Google+, Circles, and Facebook (And: How To Make Facebook Act Like G+)

On June 28, 2011, Google pleased geeks worldwide by unveiling their third try at social networking: Google+, or G+. While the previous attempts met with at best only mild success (Orkut is popular in Brazil but few other places, and Google Buzz remains a sideline for most), G+ has seen quick adoption and quick praise from the technological elite.

In a Google earnings call yesterday, newly re-installed CEO Larry Page live-G+’ed his remarks, including the nice tidbit that in two weeks G+ has 10 million users, and 1 billion items are being shared per day. (The math here does not exactly hold up: That would mean the average user is sharing 100 times per day. That seems excessive even to me.)

Thanks to my friend Guy Gonzalez, I scored an invite to G+ and have been playing with it for a bit.

In major respects, the functionality of G+ is identical to Facebook, and its layout is identical too. (See the screenshots of my Facebook profile and my G+ profile below, enlarge by clicking.)

G+, click to enlarge
Facebook, click to enlarge

That said, there are some features of G+ that have people jumping up and down with delight. Some of those features are real differences, others are not. (For instance, G+ is much better looking — and cleaner-looking — than Facebook, but I am not sure that is a huge difference, as part of that is just a function of when the look was designed. Facebook could refresh its look and look better than G+.)

In this article I will focus in one one specific feature of G+: Friend Circles.

Circles Make You Feel Private

The most exciting feature of G+ for many people is the ability (the requirement) to put all friends into “Circles.” This encourages you to group your friends in some way that makes sense. The interface is a simple drag and drop to create the Circles.

The first time you share something, you are asked which circles you want to share it with (you can choose “public,” which shares with everyone). That way, the photo of you sporting your new tattoo won’t show up in your boss’s stream unless you want it to.

In subsequent shares, G+ remembers your last setting, but it is very easy to add and remove circles with a mouse click.

This has given G+ users an increased sense of privacy and for the people I have talked to, this has been a huge win for G+.

However, I don’t see this as a Facebook-killer of a feature.

In the first place, it’s easy to accidentally put someone in the wrong circle, or forget who is in the circle, or share with the wrong circle. The heightened sense of privacy may paradoxically encourage unsafe (or stupid) behavior. For instance, imagine if you had “colleagues” and  “collages”  circles. You might accidentally share the scrapbook you made of Justin Bieber photos (“collage”) with your boss (“colleague”). Just having circles does not exempt us from having to take care and exercise judgment.

Furthermore, the idea of segmented friends list is a feature that is already implemented quite robustly in Facebook. It is called “friend lists.” In fact, the feature is more powerful in Facebook becuase I can control my sharing all the way down to the specific individuals irrespective of the lists they may belong to. That means I can share an update with me “family” list but exclude my daughter — so I can plan a surprise birthday party for her.

The difference between G+ and Facebook when it comes to this “segmented sharing” is that in Facebook, the feature is buried in the background.

How To Create And Use Friend Lists In Facebook

In order to use this function, first you need to set up some friend lists. In Facebook, click on “friends” and then in the upper right click “edit friends.” In the friend list that appears, there is a button (again upper right) that says “create a list.” Click it and add the people you want to your new list. I adhere firmly to the policy that all friends must be in some list, even if it is my “npk” (not personally known) list. When I made this move I had about 700 friends and it took about 45 minutes to complete the operation. From that point on it was easy because I decide for all new friends what list they go in.

At a minimum, you may want to set up a “family” list or a “work” list so you can easily exclude these groups from sensitive materials.

Once you have lists set up, it is easy to control who sees what, it just takes a few clicks.

To set a default list that you share with: Go to Account (upper right) and Privacy Settings. Click Customize Settings. You are given a list of possible items to share. Click the grey box to the right of “Posts By Me.” In the drop down menu, choose “Customize,” and THEN in the new drop down menu, choose “Specific People.” Now just start typing the name of the list you want to default to.

To specify who gets to see a particular post: There is a little grey padlock image underneath the box you type your share text in. Click it. You get a drop down that has “customize” as the last option. Choose that. Then a window opens a drop down where you can choose “specific people,” and then type in the list you want to share with.

In the screen shot below, I am sharing something with my Family list, but excluding my daughter. (It is, after all, her birthday coming.)

(Click to enlarge)

The key differences between G+ and Facebook when it comes to friend segmenting are that 1) Facebook has the feature hidden; and 2) G+ requires you to use it.

These are both things that Facebook could change easily — and I expect them to do so.

In later articles, I will look at other aspects of Google+ as I experiment with them. Let me know what questions you have and I will try to answer them.

Facebook And Twitter: Fitting Your Voice To The Environment

Last night I had the good fortune (along with Cynthia Cotte Griffiths who recently launched Online and In Person) to attend the first DC-area meetup convened by Facebook + Journalists at American University.

It included a great panel discussion that included friends Mandy Jenkins (social news editor at Huffington Post) and Ian Shapira (enterprise reporter at Washington Post).

l-r: Vadim Lavrusik, Mandy Jenkins, Laura Amico, Bryan Monroe, Ian Shapira

The evening included a great deal of sharing about best practices when it comes to how journalists can (and do) best use Facebook to do their jobs. Facebook’s journalism program manager Vadim Lavrusik gave the opening remarks and to my pleasure gave a shout-out to Rockville Central as a  media organization that had moved entirely to Facebook.

One of the main take aways for the evening, as far as I was concerned, had to do with voice and authenticity.

Ian Shapira, for instance, talked about the need to appear human on Facebook so potential sources will feel more comfortable interacting (he told a story of a potential source who gave him an exclusive interview on a sensitive subject because he contacted them on Facebook and so the subject was able to check him out before responding). Other panelists repeatedly talked about the need to be “real” and “transparent.”

There is an interesting nuts-and-bolts corollary to this idea. Vadim Lavrusik reported on research that Facebook had done that suggests that status updates that get automatically pulled from other applications get 2-3 times fewer interactions than posts that are organically produced within Facebook.

In other words, auto-tweeting, or even pushing your Twitter updates into Facebook, is far less effective than crafting a post designed specifically for each context.

Many blog owners set up plug-ins that will automatically tweet their latest blog post into their stream, and then automatically pull Twitter updates into their Facebook account. This saves time, but it comes at the expense of engagement.

Vadim pointed to New York Times journalist Nicholas D. Kristof as an exemplar of this. He organically uses his Facebook updates almost as a reporter’s notebook, and his voice there is very, very Facebook-ish.

Vadim did not go so far as to compare Kristof’s Twitter and Facebook behavior (I don’t think he mentioned Twitter once, actually, but who can blame him since this was a Facebook event) — but I thought it would be instructive to make the comparison.

Look at this recent post by Kristof in Facebook:

 

(click to see full size)

In the post, he talks about a nonprofit he recently ran across, describes it briefly, and shares a link.

Here is the same thing in Twitter:

 

(click for full size)

Much briefer, too the point.

The lesson is that the time saved by auto-linking Facebook and Twitter may come at too great an expense in terms of engagement.

My own strategy is to keep some of the auto-linkages when it comes to my blog posts, but I try to add a great deal more organic updates to my stream (mostly in Facebook, but also in Twitter). The auto-links are there (based on RSS) because I find it useful to have a mechanism to create an “archival” or “official” record in each stream of my work — I often use this as the main post I link back to when I re-share.

If you are a content creator with a blog and working in both Twitter and Facebook, how do you deal with the three worlds?

Need Help Getting Online? I Can Help.

I am adding some capabilities to my professional offerings that some of my readers may be interested in:

Let Me Help Create Your Online Presence

Today, there is a consensus that there’s a bare minimum amount of online presence that any organization — whether a small business, local nonprofit, or giant enterprise — needs in order to be taken seriously and to grow. That online presence can’t just be a website anymore. It has to be dynamic, changing on a regular basis, and engaging.

That sounds daunting. Especially when you add in all the hoo-hah and cheerleading from “social media experts” who speak enthusiastically about “engagement” and “sharing,” seemingly without a sense that there is actually a business purpose that must be served.

But, it does not have to be overly complex. If you get things set up properly at the outset, it’s quite easy to maintain.

I’ll do that for you.

I can establish your website’s blog, Facebook presence, Twitter presence, and other important social coordinates and integrate them in a way that you can manage them in a sustainable way. They will work together and drive the results that matter to you.

If this is interesting to you, email me at bradrourke at gmail dot com.

Attend My Get-Online Bootcamp

My Mode of Transport by Flickr user Jim Legans, Jr.

This is a half-day session for people who have no online presence, or who have one but aren’t happy with it — and like to do things themselves and aren’t scared to roll up their sleeves a bit.

At the end of the day, participants will have a fully set-up and calibrated set of online “identities” and will have a clear sense of how to go about using these tools.

This is perfect for small business owners who know they need to “be online” but do not know how to get started.

You could walk in with nothing, and walk out with a complete online presence, tuned to your business goals.

The schedule for this is dependent on interest, but I plan to hold the first this summer.

This is a new offering, so I plan to make the initial bootcamp available at a reduced rate. Please let me know of your interest either in the comments, or by emailing me directly at bradrourke at gmail dot com.

Questions:

  • Is this something you would be interested in?
  • Is a group setting right, or would one-on-one work better for you?
  • Do you know someone else who could benefit?

Why Am I Doing This?

These kinds of things are exactly the kind of thing people ask me about more and more. They want to know how they can take the next step online, and what they should do when they get there. As it becomes clear to people that they need to have a serious online presence, they feel a sense of urgency. The early adopters have already acted, but now the rest of the world knows they need to jump in.

I know a bit about this — especially when it comes to personal branding and online presence.

I have been innovating online for many years and have solid accomplishments. I’ve been blogging since before the word was coined. I’ve initiated and been architect of a number of online and interactive products such as Everyday Democracy’s Issue Guide Exchange, the launch the Institute for Global Ethics’ renowned Ethics Newsline newsletter (we called it Business Ethics Newsline back then), Rockville Central (a hyperlocal news source and top five local blog in Maryland — which recently made international news by moving to a Facebook-only platform), and more.

Bottom line: I’ve been at this for a long time and I’ve learned a lot of lessons.

If you would like to learn more, please get in touch at bradrourke at gmail dot com.

(Boot camp photo credit: Jim Legans, Jr., Flickr)

Thoughts On The Facebook vs. Google PR Fight

As my friends know, I am a Facebook and Google fanboy. It hurts me when Mom and Dad fight like they are now, but they have been fighting for a while now and I don’t expect it to stop anytime soon. So I have become somewhat inured.

Today’s fracas involves a sub rosa campaign by PR giant Burson-Marsteller to plant negative opinion pieces about Google’s Social Circle, their new social media plan. B-M’s Jim Goldman, a new hire and former CNBC tech reporter, reached out via email to a prominent blogger pitching a story, but refused to say who the client was when asked. So the blogger, like all right thinking bloggers would, promptly published e email exchange. The Daily Beast’s Dan Lyons uncovered that the client was Facebook.

Now there is finger pointing. B-M says Facebook told them to do it (and they say they should not have accepted the assignment because it violates PR ethics rules to keep clients anonymous). Facebook says they didn’t authorize such a move. Google, perhaps following the age old wisdom of saying nothing while your enemy is hurting themselves, is saying nothing.

My thoughts:

1. B-M is likely telling the truth that they were working at Facebook’s direction. No way a big firm like that would stick it’s neck out without orders. However, there may have been nudges and winks on B-M’s and Facebook’s part so everyone could claim that they didn’t really know. But they must have known.

2. I am neither surprised nor shocked that Facebook wanted to push negative commentaries about Google. Such things happen all the time. Facebook thinks they have a point (they say Google is scraping social media sites and presenting a dossier of people’s connections in a way they never intended). I do think they should not have sought secrecy. If they have a good point they should make it.

3. Jim Goldman made a huge error in doing his work via email. That stuff all can come back to bite you, and it did. I would be surprised if he kept his job. (B-m won’t comment on that.)

4. If Social Circles operates exactly as Facebook says, it may be a bit of a problem. Say I am friends with John Smith on Facebook, and connected to Fred Jones on LinkedIn. Social Circles would tell people I am friends with both — but what if I want to keep Jones and Smith separate? USA Today and others have looked at Facebook’s claims and found them not to be as big a deal as they seem to think. So I am not hugely worried. (If someone can explain Social Circles to me in a way that I can understand, I would be grateful.)

Social Network Face-Off: Take A Survey

Please take this survey on social network services. It is short and easy.

Over the weekend, I innocently posted the following on Facebook:

Does anyone really use Twitter anymore? Why?

I should have known it would happen, but that question touched off a long comment trail that included lots of friends and colleagues. There was lots of food for thought.

That got me thinking it would be useful to do a blog post about how people are using various social networking services (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn).

As an early adopter, I think about that question pretty often, and I have noticed my own Twitter usage change over the last twelve months. In fact, just a year ago, I said that Twitter is my main network — now it’s Facebook. (That is what prompted my question.)

So, I am planning a blog post on this subject. I am asking for your help. Please take this brief survey. I promise it has fun questions and is painless. You can do it in ten minutes or so.

Got that? Take the survey at this link.

Would You Attend a Bootcamp to Get Online?

Lately I have been considering developing a one-day (or perhaps half-day) “boot camp” for people who are interested in getting their online lives set up. This would be a session for people who have no online presence, or who have one but aren’t happy with it.

My Mode of Transport by Flickr user Jim Legans, Jr.
"My Mode of Transport" by Flickr user Jim Legans, Jr.

At the end of the day, participants would have a fully set-up and tweaked set of online “identities” and would have a clear sense of how to go about using these tools.

You could walk in with nothing, and walk out with a complete online presence.

(Or, you could walk in with an online presence, and walk out with a cohesive strategy and set-up.)

So far, I’ve been thinking that this is what would go into it:

  • OMG I’m Lost: What matters, what doesn’t
  • Get Ready: Planning out your system
  • Your Assets: Preparing materials for your online identity
  • Core Work: Your blog
  • The Big Two: Facebook and Twitter
  • Don’t Stop Yet: Other social media identities
  • The System: Connecting everything up
  • The Back End: Monitoring and maintenance
  • Now What? Daily workflow and strategy

My question: Is this something you would be interested in? What value would it have for you? Let me know in the comments!

Why am I asking this? It’s exactly the kind of thing people ask me about more and more. As it becomes clear to people that they need to have a serious online presence, they feel a sense of urgency. The early adopters have already acted, but now the rest of the world knows they need to jump in!

I do know a little bit about this — especially when it comes to personal branding and online presence, but also when it comes to nonprofit organizations. I’ve been blogging since before the word was coined. I’ve initiated and been architect of a number of online and interactive products such as Everyday Democracy’s Issue Guide Exchange, the launch the Institute for Global Ethics’ renowned Ethics Newsline newsletter (we called it Business Ethics Newsline back then), Rockville Central (a hyperlocal news source and top five local blog in Maryland), and more.

Bottom line: I’ve been at this for a long time and I’ve got a lot of lessons. I would love to share what I’ve learned with folks.

Are you interested? If there is enough interest, I’ll think about setting it up!

Some Contrarian Bullets

Just a few contrarian bullets . . . thoughts, complaints, and predictions:

  • There is a difference between a “brand” and a “label” — many label when they think they are branding.
  • There is a difference between “being online” and “having a brand.”
  • Young professionals tend to overvalue their intelligence, and undervalue others’ experience.
  • Few people want to have a “conversation” with a business or institution.
  • Twitter will fizzle out because it requires too much insider knowledge (e.g., using the @ sign to address people), but it may remain a useful platform to publish into other streams.
  • URL shorteners must go away, they are an open door to abuse and rely too heavily on user’s good will.
  • MySpace should not be counted out, if only because Rupert Murdoch knows how to make money.
  • Now that it includes just about everything, I would pay a yearly fee for Facebook.
  • AOL was ahead of its time and could have been Facebook.
  • Facebook does, however, need to fix its email system.
  • Much as I am a fanboy, I can’t imagine Google succeeding at anything in the social space.
  • In five years, geeks will say, “Remember Wave?”
  • Linux will always be the future of operating systems.
  • The government will try to regulate Facebook like a utility.
  • Too often, leaders address poor execution with new systems (e.g., the “Homeland Security” department).
  • Many organizations do not need to exist in their present form.
  • We will look back on the oughties as “the decade of the police procedural.”

Got a contrarian bullet? Let me know in the comments!