Google’s anti-Facebook, Google+, debuted three weeks ago, and is evidence that the Mountain View, Calif.-based company has learned a valuable lesson about introducing new products to its massive user base.

Diverging from its historical approach of automatically enabling its legions of users on Buzz, it’s Twitter-lookalike, “Plus” users had to be invited by other Plus users when the site was unveiled on June 27, a move that conferred a feeling of exclusivity similar to the early days of college-only Facebook – a tactic that many credit for its early success with students.

Sorting Hat

The main appeal of Google+ seems to be that it gives social e-butterflies the chance to start over on the web after making the mistake of adding their parents – not to mention everyone they’ve known since first grade – to their Facebook network. It’s designed to help segregate social contacts into different groups, called “Circles.”

Actually it doesn’t just help – you can’t make a connection to someone without categorizing them, since the act of connecting is performed by dragging them into a Circle. The function acts, in a fashion, like Hogwarts’ “Sorting Hat,” creating, much as we do in real life, a firewall between our different social circles.

Facebook actually allows the same thing, but added it as an afterthought and users haven’t really gotten onboard. “Facebook has it but it’s complicated and convoluted to set up,” says Kevin Nichols, director of marketing for the Oechsli Institute of Greensboro, N.C.

Facebook has 750 million users; Google+ has 10 million so far. See: Why compliance experts are apt to dislike Facebook.


Sunit Bhalla, principal of OakTree Financial Planning in Fort Collins, Colo. says he sees roughly five common uses of social media:

  1. Connecting with people and feeling a sense of belonging – what he uses it for the most
  2. Finding new clients — Bhalla doesn’t do this actively, but allows that there may be some seepage if his old friends realize via Facebook that he’s a financial planner
  3. Building (business) credibility – Bhalla sees the time he takes to share about Apple technology as a way to simultaneously give back to the community and build credibility. See: How one RIA is running his practice on a Mac and finding it totally doable
  4. Informing others – Also not a big focus for Bhalla, but he says he does sometimes discuss Apple technology via these media
  5. Influencing others – Not his cup of tea

Bhalla has consciously separated his connections: Facebook is for friends; Twitter and LinkedIn are for business. He says he’s not sure where Google+ will land, but sees the potential for all types of connections to coexist in different Circles.

Brooke Southall, Sunit Bhalla and I Hanging out with a capital H.
Brooke Southall, Sunit Bhalla and I
Hanging out with a capital H.

Bhalla says that social media have been most useful for the little extra bits of information he learns about his clients, all of whom he has close relationships with.

“A client’s dad [had a medical emergency] over a two-week period,” Bhalla says. “Because of Facebook I knew about this and I could send them an e-mail and flowers. If Facebook hadn’t been around I probably wouldn’t have known about that.”

Fresh start for RIAs

We decided to try the “Hangout” feature of Google+ instead of the telephone for the second half of our conversation. It was difficult to invite one another into a Hangout, but once we got things set up it worked quite well.

It’s not too early for RIAs to get a fresh start with Google+, according to Nichols.

“Advisors should get on there and create accounts so they don’t fall behind; anything Google does you have to take seriously. It’s already up to 10 million users.”

Nichols believes that Google+ may skim the more mature users from Facebook the same way that Facebook did to MySpace.

Need a Google+ invite? Leave a comment with your Google Account address as the non-published e-mail and we’ll add you to our “RIABiz” Circle.

Bill Winterberg, principal of FPPad of Dallas, Texas, also says that the advance of Google+ may come swiftly and surely.

“It may dominate in a couple of years; it has functions that [Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn] can’t replicate.”

“The newsfeed of Facebook is so littered. Google is allowing me to [avoid] that from the get-go,” Nichols says.“People don’t want to see the feeds of people they knew 20 years ago.”

Bill Winterberg: It may dominate in a couple of years.
Bill Winterberg: It may dominate in
a couple of years.

CRM tool

Think of it as sorting your clients into groups the way you would with your CRM tool. Actually, think of the whole thing as a CRM tool for your social world, and maybe your professional world too. If Google plays its cards right, it has a shot at taking on LinkedIn right along with the other two giants.

Nichols says that LinkedIn seems the most invulnerable to Google+ because of its search function that finds who you want so easily and the niche it has established with professionals.

Oenophiles and Red Sox fans

Nichols says Plus’s Circles should be used by RIAs to segment prospects from clients and to create sub-segments of clients who want to receive feeds about certain kinds of information. For example, some clients may like to hear everything about fine wines and others may prefer to hear more about the Red Sox.

But until users warm up to the new design, it will just serve as Facebook number two. The webcomic XKCD gets to the crux of the matter:

And, as the comic also commented: On one hand, you’ll never be able to convince your parents to switch. On the other hand, you’ll never be able to convince your parents to switch!