by Amy Sundberg
A couple of days ago I covered Facebook’s new direction, including both the potential large upside for writers and the accompanying privacy concerns. But what about Google+? Where does it fit into this picture? (Disclaimer: my husband works on Google+, so I’m not an uninterested party here. Apparently I also need to tell you explicitly that these are my opinions and not his. So yes, all mine. Especially the brilliant parts.)
Google+ has only been public for a month, and has only been live at all for the past three months. So we’re still in the very early days, which means there is still a lot of room for conjecture. First, let’s talk about a few differences between Facebook and Google+ (although with all of FB’s recent changes, there are less of them than there were). I was happy to have independent verification that Google+ is not doing the creepy cookie thing that makes me so concerned about Facebook and its privacy. There’s also less chance of accidentally posting information you don’t want posted, which is always nice. With its recent integration of Hangouts (group video chat) with new tools, especially Google Docs and screen views, Google+ lends itself well to collaboration in creative, business, and educational fields (and even recreational). The Google+ stream is not filtered the way Facebook is; you see all the posts being shared with you, although not in straight reverse chronological order as sometimes new comments will make an old post jump back higher in your stream. Google+ has garnered a reputation for hosting more in-depth discussions and conversations and for being a great platform for meeting new people.
I’m reluctant to talk about Google+’s real names policy because I know that many people feel passionately about it and I don’t want this conversation to center only on that. Regarding writers, I will say that I don’t think it’s Google’s aim to penalize those of us who write under pseudonyms. I personally expect that once Google+ has matured a bit more, this policy will lose its relevance, if for no other reason than that Google will find it impossible to enforce such a policy. For writers in particular, as long as your pseudonym looks like a standard American name (i.e. first and last), the odds are that you won’t have problems. But it is a concern that Google needs to address in some way so that users feel completely comfortable investing in the site.
Why might writers consider being on Google+ right now?
1. Hatred of Facebook. It happens, and now there’s an alternative for having an online presence that is more conducive for conversation with fans and communities. Twitter can also do this, but it feels more ephemeral in time and is difficult for communicating more complicated ideas or sharing links (since they are truncated and therefore very mysterious). So this may partly depend on your style of communication, and of course, carries the downside of not having the sheer number of users as Facebook.
2. Early adopter status. One of the main benefits of this is getting a head start. Users who are early adopters tend to have large follower counts, both because they’ve been doing it longer and because they are present at the beginning when more people are looking for interesting content for their streams. For example, I have well over 1000 people following me on Google+ after three months, whereas I have friends in the three hundreds on both Facebook and Twitter.
3. If you are an sf/f writer, being active on Google+ right now is a no brainer, because guess what? Your fans make up a large portion of the current user base. Google+ is known to be particularly popular with the high-tech crowd, many of whom enjoy science fiction and fantasy. So the potential for building your fan base is very good. Not to mention that the artist communities (comic book artists, photographers, and writers in particular) are well represented as well–hence why Google+ is great for collaboration and networking.
4. Positioning. Writers want to be in the best place to take advantage of whatever changes may benefit them. Keeping up to date with what’s going on with these social platforms and understanding the basics of how they work means greater speed in adapting and leveraging them to work for you.
What I am most excited about, though, is the huge future potential of Google+. Remember how I said that it is becoming known as a great place to meet new people? Well, guess what the point of having a social media strategy is in the first place. Yes, that’s right: meeting new people in order to build a fan base. On Facebook, the vast majority of my friends are people I’ve met in real life. On Twitter, the vast majority of my followers are newer writers like myself, indie writers, and social media professionals who use words like SEO in their personal descriptions. I certainly have a fair number of writers following me on Google+ as well, but I’m also being followed by lots of..wait for it… normal people! I know, right? Who knew that could happen? And these people are all potential readers who might like my work. Plus, for an added bonus, they’re really interesting to talk to. So while I stand by my assertion that Facebook is great for more established writers due to its larger reach, Google+ is great for writers actively trying to build a fan base before they even have a publishing track record. If you read a lot about social media and writers, you have doubtless read how we’re all supposed to start building a “platform” a few years before our first novel hits the presses. Google+ seems positioned to be a powerful tool to do just that.
With its new search feature, Google+ has become a tool for discovery. I can now search for posts about subjects I care about on Google+, which is a great way to meet people. With its release of shared circles, in which users can take a screenshot of a current circle and share it with their followers, we’ve been given the means to share groups of people who we know are interested in photography, or current events, or reading, or whatever topic we want, which will also facilitate discovery. My hope is that Google will continue to pursue this line of development and begin to offer more advanced and refined methods of finding other users with similar interests.
Amy Sundberg is a musician and a science fiction, fantasy, and YA writer. Her stories have been published in Daily Science Fiction, New Myths, and Crossed Genres. She loves musical theater, ice cream, traveling, and learning about neuroscience, and she lives in California with her physicist-engineer husband and their little dog. You can find her at her blog, The Practical Free Spirit, where this post first appeared, or on Google+.