The latest issue of Wired fronts an essay by Erin Biba arguing that social media isn't social. Oddly, the piece inadvertently nails why I'm sceptical about Google Plus.
The best evidence that social media isn't really about personal connection? Marketers love it. It seems like every business from taco trucks to GE is hoping to use social media to put a personal face on its brand.
Sure, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are marketing havens now. But none of them started off that way. There was, in fact, real scepticism as to what a brand would do on Twitter for its first few years.
Those services took off precisely as places where interactions were personal, and it was only later, after enough people congregated there and began having conversations and interactions, that brands jumped in. It's the same story of blogging, and the Web itself.
It wasn't until late 2008 that brands were really began to get on board on Twitter, after it had been around for more than two years. Likewise, Facebook ignored and shunned brands in its early years. First, there were conversations, which caused brands to begin listening.
By contrast, Google+ has been a brand magnet from the beginning, which makes me deeply sceptical of it.
The social media services that work best — Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Foursquare — are often non-obvious to marketers (be they corporate or personal brand builders) when they launch. Anything that's really game-changing (see also: blogs) is typically so unfamiliar that it's met with corporate and media scepticism if not derision. But in today's more social-media savvy environment, brands hit the ground running on Google Plus. (Especially the media.) They jumped ahead of the conversation.
Despite Google's prohibitions, brand after brand has been creating Google+ profiles — often only to see Google pull them. And with Google being slow to allow corporate accounts, brands have sought other ways to fill the vid. This has led to some hilarious results, like poor Michael Dell wasting his time in a Google+ Hangout, trying to connect with customers.
My boss, Joe Brown, calls Google+ "Work Facebook." (Nevermind that LinkedIn is also Work Facebook.) Google+ feels like work, because everyone is trying so damn hard to work it. It is a deep, dark hole of self-promotion. And that makes it boring.
Successful social media is social. First and foremost. The modern landscape may be littered with marketers, but you can't ignore how we got here.
Social media must first play host to meaningful conversations if it is to be successful. It must be a forum where friendships can be created, strengthened and preserved. I'd argue that the most successful people and brands using social media are precisely the ones who are the most real, and the most deeply personal. Reveal something about yourself, even if it's that you are an idiot, and people will follow. For a social network to work, it has to be fascinating and fun.
In short, before you can make it work, you have to make it play. But when brands and self-promotors lead the way, there's nothing interesting to see.
And for Google+, that's still the problem.