Despite being an echo chamber as far as the press was concerned only two months ago, now Google Plus is "bigger than Twitter," according to many of the same media outlets. That might not feel true today, but it will in short order.
A month ago, I wrote about how no one was willing to admit that Google Plus’s user acquisition strategy of using the carrot and not the stick was… well, working. Well enough so that I was willing to gamble a pie in the face on it. Google began by absorbing 100% of online writers by way of offering them the ability to claim their own work with Google Authorship. Then Google Plus started absorbing all local businesses by starting to merge Google maps and Google local business pages. It wasn’t clear at the time what the next steps would be to get everyone else on board too, but that’s changed.
As I see it, here are the big carrots that Google will use to further tip the scales:
Introducing technology that rethinks how companies communicate (replacing Yammer, Eventbrite, Skype, etc.).
Google Plus’s Ganesha-like arms can handle all of your company’s communications—if you let it. My buddy Andy Wilson, for example, runs an e-discovery company called Logik. He has swapped out everything with Google Plus. Instead of Yammer, employees post to their "work" circle. Instead of Skype, employees use Google Hangouts for cross-coast meetings and calls. Instead of Eventbrite, they use Google Plus events. Now, while Andy’s certainly an early adopter of this strategy, he didn’t do this for his health, either—he did it because it worked better for his company and saved them money. Furthermore, if you think only tech startups run off Google Apps, and that all large enterprises still run on Outlook and Exchange, think again. Even the Department of the Interior moved to Gmail—and Genentech has been using Google Documents for years. If those organizations and others move to fully integrated office communications through way of Google Plus and its many offshoots, that would be a lot of new active users.
Google Plus business local listings: a bigger, better Yelp.
Google Plus local business listings already integrate Zagat ratings, Street View, and Google Plus user ratings. Yup. I just described Yelp. And since Google Plus already has all small businesses because of Google Local and maps, the basic requisites to have all the competitive features of Yelp and thus be at least as good as them, is not a Herculean task.
It’s the additional layer of Google Plus knowing a hell of a lot more about you as a person then Yelp does that will allow them to play some trump cards—enough so to get users to migrate. Imagine a Google version of Yelp where your friends’ reviews or places they like near you float to the top… or one where with a click you can ask your whole local network, "Hey, have you been to this taco truck? Is it awesome or no?" Finally, indoor mapping is starting to get real now with Google, and that would be a pretty big leg up to waltz around inside an establishment before you even go there, assuming they were willing to deploy some integration for themselves only.
Hangouts may be the most powerful arrow Google Plus has in its quiver, but they are currently "weird." That will change quickly, and when it does, watch out.
Google Hangouts are like Skype with a brain-dead-easy recording and production studio built in… plus you don’t need to download Skype, you can just set them up through Gmail. You can store Hangouts in YouTube when you are done. I mean hell, Obama did one, and then he left it up on the web. So it can’t be that weird.
Maybe you want to do a hangout from across the world with your new one-day-old niece; you’re probably going to want to save that video. Hangouts can do that automatically and drop it off in your YouTube account, hassle free. While YouTube is certainly the 800-lb. gorilla today compared to Hangouts, one day who knows, they may have an equal number of users. Think of it like Picassa for conversations. They might be confusing at first, but you will quickly see the power they hold. This isn’t Chatroulette: it has practical applications.
There’s no better example than Daria Musk, a now-famous musician. One night, soaking wet with rain after lugging around her tiny amp to play at yet another empty club with no cover, she gets home and, frustrated, plays a show on Google Hangouts. It catches buzz and she ends up with a virtual "line out the door." Dozens of hangouts later she has 2.4 million followers and is doing deals with big cellphone companies and playing shows around the world. She’s the modern-day "buy-my-mix-tape" hustler on the streets of Brooklyn who actually caught her break. Unlike ordinary musicians, "I bring my audience with me," she told me, "I carry them around with me in my pocket and bring them with me wherever I go." Her story is the quintessential Google Plus success story.
Another example: Sarah Hill’s giant loan company Veterans United educates veterans about how to use their VA benefit to get a home loan over Hangouts (I’m trying to emulate this with my own sales team). It also partners with a nonprofit to use Hangouts for "virtual walks"—using able-bodied citizens to visit locations and be the virtual eyes and ears for disabled vets over Hangouts.
The bottom line is that a lot more people still have Gmail than Skype, and seeing whether your prospective customer is raising his eyebrows or messing with his smartphone instead of listening to you has enormous value to a phone sales organization like mine and avoids the friction of asking the customer to sign up for a new service like Skype. But because lots of them already have Gmail, there’s no need to.
All your forums are belong to us!
Google Communities—the new, instantly creatable, lightweight discussion forums that can be about any topic or group of people—will likely soon absorb Google Groups (Google Groups are the larger brother of Google Communities, but they are currently isolated on an island away from the warm loving bosom of Google Plus). This would be overnight nitrous for Google Plus user acquisition, because Google Groups are already so much more established than Google Communities. Once Google Groups are absorbed, communities can add Google Plus users at a strong clip.
To paint a picture, let’s say a professional skier kicks off a Google Plus community for fun. With access to, well, everyone, Google may put that community on the list of suggested communities to new Google Plus users, or maybe even Gmail users who happen to be emailing about skiing. That type of reach could blast off the professional skier’s Google Plus community as a true competitor to whatever the incumbent #1 skiing forum out there alone on the Internet is. Overnight. With a core group of the already tight-knit skiers discussing skiing, new users will naturally gravitate to and sign up for Google Plus.
As venture capital badass Brad Feld told me: "I think Communities will end up being powerful once they promote them more clearly, especially in the context of integration with Google Groups." Admittedly, I think Google is realizing that it needs to step it up in terms of its marketing strategy for Communities.
Google Glass (aka Google Goggles 2.0, for your face) makes the world way less boring.
Google’s wizard-nerds have now created magic glasses that you can wear to basically turn yourself into the Terminator—you’ve got your on-screen display on your face that can do pretty much anything a cellphone can do. The glasses display information like your smartphone does, and you can search the Internet by using natural language voice commands. While I’m certainly more the type to sit in my rocking chair and wave a stick at anyone wearing these if they get too close, my guess is that this is where the coolest acquisition gimmicks will come from. Remember when Arnold walks into the police station in Terminator and it highlights everyone’s face and displays their vital stats and threat levels? Yah, like that… But imagine those "stats" as people’s Google Plus profiles.
But this isn’t just science fiction, it’s already being used today in practical—and awesome—applications. For example: designer Diane von Furstenberg had her models wear Google glasses in a runway show last year at New York’s Fashion Week, so the models could film their experience—turning the tables on who is watching who. Of course, you’re going to want to share what you see and experience, and you’re going to be doing that on Google Plus.
Scoff at one or two of these features if you like—but you can’t deny that in aggregate they represent a common theme that is representative of Google’s strategy to acquire new users: Build awesome stuff into Google Plus that people want to use. Then, integrate with other Google products or even simply the size and scope of the fact that you are Google to make that stuff better than the comparable incumbent. Google Plus might not really be the number-two social network yet, but the team working on Google Plus is smart and they haven’t fumbled yet. They’ll get it there soon, with only one stop left after that.
—Dave Llorens is a two-time entrepreneur currently running One Block Off the Grid. If you are interested in starting a business, circle him on Google+ or join his business community, The MBA of Hard Knocks.
[Image: Flickr user Dave Wild]