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The Beauty of Circles

I've heard about a new social networking tool from Google called Google+. What is it? More importantly, how could it impact my insurance agency?...
September 15, 2011

PIA National Agency Marketing Guide Extended Edition

by Ted Janusz

I've heard about a new social networking tool from Google called Google+.  What is it?  More importantly, how could it impact my insurance agency?

"No one knows for sure," says MarketingProfs blogger Mark Ivey, "but I believe that, with its financial muscle and market power, Google+ will emerge as the leading social platform for business."

If you were using the Internet during the 1990s, you probably accessed it through upstart Netscape Navigator.  By 2002, Netscape Navigator had probably disappeared from your computer.  By then, you were probably accessing the Web via Internet Explorer, the product of yet another marketplace powerhouse, Microsoft.  Could history possibly be repeating itself, with Facebook and Google+?

"Started in late June 2011, Google+ is growing faster than Facebook and Myspace did in their early days," says Douglas MacMillan of Bloomberg Businessweek.  By invitation only, Google+ has already accumulated over 25 million users, whereas Facebook has an established user base of 750 million.

According to a survey from Bloomberg/YouGov, just since June, Google+ has signed up 13 percent of U.S. adults and will add 9 percent over the next year.  During the same period, Facebook will lose about 2 percentage points of U.S. adults to keep 69 percent of that population.  Google+, on the other hand, will pass Twitter Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. to become the second most used social site after Facebook.

So what makes Google+ (or simply G+) so different?

Circles. Upon a first glance, the layout of the new social networking service operated by Google looks very similar to the Facebook interface, which will make it easy for new users to adapt.  But rather than set up a list of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of "friends" as you would on Facebook though, with Google+ you establish "Circles."

Circles allow you to organize your contacts into separate, interest-related groups. Simple privacy settings (which have always been a source of concern with Facebook) of Google+ will allow you to hide users in your Circles.  Others can also hide you when they place you in their Circles.

Other unique Google+ features include . . .

Stream.  Like Facebook's Wall, you can see updates from those in your Circles.  But with G+, you can elect to show posts only from specific Circles.

Hangouts.  How would you like to have video chat with people from your Circles?  With Google+ you can have up to 10 people participate in a video conference "hangout."

Sparks.  Like most Internet visitors, you probably use Google as your primary search engine.  Google+ allows you to identify topics that you might be interested in sharing with others.  Sparks also can keep you posted on the latest updates on the topics that are of interest to you.

Huddle.  You can communicate with your Circles through instant messaging on your Android, iPhone or SMS device.

Games.  One of the most popular (and profitable) features of Facebook is its games.  Social gaming on Google+ was added in August.  Unlike with Facebook games though, Google+ games are located in a separate games tab, which won't clutter your Google+ stream.

So what is the key benefit of using Google+ over Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter?

In a word . . . Circles.

"The beauty of Google+ is how easily you can add people to follow in your Circles," says Mark Ivey.  For instance, you could set up a Circle just for your fellow members of PIA. You might want to set up different Circles for your personal interests, your friends and family, close business contacts, and insurance clients.

"Google+ is much easier than Facebook to control who you're posting to," Ivey continues. "Google+ users are 2 to 3 times more likely to share within specific Circles than in public, so focus on creating and working with small groups."

The main advantage of Google+ over other social networking tools is that you no longer need to broadcast to all of your friends (on Facebook), connections (on LinkedIn) or followers (on Twitter), some of which may feel bombarded with information that is simply not of interest to them.  We all detest spam.

In summary: "With Google+ you can develop fewer, deeper relationships," says Mark Ivey, "using more personal, targeted approaches."

Ted Janusz is a business adviser on social media. He has presented on behalf of a number of PIA affiliate associations and written articles for the 2010 and 2011 PIA National Agency Marketing Guides. Learn more at www.januspresentations.com or contact Ted at ted@januspresentations.com.

This article is provided as part of the PIA National Agency Marketing Guide Extended Edition, providing PIA members with practical information throughout the year. If you would like to submit content for consideration, please email PIA National at agencymarketingguide@pianet.org. To read the 2011 Agency Marketing Guide, log onto www.PIAAgencyMarketingGuide.com.

PIA would like to thank the sponsors of the 2011 PIA National Agency Marketing Guide: American Country and American Service Insurance Companies, Easy Insurance Newsletters, ISU Group and Rough Notes.

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