Google+ Circles for Managing Customers
Posted on July 13th, 2011
It was really nice spending the last few months with my newborn baby. As every parent I know tells me, “Kids grow up so fast! Cherish this time!” But in between the joy and wonders of being a mom, a part of me missed the excitement from the constantly changing online social media landscape. So when I came out of the hiatus, I was glad to find a major development on the horizon: the Google+ project. According to Google, the project is supposed to “make sharing on the web feel like sharing in real life”.
After receiving a Google+ invitation from a friend, I immediately started digging into it to see if it has more potential than Google Wave, the once hyped product that has since retired into the background. My first impression when getting onto Google+ was: this looks a lot like Facebook! But after looking into it a little further, I started to see several critical differences between Google+ and the Facebook concept. I don’t plan to get into all that in this post, as there are many great articles out there discussing the Google+ concept. Instead, I want to share with you how Google+ can potentially evolve into a great tool for managing customer relationships in the online social media space.
The Old Way
To do that, let us first look at how brands now engage consumers on Facebook. Most likely, this is done through a Facebook page, where consumers can “like” a brand to show their appreciation and support of the brand. Through such a page, a business can share information such as useful articles and upcoming promotions with consumers, and at the same time consumers can interact with the business and other consumers by asking questions and posting comments. This is all good, but it happens in a very undifferentiated fashion. Everyone on a brand’s Facebook page sees exactly the same information, and a business needs to sift through tons of questions and comments to identify the priority issues that need to be addressed. This is neither very effective nor efficient.
The key feature in Google+ that can change all this is its use of Circles. These are custom created social networks that people can use to define the circles of individuals that they socialize with, such as friends, family, and co-workers. How is this relevant for managing customer relationships? Imagine a brand creates a Google+ profile, just like a regular user profile. It can then add consumers into its circles. Once that is established, the fun starts with the many circles that the brand can create to differentially interact with consumers. For instance, these consumers are frequent visitors who often help us answer other customers’ questions. Let’s put them into a “Helpers” or “Partners” circle. Those consumers have expressed concerns or dissatisfaction with our product. Let’s put them into a “Disgruntled” circle. And these other consumers buy heavily from us and are very vocal supporters of the brand. Let’s put them into a “VIPs” circle.
These circles are not established overnight but instead will evolve over time as consumers reveal themselves as belonging to one or another category. Because one can share information with others that are not on Google+ through email, existing company database can be used to put previously known individuals into those custom-defined circles, whether these individuals are on Google+ or not yet. Once the circles are established, information sharing and customer interaction can happen across the board or can be custom tailored to a specific circle. For example, want to reward consumers who step in to help the company solve others’ problems? Post a free reward or discount coupon to those in the “Helpers” circle. Want to find out the success of the company’s service recovery efforts? Do a poll in the “Disgruntled” circle. A couple of social media personnel are down with the flu today so only a few people are available to sort through comments? Focus first on the “VIPs” circle to make sure top-priority customers are satisfied. And because Google+ sharing is enabled through emails, these efforts can be seamlessly integrated with CRM efforts outside of Google+.
On the Consumer End
To complete this picture, we also need consumers who will want to be in a circle with the brands they like. This can easily be done through a “Brands” circle on the consumers’ side, which will allow consumers to add all the brands that they want to interact with into a circle. Consumers can choose to publicize the brands they join a circle with to their friends. Or, using the Sparks function in Google+, where users indicate what topics they are interested in, it is possible for businesses to advertise their profile and invite people with similar interests to join. (As of now, however, there are no advertisements on Sparks). Because consumers can easily filter out their stream based on specific circles, concerns about overloading user streams are minimized, potentially making consumers more receptive to brand messages.
Now granted, some of the possibilities that I raised here have not been implemented on Google+ yet. But I can see great value in what could be in the near future, and the potential to bring businesses and consumers closer and for businesses to gain a few loyal customers along the way.
What has your Google+ experience been like? Positive? Negative? What do you think of the ideas that I presented here? Please feel free to join the conversation!
Update: I should have mentioned that Google is currently working on Google+ offering for brands. According to Christian Oestlien, lead product manager for Google’s social advertising, Google+ brand pages will be available before the end of July. Although detailed features are not yet clear, here’s an article from AdAge on possible Google+ for brands features.