Will Google+ add up for media sites?

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Just as Facebook provided a platform for building communities and promoting content, Google’s recently announced Google+ platform holds promise for publishers looking to extend their reach and engagement using social media. While Google+ is still in its infancy (and a limited field trial), here are four areas where it will have an impact on media sites.

Content discovery

Google+ includes a recommendation engine called Sparks, designed to address difficulties in finding “great content,” Google Engineering SVP Vic Gundotra said in a blog post introducing the service. “Sparks delivers a feed of highly contagious content from across the Internet,” Gundotra wrote. “On any topic you want, in over 40 languages. Simply add your interests, and you’ll always have something to watch, read and share—with just the right circle of friends.”

Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman points out some key differences between Sparks and other social media recommendation engines. “It’s quite different than anything Facebook and Twitter have offered,” Sonderman wrote. “Sparks don’t just tell you what your friends have read, they tell you what you ought to read. It’s a serendipity engine, and if executed well it could make Google+ an addictive source of news discovery.”

Mashable’s Ben Parr notes that Sparks is based on algorithms that leverage other Google products (like Search) “as well as what is being shared via Google+ and through +1 buttons.”

In the context of Sparks, the +1 button, which Google launched in March as an alternative to Facebook’s ‘Like’ button, “suddenly makes more sense,” Sonderman wrote. “It seems the +1 button will infuse not only search results, but also sparks, with social recommendations.”

Wired’s Steven Levy writes that Sparks and a companion “stream” of scrolling content – a counter to Facebook’s news feed – “are designed to be a primary attention-suck of Google users. Google hopes that eventually people will gravitate to the stream in the same way that members of Facebook or Twitter constantly check those continuous scrolls of personalized information.”

Jeff Jarvis has one nit to pick with the stream. “Its algorithm messes with the reverse chronology, promoting old posts when they get new comments,” he wrote. In other words, he notes, Google+ “doesn’t favor the *latest* the way Twitter and liveblogging do, and live news is all about the latest.” Because of this approach, Google+ “likely won’t be good for live coverage of breaking events,” Jarvis concludes.

Sonderman noted that because the project is still in its infancy, there are plenty of kinks to work out. Google+ remains, he wrote, “a great idea with imperfect execution.”

Content promotion

Google+ has quickly shown potential as a platform for promoting content. According to Jarvis, “Memes spread quickly on G+, but because of its time-bending algorithm, they also last longer if they spark conversation — that’s its plus side (no pun intended). Automated spewing of headlines likely won’t be effective, but conversing will.”

The early results support this perspective:

  • The Next Web, citing the Pew Research Center’s New Media Index for the week of June 27-July 1, noted that Google+ accounted for 35% of tweeted news links for the week.
  • Breaking News has been experimenting with different ways to cover news on Google+. Its early take is that Google+ is very viral. “A few of our G+ posts (with 2,000 followers) are starting to challenge the engagement levels of the same post on our Facebook page (with 50,000 fans.),” Cory Bergman wrote.
  • TechCrunch reported last week that Google+ had already made it into its top 10 referring sites. “The amount of inbound traffic we’re seeing from Google+ is pretty crazy considering that we’re not even officially using it to share links yet,” TechCrunch’s MG Siegler wrote. “On both Facebook and Twitter we send out links to our followers and this leads to most of the click-backs (either directly or by re-sharing). On Google+, we’re not doing anything yet, it’s all happening from others sharing our links organically.”

  

Branded pages

Magazine brands have had some success launching Facebook pages to attract and engage their audience. Google+ promises a similar experience for publishers – though it’s not ready to support branded pages just yet.

Google was imploring companies last week to avoid setting up branded pages on Google+. The Los Angeles Times noted that companies including Ford have already set up pages on Google+, using the profile page set up for people, but that Google “is asking businesses, nonprofit groups, universities and other organizations and groups to stay out of Google+ – for now.”

Google product manager Christian Oestlien, in a blog post and accompanying video, said Google is “discouraging businesses from using regular profiles to connect with Google+ users,” and he warned that “our policy team will actively work with profile owners to shut down non-user profiles.”

“We have a great team of engineers actively building an amazing Google+ experience for businesses, and we will have something to show the world later this year,” Oestlien wrote. “The business experience we are creating should far exceed the consumer profile in terms of its usefulness to businesses.”

  

 

Collaboration

A Google+ feature called Circles lets users create subgroups of friends, family or other acquaintances. This could lead to targeted conversations around specific topics – a potential goldmine for journalists reporting on a specific topic. “When I ask a question, the answers appear with my question and subsequent responders can improve on earlier answers,” Jarvis wrote. “With Circles, I can focus my questions on a specific group (e.g., VCs) and can benefit when their circles see their interaction with me.”

Jarvis sees other possibilities: “If Google gets its synergistic act together and incorporates Google Docs — and some of the tricks from Wave — into G+, then this could be a very good collaboration tool for communities to gather together and share what they know. That’s the basis for news.”

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