How to launch a social network (Google +)

Over the last few days there has been a flurry of activity from my early adopter friends on Google+. It seems only one friend is 100% certain of what he is doing with the tool (he’s living and working in Germany so efficiency has been drilled into him). The rest of us are still not 100% sure who will be seeing our updates and how everything meshes together.

We have come across a few kinks in the platform (it is still in BETA) and are happily collaborating with each other and sending feedback to Google with the aim to understand and get the most out of the tool. In essence Google+ has got me talking to more people and expanding my network before I really start using it.

The theme of this post is not to run through the features and benefits of Google+,  as there are plenty of articles and content already circulating the web from far more accomplished writers. I wanted to share my thoughts on the ‘How’ Google+ has been introduced into our lives, and why I think this will be fundamental to its success.

To access Google+ you would have to have an invite either from Google (because you registered an interest in the Google+ Project earlier in the development process), or you would have to receive an invite from friend who was lucky enough to have been invited by Google. Google+ wasn’t advertised and pushed out to the market with a succession of banner ads and marketing bumf, the same way Chrome has been recently. Most people, me included, heard about it through social networks on the day the invites started dropping into inbox’s. In a nutshell, Google has used the power of social networks to soft launch its Google+ tool.

Why did it choose this launch strategy? First, it creates a sense of exclusivity amongst the early users. These users feel part of an elite community testing out G+ and because of this are closer to the brand/service they are testing.

Second, and following on from the first point, these early users are more likely to become brand champions, because of their increased levels of engagement with G+. And, if you have enough brand champions in each network then engagement levels within that network have been proven to be higher than in those without a keen advocate.

Third, and there is no evidence to support this theory, if you have a series of early adopters testing and collaborating on a BETA stage, then Google has some pretty strong data on how these users are connecting and how they communicate – essentially giving Google a glimpse of how the behaviour of these users could be morphing into a new way of using these tools. There is also the possibility that a super network of connected early adopters could be developed in some way.

The cynic would suggest Google has a working version of G+ ready to roll out at the drop of a hat and that the launch strategy is a sophisticated marketing campaign, rather than a collaborative development experience.

The way users have been asked to be involved a little before they are given this free tool is a refreshing approach to communications and one which ultimately creates more engaged users. I’m not sure this approach will work for all brands or services, but it is clearly the best way to “grab’ users of other services and get them engaged as early as possible, in a highly aggressive market, in which Google is not dominant.

What do you think of Google’s launch strategy?

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