Google continues to tweak its Google+ social media platform as the company seeks to gain traction among businesses.
Google launched a preview of Google+ for business in August last year and is letting organisations use the business features for free until the end of 2013.
“Both within Australia and globally, we are seeing solid adoption” by businesses of Google+, according to Jeanne DeWitt, Head of Google Apps SMB Sales, Japan and APAC.
The service is used by both large and small companies, but DeWitt told Computerworld Australia that Hangouts, the videoconferencing feature of Google+, has proven especially popular among what DeWitt terms “the micro multinational.”
“You may have four people in four different regions of the world these days,” she said. “As a [small or medium-sized business], flying back and forth constantly isn’t always an option.”
DeWitt declined to provide specific usage numbers for the business flavour of Google’s social media service. However, the Google official identified two Australian small businesses using Google+ and Hangouts: Above the Parapet, a marketing firm in Tweed Heads, New South Wales, and Shoes of Prey, an online retailer based in Sydney.
A recent GlobalWebIndex report by UK market research firm Trendstream found that in Q4 2012, Google+ became the second biggest social network worldwide among 16-65 year olds.
The number of active users on Google+ grew 27 per cent to 343 million users in the quarter, the report said. Facebook had the most users, with an estimated 903 million accounts.
In designing a business flavour of what began as a consumer platform, Google is “following on the general trend of consumerization of IT,” DeWitt said. “A lot of what you’re seeing on the consumer side also exists on the enterprise side. But on top of that, we realise that businesses do need additional administrative controls.”
Google recently added the ability for businesses to restrict posting outside of the organisation in order to prevent people from publicly posting internal company information. More administrative controls are planned in future releases, “in response to things people have been asking for,” DeWitt said.
“Google acknowledges the need for enterprise controls, but it believes the decision to allow data outside the organization should reside with the user, rather than administrators,” Gartner analyst Matt Cain wrote in a Gartner report dated 28 November.
“Lack of a domain lockdown will make Google less competitive with Microsoft—with its newly acquired Yammer cloud social service—and therefore put it at a competitive disadvantage,” Cain wrote.
“We know of cases where Google Apps customers have chosen alternatives to Google+, such as Salesforce.com's Chatter, precisely because of this issue.”
However, Google’s DeWitt said the company has responded to customer demand for more administrative controls. She also argued that business customers must become more comfortable with social media.
“We’re in the middle of a paradigm shift with consumerization of IT and the move to cloud computing, and so there’s a certain level of [comfort] that people just need to get accustomed to,” DeWitt said.
“There’s a heightened concern about data security that’s a little bit misplaced because people aren’t used to it yet.”
The changes Google has made so far reflect the company’s approach of launching first, collecting customer feedback and then prioritising changes based on the feedback, DeWitt said.
For example, Google recently added Hangouts integration to its calendar application in response to customer demand, she said. It also upped the maximum number of Hangouts to 15, up from the 10 allowed in the consumer version, acknowledging the larger size of business meetings, she said.
A business-focused mobile version of Google+ is in the pipeline, DeWitt said.
“The impact of Google+ on businesses and institutions is likely to be very subtle, just as it was with Gmail,” said Ovum analyst, Richard Edwards. That’s because Google doesn’t have a specific Google+ business product, but rather has been “continuously enabling business features on Google+ which Google Apps for Business users can benefit from.”
“As Marshall McLuhan once said, ‘We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us,’” Edwards said.
“Businesses today are still very email centric, but this will change as we push through the decade and make use of a broader set of tools.”