My latest contribution to the Stanford Social Innovation Review is up on the opinion blog – you can read the post and join the conversation on the SSIR blog or read the full post below.
Google+, the social network launched by Google nearly 5 months ago, has recently opened up the platform to organizations and brands with a profile type akin to the options for individuals and Pages on Facebook. Many early adopters in the nonprofit community were already working hard (despite announcements from Google that they would police use and roll-out an organization-specific profile option) to start building a space for their organization’s profile on the new social network since it originally launched. Those same early adopters and others have now jumped right in to create an official profile for their organization in Google+, with many sharing some concerns or complaints about the options and functionality available.
In a sector where we are always trying to do more with less, we can’t be fooled into thinking our strategies for engagement on online networks can be cut and pasted from one space to the next. Here are a few reasons why using multiple social networking platforms doesn’t just mean you repeat your effort.
Who is using the platform? Is your community largely tech-savvy early adopters? So far, the demographics of Google+ skew toward American males working in technology. By last month, the user ratio between male and female had come up to about 70/30 and the country with the second highest number of users was India at about 13 percent. One of the core principles in community engagement is to use the tools your community is using. If your community meets offline at a local watering hole to share opinions and make plans, don’t bother setting up a Twitter account with the purpose of influencing them. But if they congregate online, on a community news site or blog network, join them in conversation there.
It’s the same with any platform. Pay attention to your community. If they are using the tool, then join them. If they’re not, it’s OK to wait—especially if time and energy are scarce.
The Price of Early Adoption
Organizations that joined Facebook early on endured the “price of early adoption”—they were the guinea pigs for a platform that was still figuring out just what to do with this form of user. Just as Facebook experienced users putting an organizational profile into the system designed for individuals, Google+ attempted to swiftly moderate nonindividual profiles and publicized an application form for first-round brand profiles once the functionality was available. Now that it is here and organizations are jumping in to create their profile on Google+, they’ll need to work through the kinks.
Changes, new functionality, and platform iterations will continue indefinitely—for better or worse. The difference is that in these early stages, changes could mean your investment literally disappears or you need to start over. As many have already complained, you cannot (for the moment, at least) share access to a brand page on Google+. If your current social media plan and strategy calls for staff transparency and shares responsibility across staff, Google+ may not work at the level you need just yet.
Apples and Oranges
Ultimately, though Facebook and Google+ (or any other networking platform for that matter) are both social networking tools, there are important differences. MySpace, Friendster, FriendFeed, Diaspora, Bebo, and others all offer plenty of fuel to the argument that comparing two social platforms has to go beyond the functionality of messaging, commenting, and connecting to your friends. The differences between the platforms are real and important to consider when deciding whether or not it’s a place where you can advance your goals—whether they’re engagement, communication, fundraising, or anything else.
For example, if your organization currently uses Facebook as a major channel for fundraising, you are probably actually using Causes—an application that runs within Facebook—for the management of the campaigns, communications, and donations. That’s an important clarification because it means that your strategy doesn’t use “Facebook” as the tactical level of implementation, and you can’t simply duplicate that on Google+ now. If, instead, you use a private group on Facebook to organize volunteers or champions who are instrumental to your fundraising efforts, but your activity, communications, and donations are taking place elsewhere, then creating a similar strategy for Google+ could work. It’s integral to the success of online efforts to recognize just where these various tools and platforms compare and where they are dramatically different.
What do you think? Are you using Google+ now and have you set up a profile for your organization? Please share the link and your thoughts about the experience so far!