Tag Archives: google

Google+ Explained for Business

I recently was asked to talk about how Google+ can be leveraged for business as part of the social media enablement we’re providing for our business division.

It got me thinking as to where the real value lies in Google+.

This is what I boiled it down to:

  • Google+ is yet another social network
  • Google+ has some key similarities with other social networks
  • Google+ differs in some key ways
  • The interaction with other Google services such as Search and YouTube

You can see the meat of the presentation here:

Also posted to SlideShare.

Looking to get started? These are the links I suggest:

  1. Setup an account at https://plus.google.com/
  2. Check out the video series on Getting Started with Google+
  3. Search for people and interests and add at least 10 to Circles
  4. Attend an upcoming IBM Big Data Google+ Hangout

Google: social analytics is a key differentiator

According to a recent article in Advertising Age, Google’s social strategy does not involve building social networks to compete with Facebook but rather it is focusing on using social data to build better applications:

“As an example of the current strategy, [Eric] Schmidt talked about getting more information from YouTube users in order to offer more targeted video.”

YouTube already has a fairly robust recommendation engine:

but from Schmidt’s comments, development around this area of exposing social analytics is where they see real business value. This is backed up by moves such as YouTube’s purchase of movie recommendation site Fflick.

How can analytics be used to derive value?

For instance, predictive analytics solutions (like IBM SPSS) can traverse a large inventory of content and make associations based on a visitor’s past behavior and the behavior of their friends in the network. Match this with sentiment analysis, which can be used to look at the conversation around a video to determine whether it is loved or loathed (or somewhere in-between), and suddenly you have a more immersive viewing experience.

This doesn’t just apply to Google and video. Foursquare is apparently taking this approach to differentiate itself as Facebook encroaches into its space with its Places offering.

Whilst analytics can offer differentiation in a hotly-contested area, the issue of privacy has to be addressed. The interfaces can get so good at offering recommendations that they border on being plain creepy. Couple this with the growing paranoia around the extent to which our digital lives are tracked, and suddenly these interfaces appear more Big Brother rather than benevolent Jeeves. One way to address this issue is to be as transparent as possible when exposing social analytics.

So if Eric Schmidt’s comment can be taken at face value, I’d suggest it’s in the context of a growing trend in looking to maximize the value in existing networks rather than racing to build new ones. Social analytics, when handled deftly, can unlock this latent value in social data.

Do you agree?

Google social search and Twitter: natural bedfellows?

Google has now officially rolled out the latest iteration of its social search which includes much tighter integration between social elements and what the big search giant is commonly known for uncovering: web pages.

Google has been displaying results from social networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn and its own Buzz in its search results pages, but these were typically segmented out at the bottom of the page.

With the latest update, these are now intermingled with other page results:

(see the first and third result)

The New York Times points out benefits, such as seeing links to pictures from your friend who recently went to Mexico when performing holiday searches for that same destination.

I’m not convinced this will hit such mainstream applications for one reason. There’s a big elephant that is still not in the room: Facebook.

Let’s face it, this is where most of the sharing happens. According to recent reports, we’re talking about 100 million photos a day that just wouldn’t make it into the Google search result pages. Going back to the New York Times example, there’s a big chance that Facebook is where those Mexico pictures would have been posted, so they’ll never make it to the Google search results page.

What kind of results will show up? Areas where Twitter is particularly strong: news (as the recent events in Egypt made clear), technical information (eg. the code samples and tips often searched for by developers), and location-based searches that could show up results from Foursquare, Gowalla and other similar services from local searches.

At the individual level, those who stand to gain are those who have built up a following by sharing content – the curators. (A by-product of social search could be an increase in SEOs employing Twitter curation/syndication models). It will also help breakdown the time zone barrier that has long segmented the Twitter crowd: if you post a Tweet at lunchtime in London, it will be pushed way out of my Twitter feed by the time I wake up in San Francisco. However, if you happen to be in my network, I could see your tweets show up in my search results, even weeks after the tweet.

If these social results start showing up in a larger number of searches, this is obviously a boon for Twitter (as well as the other networks Google features). It’s effectively a free SEO boost.

And what could be construed as a snub to Facebook.

The fight for content from each other’s network has been pretty public. Will this be enough pressure from Google to force Facebook’s hand into releasing its well-guarded trove of user activity data?

That remains to be seen. One potential issue of adoption is that Google social search is heavily tied to Google Profiles and the search giant still has some way to go to make these as visible and user-friendly as other services out there (um, Facebook springs to mind).

Still, go ahead and hook up your Twitter/LinkedIn/YouTube accounts to your Google profile and try social search for yourself.

Blogging: the Google way (webcast with Karen Wickre)

The SES team in conjunction with Hubspot recently hosted an excellent presentation by Karen Wikre, Google’s Senior Manager of Corporate Communications. Karen has been at Google for over 7 years and in that time has played a prominent part in bringing blogs into the center of Google’s communication strategy. In the presentation she goes into details of Google’s philosophy of using blogs for corporate communication, focusing on blogging announcements, but also covering other topics such as blog post frequency and the factors in the decision of whether or not to start a blog for a given product.

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Blogging: the Google way (webcast with Karen Wickre)

Those SES guys in conjunction with Hubspot just hosted an excellent presentation by Karen Wikre, Google’s Senior Manager of Corporate Communications. Karen has been at Google for over 7 years and in that time has played a prominent part in bringing blogs into the center of Google’s communication strategy.

Why the empasis on blogs?

As Karen points out, blogs allow you to reach customers, those who know nothing about you, critics and the press all through a single post. In some ways blogs can be thought of as surrogates for newsletters, where you don’t have to wait to collect 16 articles before publishing. She also points out that posts serve well as your statement on an issue that can exist for years. She draws on the Googlebomb example, where the original post served them well years later when the issue arose again. There is a downside to this approach: especially if you are in an industry/organization where the viewpoint can shift over time. A blog post has a serious shelf life so be prepared to stand by what you say for months, if not years.

Blogs also allow you to put out information that you wouldn’t consider for a press release. Think about the back story into how a product came to life. You can also go further and integrate customer stories, video footage and geeky stuff about what’s going on under the hood. There can be an audience for all of this, but the traditional press release really doesn’t offer the breadth.

As an aside, I’m you’re probably aware that Google owns the Blogger platform so it makes sense for them to adopt this tool for company communications.

Just how many official blogs does Google have?

Karen mentions that currently Google has more than 150 product-related blogs (with over 10 million unique visitors a month). supplement that with around 80 Twitter accounts reaching 2.3 million followers and you get some idea for the scope of this effort and the payback in terms of visibility. There are Facebook pages for the consumer products, however these are a newer addition.

What should you consider when starting a blog?

I think Karen gives as good a criteria checklist as I’ve seen:

  • Do you have a lot of regular announcements?
  • Are you in a busy area with a lot of activity?
  • Do you have a lot of customers (eg. Gmail)?
  • Do you have a strong community of developers (maybe around an API)?

Karen also points out the notable exceptions where blogs can make sense. If you have an area where less frequent detailed stories may exist, this can still make sense for a blog. For instance a research department, or security team. In this case the content does not appear very often, but when it does, it tends to be deep. An external example of this is Clay Shirky. His posts are infrequent, but read like book chapters.

What are key parts of the content strategy?

While Karen points out her team tends to take a light touch approach and isn’t in the business of editing posts, she does give some content pointers that are used in training:

  • A good title is very important: especially as more people consume information on mobile devices and through channels other than directly visiting your web site
  • Use a consistent style (eg. around capitalization)
  • A post should have one designated author, even if it has been worked on by a team
  • If the message is global, think about translating the content
  • For product announcements, specify the availability
  • Offer the most useful links
  • Clearly mark any updates you make and don’t alter either the title or the timestamp

Closely related is the voice with which you write. Google relies on an informal tone (one person talking to another, rather than a company broadcast). The language should be clear and direct, peppered with examples and understandable real-world examples. If humor is used, make sure it is appropriate.

When should a blog be terminated?

Occasionally, it may not make sense to continue with a blog. It could be that the blog is not being updated, there is a new related blog that is more relevant, visitors have stopped coming or a project has been terminated. In these cases the blog should be shut down: a final post should be written as explanation, the blog removed from the public directory, but importantly, the blog should not be deleted. The posts should still be available on the web.

Do Google have official bloggers?

Whilst there are some in the organization who blog frequently (such as Matt Cutts), Google does not have official bloggers. Blogging is a part of the job description of some employees and others may be asked to create a blog post (a product engineer that comes up with a new gadget). Google prefers to go to the source of the story and have that person tell it, rather than have official blogger/journalist types.

Karen provided a great insight into how one of the world’s most successful companies makes blogging a cornerstone to its communications strategy.

More on this topic:

How do you track leads from Twitter posts? The bit.ly URL shortening service is one way

The very sharp Sandy Carter asked a question today that had been playing in the back of my mind but being the weak marketer I am, I never really fully got my teeth into: if you put out a promotion on Twitter, how can you measure the effectiveness of that tweet?

Twitter, like every other web presence, should allow for easy measurement. So if your promo attracts 1,000 clickthroughs from your well-crafted tweet you should know about it. Right? Unfortunately those wonderfully effective URL shortening services that that help you keep your Tweets under 140 characters can get in the way.

For instance if the shortening service uses Javascript for the redirect, this can show odd referral data in your web logs. Another scenario is where you use the same link across different Twitter accounts (say, if you hit that magical pulse and find yourself heavily retweeted).

If you use any of the Twitter clients out there, you’ve probably noticed that many offer a host of shortening services. Each of these has its relative merits. So if you are in the position where you really want to know how many clicks emanate from your wonderfully crafted Tweets, some services work better than others.

I thought I’d ask my diminutive Twitterverse what they thought were the most ‘trackable’ URL shortening services. Richard Barley proved most helpful, pointing me in the direction of bit.ly.

A key advantage of this service is it doesn’t matter whether or not you create an account: you can still have access to the excellent stats, which start off like this:

bitlyThere are further stats on geography and which accounts have used the shortened URL and crucially you can see if there are other bit.ly codes for the long URL.

The advantage of creating an account is that you see all your links collected under one interface (great for comparison). If you sign up for a premium account you get even more features such as detailed referrer stats. Interested? Here’s a few examples of how the service works:

Twhirl and bit.ly

To use bit.ly with the Twhirl desktop client you need to setup a bit.ly account. Then go into the tools section and find the API key. Twhirl will ask you for this information when you try to shorten a URL. This is great because all the URLs you post using Twhirl will be listed in your bit.ly account.

Tweetdeck and bit.ly

Tweetdeck takes a different approach by not asking you to sign in (for the record, bit.ly is the default URL shortening service in Tweetdeck). This makes it easier to shorten URLs right off the bat without having to setup a 3rd party service. But then how do you track links? bit.ly has a nifty use for the ‘+’ sign. Append this symbol to any of the bit.ly URLs to receive stats on that link. Here’s an example:  http://bit.ly/45dHIx+.

Web browsing and bit.ly

You can incorporate bit.ly with any web browser. Once you set up an account, you can drag the boomarklet to your toolbar and use this to shorten the URL, with the option to post directly to Twitter.

There are other uses of the service and it integrates with other clients (and I’m sure the iPhone), so if you have more information, feel free to comment. Now let me drift into speculation on the power of bit.ly and what it means for the web.

Taking on Friendfeed

I’ve been a heavy user of Friendfeed for some time: it’s a great tool for taking content from anywhere (including Delicious links) , aggregating it, and posting it on to Twitter/Facebook (for the uninitiated, here’s an explanation of Friendfeed). However, Friendfeed has gone down the route of concentrating more on engaging discussion around the content and does not yet offer publishers decent stats on which links have attracted most clicks. Is this a potential Achilles heel? It’s making me reconsider recommending the service for business/marketing purposes.

Taking on Digg

Beware Digg, you mighty news aggregation service: there could well be a significant player in town. Gigaom recently reported that bit.ly has received $2 million in funding – interesting given the statistics bit.ly offer could turn it into a compelling Digg-like service. When people use bit.ly to shorten a link, they are indirectly voting for it (in much the same way Google treats a link from one site to another as a vote in the PageRank algorithm). If you pull all this information together, you have a great social bookmarking system. Those links that have created the most stir (eg. through retweeting on Twitter) will be ranked the highest. I haven’t seen in practice and there maybe some kinks to iron out (how do you categorize links?) but the idea is intriguing.

Taking on Google???

OK, so we’ve stated that these links become votes. You could also argue these links are more social than the ones that Google tracks by looking at website relationships. Bit.ly already has a search engine, but this could bloom into a major feature if the service becomes widely adopted. It’s been noted that Twitter is replacing Google for certain queries (I received better information for this article from Twitter than from Google), and as bit.ly is a link between Twitter and the wider web, the service is in a good position to show which web pages are most useful to people. Why doesn’t Google report on these links too? At the moment many of these services fall outside of Google’s domain given that the Javascript tracking they use can render links invisible to the major search engines. This goes for most URL shortening services: not just bit.ly (although some services are beginning to offer more Google-friendly links).

Will Twitter get into the fray?

As a final point there is much speculation floating around about how Twitter will moneytize its service. Offering premium services to corporate customers seems highly likely. Could one of these services be the kind of statistics that bit.ly dishes out, if Twitter gets into the URL shortening business?

I, for one, think the URL shortening space is looking increasingly interesting, and at this point bit.ly is well poised as a major player.

Usability: the Google way

With all the recent hype surrounding Google SearchWiki and the ensuing row over whether the changes add or detract from Google’s core search offering, it makes you wander to what extent Google trial this services prior to launch.

In this post on the art of field study, you get an idea into what Google does in the realm of usability (they are not alone given that they have one of the most used interfaces on the planet – check out this early eye-tracking study).

They perform surveys:

It turns out that people are masters of saying one thing and doing another, particularly when it comes to nearly automatic behavior.

They undertake eye-tracking studies:

Notice how methodically the gaze moves from result title to title, occasionally inspecting the snippet text to gain more detail about the result.

And generally spend time with users getting to grips with what they do. The post is thoughtful in that it also considers some of the limitations of usability testing – particularly in the lab scenario.

One of the questions that springs to mind though is what exactly is the link between the usability team and the engineering guys? Just how much teeth do these usability testers have? I’m not advocating that they should have more control of the interface – after all, it’s refreshing that counting in web years, the Google interface has hardly changed in a millenium. The design just hasn’t swung with every whim of the crowd. We need some standards in this life.

Read more about Google’s usability studies