Google Shortcuts and Circles

Are you looking for more proof that Google is taking online social networking seriously, and that Google+ has some staying power? Look no further than a recent purchase by the search giant, and the many uses the digiterati are finding for one major feature of the new social network.

The purchase this time is not a company, but a URL. It’s g.co, acquired from .CO Internet SAS. This organization handles .co domain names. Google’s hardly the first big company to acquire one of these URLs; Twitter owns T.Co and Overstock boasts O.Co. The interesting question is what the search company will do with their brand new domain.

In that area, they’re quite forthcoming. It’s not going to be a URL shortener, as you might expect from Google’s increased involvement on social networks; the search firm already owns the public URL shortener goo.gl. Rather, g.co will be used to host URLs that send users only to web pages on Google properties.

It’s a brilliant move. As the company itself explains in a blog post, you can’t always tell what website you’re going to be directed to if you’re clicking on a link for a shortened URL. If you know that a g.co URL will only go to websites that link to official Google products and services, you’ll feel a lot safer and more confident that you won’t go somewhere dangerous when you you make that click.

As Rachel King explains on ZDNet, this action by the search company will mean that seeing g.co in a link “legitimizes the link and makes it more trustworthy to the end user.” It offers other advantages, too, such as “streamlin[ing] access to Google sites in general, especially when users want to share something quickly on social media sites…Having a shorter URL also makes it easier and cheaper when using URL addresses in advertisements.”

That latter point won’t actually be very useful to advertisers in this case, unless they’re linking to Google properties. On the other hand, creating an ad with a link to a Blogger blog for your company – or a Google+ profile, even though businesses aren’t supposed to have their own pages on Google+ yet – could represent an interesting new channel for promoting your business on the web. But don’t rush to try this yet, as Google is still rolling out the service. At the time of writing, in fact, Google displayed only a landing page at g.co. We’ll see how this develops.

The Google+ social network itself could be a great way to raise the visibility of your company online, as long as you don’t go in for the hard sell. You can thank Google’s tendency to create a really useful interface, and then stand back and let the users, um, use it, for this point. I’ll give you the details in a minute, but first, let me give a tip of the hat to Steven Vaughan-Nichols for pointing this out.

Even those who don’t use Google+ probably realize that it offers a ton of features. If we think of each feature as a a separate service connected to the whole, the service or interface that can help you is Google Circles. It’s also the first one most users encounter. Google Circles let you sort your contacts into different groups based on your relationships to them – or whatever criteria you wish to use, really. You can sort people into one of the default circles, or create your own circles. And you can put one person into more than one circle.

One of the great aspects of using these circles is that, unlike Facebook, Google “gets” privacy. If someone adds you to one of their circles, you don’t have to add them to yours – and if you don’t, they won’t see any of your posts unless you make the post public. See, whenever you make a post, you decide how visible it is. You get a fair bit of granularity here – everything from fully public to one or more of your circles to going all the way down to a single person. And it’s easy to set that before you share your post.

Even better, when you name your circles, the names you give them are shared with no one. So while Aunt Sally knows she’s in one of your circles, she doesn’t  know that she’s in your Annoying Relatives circle. Likewise, your grandmother doesn’t even know that you have a circle for your Erotic Fiction Writer friends, unless you tell her. Ahem! So what does this have to do with business, exactly?

As Vaughan-Nichols explains, it all adds up to control. You can control what others see from you, and what you see from them. (You don’t have to look at the stream from your Annoying Relatives circle, for instance). And with the fine level of control, you can show certain circles or people certain things, but not others. So if we want to move this into the office – you can have one big circle for all of your co-workers, but you can also have a smaller circle for the things you want to share with just your workgroup. But you don’t need to stop there, and you may not want to.

Here’s an idea: create separate circles for the reporters who write about your company, as well as your firm’s business partners and customers. You can even ask them to opt-in, as with the experiment Seesmic did for Salesforce. They got an excellent response.

You might want to consider using a Google+ circle to help you with customer support. The social network boasts other features that can help there, like Hangouts. As Vaughan-Nichols points out, that latter service can also work for quick business meetings or technical support.

One last thing: Google is adding helpful features to its social network at lightning speed. It’s hard for one person to keep up with them all; I know I can’t, but I also know some of my friends are trying (with rather more success). As you evaluate each feature and how you might use it, try to think in terms of how you can best help your customers and those you hope will use the information, rather than how you can blast stuff out to everyone. Try to keep Google’s philosophy of letting the user control things in mind, and you stand a better chance of not getting tuned out. Good luck! 

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