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How to Launch a New Product: Lessons From Google+

Google+ has everything you'd expect from a fully featured social network -- except the right kind of users. And that's a big problem.
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Well, now you have them: brand pages for businesses on Google+. We all knew they were coming and Google reliably delivered them. And, I’ll admit, they don’t look half bad.

But with their launch, I think it’s a perfect time to look back at not just how Google shipped this latest feature, but how it shipped the whole Google+ product. Start-up founders, pay attention.

Here’s a very brief timeline of what Google has done so far to bring Google+ to market:

Step 1: Start off with a private, invite-only beta. This move brought over the tech community early on to dissect the new online “toy.” They found familiar social features they’ve seen before on Facebook, and discovered some cool new features, like Circles, that gave techies hope: “Hey, maybe Google is finally on to something here.”

Google’s assumption: Before we open a product to everyone, let’s give it to people who break things for a living.

The result: It worked. The geeks found the bugs, Google fixed them, and the company built a better product.

The problem: Google basically set the stage for Google+ to be a product mostly for the tech crowd.

Step 2: Let the beta crowd invite others. Slowly and carefully Google started letting more and more people in.

Google’s assumption: The techies will be eager to show off their new toy to their non-geek friends, the thing will grow, and then become a challenge for Facebook.

The result: The newly invited joined, eager to see what their friends were geeking out over. They created their accounts, uploaded their photos, maybe filled out a bit of their profiles, but then what? Did the non-geeks start using the platform? Nope.

The problem: I have no data to back this up but I’m pretty sure the only active users on Google+ are the techies who were first to the party. I’m sure many of the non-techies logged in when they got notifications of new messages. I’m sure some even responded. But I’m also confident that in the last month or so, those barely-active users have become virtually inactive. And what about the tech crowd? I’ll bet their activity tremendously declined too. OK, now what does Google do?

Step 3: Create Google+ business pages. As we all know, this means businesses, not just users, can create a profile.

Google’s assumption (maybe now I should call it hope): Businesses love to spam—I mean, promote—so they’ll definitely show up to this party too.

The result: It’s too early to tell. But maybe we’ll start seeing a G+ logo next to the Twitter and Facebook logos in the footers of websites. My guess is that brand pages will work, for a bit, but then quickly die out.

The problem: Users aren’t going to want to be in a new social network where the only active users left are the über-geeks who simply won’t give up, and the excited business owners who just found a new breeding ground to promote their companies.

So now what? I don’t think there’s any one magic formula to give Facebook a run for its money. But I do think Google+ can do a few things to try to get this train back on the right tracks. My unsolicited advice:

  • Quit focusing on features (for now). So what if there’s a tool that lets me video chat with my friends? If I wanted to video chat, I would use Skype. I don’t need Google+ Hangouts. And Circles? Great idea, but now Facebook has it. Users are what make social networks a success, not features.
  • Get exclusive content. Users care about two things: content and friends. Get content onto Google+ that you can’t get anywhere else: movies, videos, music, photos… that’s how we entertain ourselves online everyday. Make deals with content providers, and get it in ASAP. Don’t go in spurts either; go all in. Make a majority of the users happy at once, not just a few at a time. Open the flood gates!
  • Get celebrities and influencers. Everyone is a fan of someone. Once again, you need to capture a majority of the users and there’s no better way to do it then to get the people they idolize and follow to do it for you. Create exclusive content with them. Make BIG deals so you reach a large majority of the population. I’m talking about people like Lady Gaga, Obama, and Justin Bieber. 
  • ...Then release the features. Now that all of our friends are on Google+ and we have access to endless, amazing content, we still have an option of which social network to use. Now it’s time to take the market. Release awesome features that blow away Facebook’s—and the deal is sealed.

Users want something new—they crave it. Another social network is exciting. Who knows where it can possibly go? So Google, quit playing safe hands. Go big or go home.

Last updated: Nov 11, 2011




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