Earlier this week, the head of Google+ – heralded as Google’s answer to Facebook when it launched a while ago, but that was never really the whole story – left the company. Commentators have speculated that this will be the end of G+ or that there will be some sort of realignment as it becomes a component of Google’s overall offering rather than a standalone network. Meanwhile Google denies there will be any change.
What’s perhaps surprising is that so many people, particularly entrepreneurs, are so concerned. They need G+ because it helps drive traffic to their websites – without it they’re going to be in difficulties.
This is a shame because we’ve been here before. Basing your company in someone else’s playground or depending on someone else’s toys is always going to be a risk.
Let’s scroll back a few years. Around 2011, LinkedIn had a facility called LinkedIn Events. Like Facebook Events, you’d use LinkedIn to publicise your event, manage people’s calendars and all that good stuff. It was great except for one detail; the company had set this up in its early days under the impression that money would come out of it somehow, sometime. It didn’t. The owners eventually admitted there was no way this facility was ever going to make them a cent, while it was costing the business money to maintain it.
Obviously, the company scrapped it. It gave people notice, reasonably enough – and the backlash was huge. ‘LinkedIn is destroying my business’, one person complained. ‘How am I supposed to tell my followers about my events now?’ cried another – I saw these messages at the time.
The complainers didn’t mention that LinkedIn, as a growing business itself, was fully within its rights to shut down something that was causing a financial loss. Of course it got rid of that section of the business, why would it not?
Own your space
The underlying business issue for these entrepreneurs wasn’t that LinkedIn was being mean, any more than people concerned about any G+ revision’s impact on their company are actually being targeted by Google. The issue was that they had allowed their business to become wholly dependent on something they didn’t own and for which they weren’t paying. Occasionally when speaking about social media to groups I’ve been asked, if a company has a lively Facebook company page, should it bother with its own website? My answer is yes, absolutely yes, because Facebook can change its terms and conditions tomorrow and you can’t do a thing about it. If all of your marketing or customer care is based on free versions of LinkedIn and Skype, if you do most of your client communication through Facebook or Twitter, you’re not actually a paying customer. They can change what they want immediately and if you have no Plan B that isn’t their problem.
Sometimes you have to be dependent on the big guys. I was talking only yesterday to someone who sells goods through the Internet and when Google changed its search algorithm she lost a load of sales and there was no way around it. In a lot of cases, though, entrepreneurs don’t have to base key elements of their business on someone else’s area, for free. If they do, and the owner changes the rules, they’d better have a Plan B ready. I don’t pretend to know what Google is going to change about G+ in the light of its head’s departure if anything; I just hope not too many business owners have made it too central to their companies.
google plus (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)
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