Having been lucky enough to get in on the first round of Google+ invites, I’ve become so used to the service that I almost take it for granted. Managing my social streams and audiences via Circles has become reflex, as has navigating what can be overwhelming floods of new posts from the same. All in all, it’s become as comfortable as a well-worn pair of jeans, and I’m counting down the days I can kick Facebook to the curb completely.*
But as Google+ blows past the 25 million users mark (with no real end in sight), I’m struck by a singular failing not of the platform, but of the user base.
You see, the early adopters were almost wholly tech-savvy folks with more than a passing interest in social media as a medium, and that meant Circles filled up with folks who were inclined (nay even compelled) to share more not less now that we were allowed to roam free on a platform that bundled the connectivity of Facebook with the rapid-fire output of Twitter. (And while Facebook is indeed the giant Google+ seeks to slay, it’s Twitter that may fall first to the mighty Jack that is +1.)
That, in and of itself, is a good thing — as Twitter’s format constraints reduce meaningful discussion to sometimes incomprehensible soundbites and mindless retweets. Discourse doesn’t thrive in 140 characters, nor should it be expected to.
However, the longform options available via Google+ have opened the door to a consequence that some folks (like say, me) find problematic: Oversharing.
I rather doubt anyone would argue that we don’t already have a tendency to overshare on Twitter, Facebook, etc. (and indeed we’ve all heard the horror stories of brands and agencies scrambling to react to tweets and posts that should have never made it out the door), but with Google+ we get a new variant to contend with: Contacts and connections that may have been merely bland or inoffensive on Twitter can graduate to full-on irritants within your stream now that they are no longer forced to constrain their thoughts to txt-sized snippets.
From a personal or professional connection standpoint, you may find that an individual you followed for industry commentary or professional interest is now using an expanded canvas to muse not-so-fantastic on politics, vacation photos, or what products they might like to buy. *
Let’s extrapolate that behavior to a brand level (because what are we social butterflies online if not disparate brands selling the concept of “me”): I’m following your brand because there’s an interest in a specific kind of content that fits a need or interest. Step outside that box and you’ve lost me.*
It used to be that only a brave (or foolhardy) soul would broach the subjects of politics or religion in polite conversation, so why assume that your polite conversation (which now might measure participants in the thousands) is exempt? It’s been a rocky road for some, but the time-tested mantra of “Know Your Audience” is a lesson being grudgingly applied by brands everyday online. Again, why should we be exempt from the same?
And lest we nestle contentedly in a bed made from the confidence in our own social media savor faire: That risk of over-sharing is inherent in the system, and we are just as susceptible to its subtle allure as anyone else. Thankfully, those fiendishly clever engineers residing in Mountain View have given us not only an out, but a bulwark to stem our own worst impulses: Circles, and the ability to let people opt-in to the same.
This is where Google has embarked on an endeavor not only designed to redefine how we share online, but to reintroduce the concept of polite conversation. Many of us have already extolled the virtues of Circles as a means of filtering content to fit our wit and whimsy, but the less explored benefit is allowing us to expressly ASK our contacts what content they wish to participate in.
My professional connections probably care very little what I have to say about Marvel vs. DC comics or why Death Knight tanks are the devil,* while my friends and family have utterly no desire to be subjected to my professional interests — but now I have a single publishing point that allows me to direct those discussions to folks who genuinely wish to have them instead of blasting my bon mots to the entire monkeysphere with all the inartful grace of a fully-automatic hot dog cannon.*
This so-very-elegant concept was beautifully illustrated by Social Media Explorer’s Jason Falls, who specifically asked his followers if they wanted in on a Circle for decidedly non-business related posts. Contrast Falls’ decision with those of a number of high-profile tech and social folks have taken the opposite approach and publicly stated that they’d be using Google+ to post any and every thing that tickled their fancy to their entire audience. To my mind, that’s completely missing the point of what makes Google+ such a phenomenal platform, and as such represents the biggest self-inflicted risk that will face companies as Google+ rolls out entity support.*
It’s on brands (and us) to understand and respect an audience’s connection and to share appropriately. Google+ is reintroducing the concept of public vs. private conversations to social networks, and the side benefit to those of us living in the space is hyper-targeted engagement (be it by locale, interest, or any number of custom designations) that, if used correctly, can ultimately reduce the amount of unwanted information pouring over us every day.
Knowing where our audience resides, and what kind of content they wish to see can now become a standard, not an exception. Social platforms at their best represent the potential of better information, better connections, and better engagement, not just more of the same. After all – what good is a platform if your content becomes one more thing to ignore when your connections are living their digital lives?
Aaron Weber is Spiral16′s manager of Data & Analytics, UI designer, chief prickly pear, and (as one of the founders of Transbuddha.com and current editor-in-chief of dadsbigplan.com), is our office’s resident over-sharer.