Today’s post was co-authored by Chris Silva.
Google announced Google+ for Enterprises today with Hangouts integration into Docs and Calendar, as well as administrative controls such as default posting to only within the company. We’ve been doing some research on the topic of enterprise social networks and, with Google moving into this market, have some thoughts around why this is a bigger deal than just another Google feature announcement.
Google has a few things going for it that the pure plays like Yammer and Socialcast in this market don’t have, and that tools like Microsoft’s Sharepoint have not yet built out:
- Google Plus wins on affinity. Google has been steadily building its devoted network of over five million enterprises that initially looked to the search provider for email support based on cost, and stayed due to apps and integration. Many have seen additional cost savings given the ability to move away from costly office suites, as Google offers a parity of experience for simple document editing and sharing, with additional features such as support for mobile environments and better collaboration tools. Adding Google+ with tight integration just sweetens the pot. If social networks are a communication and community buy and not a technology buy, the affinity power of the Google stack of apps and services is a formidable foe for pure plays like VMWare’s Socialcast tool, but less so for tools that integrate with larger systems such as Salesforce’s Chatter. It’s worth noting that, as of the announcement, Google was mum on what integrations with other, third-party enterprise apps would take place to allow Google+ to feed other stores of information. Their ultimate decision on this advanced level of integration could determine long-term success against tools like Chatter and, to a lesser degree, Microsoft’s Sharepoint.
- Google lowers the enterprise social barrier to entry. Many businesses will be tempted to try social networking inside of the org for the first time since the product comes at no additional cost. Some may migrate from their existing third-party tools like Yammer or Socialcast to Google+, given that it works with a wider swath of tools than competitive offerings when considering integration with Google Apps. There’s a downside to this Googlification of the enterprise, however. Many users will have an existing personal Google identity they’ll need to reconcile Google+ to, though support for switching is possible across multiple accounts on most Google services of late. A more pressing problem is that someone could have TWO activity streams on Google+, which would be confusing at best, downright creepy at worst. This concern may not be too much of a hurdle given the overall challenge it’s been to get consumers to embrace the network, but it is a problem that other social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn have figured out because they are not tied to a specific email address but to a person.
- Google has figured out how to make its tools intriguing. Elements like Google+ Hangouts were the standouts at the time of the original Google+ launch, but relegated to the walled garden of the Google network. The company has smartly started to expand potential use of the tools outside of simple social contexts by adding Hangouts to Google Mail, recently Google Docs, and what many believe is the killer feature, Google Calendar. Companies that don’t yet “get” social are likely to see the addition of Hangouts as a collaborative tool with a great audit trail. And the social interaction — as well as the inter-team communication that it fosters — will be an organic side benefit. That said, Skype is a solid asset in the Microsoft arsenal with no small user base — well over 400 million at last count — and making similar integration with existing office tools should be a minor addition for Redmond; having said that, it hasn’t taken place yet, which boggles the mind looking at a company so focused on the idea of collaboration.
Will Google+ for enterprises save the oft-maligned network? We think that a better way to think of this is what Google+ for enterprise reveals about Google’s intentions for its social efforts. Google+ doesn’t seek to be the biggest social network or the one where people spend the most time. Instead, Google+ seeks to be the most embedded social feature in the lives of its loyalist users so that they will never want to leave Google.
Look at Facebook’s biggest problems — it needs to constantly innovate and offer new features to fight off upstarts and retain its users. LinkedIn struggles to get people to even come to their site for more than a few minutes a month. Google+ isn’t a destination — it’s a ubiquitous presence that’s always there, and now all the more so if you’re a Google Apps user. This is about social being where you need and want it to be — it’s social being like air.
Do you think Google+ for Enterprise will make a difference against competitors? Do you agree that it makes Google+ more relevant — or will it have little impact? We’d love to you know your thoughts so please share with us!