Social media isn't really Google's strong suit. Orkut, Google's
first social network, launched in 2004. If you haven't heard of it,
that's probably because Orkut only really made strides in the
Indian and Brazilian markets, just scraping the surface of social
networking in the US. It had virtually no presence in the UK. And
now that Facebook has collared the majority of its users, the
rumour mill predicts imminent death for the site.
Six years on, the search giant is having a second bite at the cherry. Incorporating a format inspired by the massively popular Twitter platform, and mimicking popular elements of the Friendfeed service (acquired by Facebook for $15m cash, and $32.5m in Facebook stock last year), Google Buzz attempts to be the best of the rest, an aggregator that pulls data from all your doings on Google applications, as well as outside sites, to give a comprehensive snapshot of your digital life.
Here's how you can use it for your business:
Google was so confident of its new service that, on the 9 February 2010, it launched Buzz right into its most popular product: Gmail. The email application's 150 million users suddenly had the rare opportunity to browse and follow the little black books of their contacts. This is because Buzz auto-followed those who appeared frequently on emails, without asking for the permission of users.
This was a double-edged sword of course: your contact lists were equally on show. But, for those in know, it was a grace period during which to gather precious email addresses. Google leapt to rectify the mistake but for many, the damage was done. And Buzz was labelled a doozy from the off.
Zee Kane, partner and editor-in-chief at The Next Web relies heavily on social media to publicise his blog network. He has been an early adopter of Buzz, despite the negative press.
"Social media is a great marketing channel for us, and a great
way to communicate with our readers informally," he explains. "With
Google, you really can't afford to not take a gamble. So we built a
community on Buzz."
Around 1,800 users currently follow The Next Web on Buzz - a drop in the ocean for a site that regularly draws two million plus users - but there have been benefits, albeit been "minor", he says.
"It really is a second rate version of Friendfeed at the moment. If Google doesn't improve things soon, users will just give up on it."
But there are a couple of exciting innovations on Buzz.
"The local features are interesting," says Jon Buchan, director
at I Spy Digital. "You can see people 'Buzzing' in your area. If
there's a big enough uptake, this could be really useful for
businesses looking to attract new customers, or inform passers-by
about offers and discounts.
"Buzz also looks great on mobile," he adds. "I know that the digital industry has been saying it for years, but this really is going to be the year of mobile. With the success of iPhones, smartphones and Android, that is where all the exciting opportunities lie."
Dave Holt, of Portsmouth-based social media technology and CRM firm Amplify, thinks that Buzz might even be able to steal some of the social thunder from the leviathan that is Facebook (400 million users and counting).
"Google Buzz has honed in on usability and you wonder if they have spotted Facebook's Achilles heel here," he says. "Images, videos and links are simple to upload and play; full size images are displayed in seconds with a smooth iPhone feel to the navigation."
Holt is also keen to see how interaction with Buzz affects
rankings on the Google search engine. "Buzz comments posted by
Gmail users are immediately posted to Google for search, so it will
be interesting to see how these Buzz comments are displayed and the
effect they have on any search engine optimisation."
It seems that the main problem with Buzz thus far has been insufficient testing. Todd Jackson, Buzz product manager, told BBC News that the service was only ever trialled by Google staff prior to launch:
"We've been testing Buzz internally at Google for a while," he
says. "Of course, getting feedback from 20,000 Googlers isn't quite
the same as letting Gmail users play with Buzz in the wild. We know
we need to improve things."
Andy Pearce, CEO of London-based Powownow, has been totally underwhelmed by the release. "I hope that Google might unveil additional functionality but I think they are really just jumping on the bandwagon of social media when it's not what they do best," he says.
"It's useless for networking as it's really hard to find people.
And it's so slow. Buzz doesn't post my Tweets until the next day,
which is pointless! Also, I use Twitter to interact with people who
I might not necessarily want to have my email address but Google
Buzz doesn't allow you to do this."
At present, businesses can't integrate non-Google email addresses with Buzz. You have to create a bespoke Gmail account or use an existing Google email address. This severely limits Buzz's benefits for business, both in terms of uptake, management and measurability.
How many CEOs want to use their personal address to grow their
Powownow's Pearce can't see Buzz trumping Twitter at the network of choice for small businesses. "Twitter has increased the traffic to our site by 10 per cent and allows us to directly connect with over 6,000 followers," he says. "Certainly for us Buzz adds no value to our social media strategy."
So what exactly is the purpose of Buzz? Will it become an invaluable tool for business? Even Google HQ seems to be at a loss. When we contacted Oliver Rickman from its UK press team, asking about its applications for business, he replied:
"It's really early days so I'm afraid there's no specific
comment or examples we can give just yet - sorry not to be more
Google has announced it will make massive changes to Buzz in the near future, although the nature of these 'changes' remains to be seen.
Until then, the consensus from the business community is this: If Google rolls out additional functionality, and uptake increases, Buzz has the potential to be huge.
"They just released it way too early," says The Next Web's Kane. "If Google really steps up its game, which it really should, then hopefully we'll see big things from Buzz.
"If it doesn't then, well, it's down the Orkut route I'm afraid."
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