Social Relevance: Google+'s Algorithmic Implications On Networks
It has been over six weeks since the launch of Google+, and we are just now beginning to see the effects of what is to become Google's own proprietary social network, competing with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Google has also done something incredible here that may ultimately leave their other social competitors strategically in the dust, and that is to build an effective human social layer that complements the depth of their technical domination in search.
Those in the social networking area will be greatly challenged to compete in terms of providing a robust algorithmic layer, in terms of sheer power, scale and relevancy. And this isn't just about search. This is about social relevancy, or in other words, using technology to improve one's social networking experience in a highly meaningful way. Social relevance considers the context of a user's authority and theme, as well as the network relationships around them, and also amplifies the data both objectively and subjectively. These are basic tenets that go back to the beginnings of Web search, and have yet to be fully developed in the network realm.
In this column, and in countless presentations I have given over the last few years, I have gone into great detail about the importance of marrying robust search technology with the human social network, often referring to it in the context of "social relevance." I previously wrote that Google should buy Twitter in order to provide the cutting edge of recency to complement their Web crawling capabilities, and also about what an algorithmic view of a status-based network like Twitter might look like. Twitter and other status-based networks have historically shown that real-time-sharing brings more of an edge to information delivery, particularly in terms of what is happening "right now". Both Google and Bing have since hitched onto Twitter's open fire hydrant of data, and have used it to provide that human layer to the search experience.
Google has since pulled off something that many digital prognosticators - myself included - were not sure could be done. They finally created a network that was proprietarily "social" and has been embraced by a large number of people in a short period of time. So while Google may have temporarily switched off the Twitter fire hose, it is only a matter of time before the Google+ stream is added, thereby creating Google's own real-time layer to its search results (though some elements of Google+ have already been added into the results at this time).
Sparks already shows assets that are ranked in Google+ by sharing popularity at the keyword level, similar in a way that we saw "Top Links" in real-time search, trending topics in Twitter, as well as top stories emailed in LinkedIn. So the basic implication for marketers is to get active and get sharing in Google+ in a meaningful and engaging way. As we saw in the development of real-time search, queries that showed velocity across networks required a QDF ("query deserves freshness") adjustment in the primetime Web results. In layman's terms, this means that the main Google Web results might be showing new real-time results without the searcher even being aware of it.
Applying social relevancy and robust algorithms to networks should be a wake-up call for Google's network competitors.
Perhaps the biggest weakness exposed in the release of Google+ was how truly far behind both Twitter and Facebook are in terms of applying algorithmic relevancy to the social experience.
After five years, Twitter still greatly lags in terms of applying meaningful context and relevancy to its massive data stream, relying on its "reverse chronological order is best" philosophy, which still leaves much to be desired.
Facebook's mission to turn the world into one big fishbowl is strategically void of any meaningful algorithms that might actually help the social experience in terms of privacy, sharing and personal segmentation of audiences. With the release of Google+, Facebook's shine has worn off for many, and it seems that their greatest asset is not technology, but rather the fact that they currently have a massive user base. But history has proven time and time again that Internet users are fickle, and an exodus could occur when the next big thing comes along. Robust social relevancy is that next big thing.
Marketers will need to get active in Google+ in a meaningful way
Let's leave aside the argument of Google+ vs. Facebook vs. Twitter vs. LinkedIn for a moment, and consider the search implications of Google+. If you care about staying fresh and sending Google the social signals that will contribute to your bottom line search returns, then marketers must get active on Google+ (pending brand and business deployments in Google), whether its number of users is 2 million, 20 million or 2 billion. More than ever, search and social duties are tied directly together, and nothing is going to change with this relationship in the foreseeable future. It is simply going to be woven tighter together.
Though the story of Google+ and social relevance is still being written, I'll leave you with a few considerations about Google+:
· Yes, brands should plan to become active in Google+.
· Google+ should be treated as a primary top-tier social network, in line with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
· Social presence and network signals in Google+ will have an impact on standard Google Web search.
· Social engagement and outreach programs will be critical to Google search.
· Content production and promotion will be critical to success in Google+ and Google Web search.
· Natural search tactics are critical to social for extending opportunities in networks.
· Search and social practitioners must become fully literate in both search and social to be successful.
· Google+ is about search and social, and this will be a core theme in marketing strategy for some time to come.
· Continue to watch the Google+ story develop -- this is just the beginning, and it will continue to change.