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.