In case you haven't heard, Google is trying to take down the Facebook empire with its new Google+ social networking site. (Seriously, though, if you haven't heard, it's really time to get out from under that rock).
Because social networking sites have become an integral part of music promotion, we've decided to take a look at Google+ through the lens of the musician. Namely, we wondered, how is this site going to benefit musicians, promoters and venues looking to use this new social network to promote their stuff?
We've found a couple things that could be beneficial, and a couple drawbacks, too.
As Google+ is still in its infancy, it will certainly be interesting to see how this ends up working, and how artists and industry folk will use this new tool.
In order to examine Google+, it's helpful to briefly analyze how other social networking sites work for music promotion. The rise of the Internet (and subsequent decline of traditional record-company sales and promotions) demands that many artists do their own promotions and build their own sites. In order to reach fans successfully, a band must be able to network with fans, announce upcoming shows, post pictures and post songs. These must be bundled together in a package that works with search-engine optimization, allowing users that might search your band name to find this page among the top search results. Furthermore, the package must be neat and tidy, offering essential information upfront.
So far, Myspace has the edge on Facebook as far as ease of use goes. It's easier to upload your songs onto your band's Myspace page than it is to go through Facebook's BandPage feature, which appears to have been tacked onto the Facebook package as an afterthought. Myspace is also more search-engine friendly; in order to search for an artist's page on Facebook, it's easiest to do an internal search on Facebook itself. If you do a Google search of a band's name, their Myspace is still the first page that pops up. Myspace, however, can be clunky. Artists are allowed to put funky logos, backgrounds and other unnecessary nonsense all over their pages, which makes the pages take longer to load.
Google+ has a few standout features that everyone appears to be applauding -- and ones that would work well for music promotions, too.
The first is their Circles feature, which allows you to group your friends how you like. For instance, if you are following a bunch of bands you like, you can group them, and their updates, into a circle so those updates aren't lumped in with your friends. This is a fantastic tool, and it fixes one of the things that pissed us off most about Twitter and Facebook -- noise in the update stream.
It helps that the user interface so far is extremely simple and clean, which is a lesson everyone appears to have learned from the debacle that was those horrible Myspace backgrounds. We want to see your band name, where you're playing next, and we want to listen to a couple of your songs; we don't need to scroll past your giant logo to get to this.
But it mostly looks like there are a few features that might hinder music promotion on Google+. First off, the site is in its infancy, so it doesn't have a specific artist platform like BandPage or Myspace Music. For now, it's just for social networking.
If the Google folks are smart, they'll get something going soon, or risk having Justin Timberlake and Myspace corner the entertainment market. (Stranger things have happened.)
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Secondly, the update feed needs to be fixed. The most recently commented updates go to the top of the feed, regardless of the original post date. If your "bands that kick ass" circle includes both Britney Spears and, say, The Hanna Barbarians, Britney's updates are always going to be pushed to the top, because she's gonna get more frequent comments. (This is avoidable if you separate them into different circles, but Google could eliminate this extra step easily.) There's also currently no YouTube integration in the site; but since Google owns YouTube, we figure this will undoubtedly be fixed soon.
Another thing about Google+ that elicits the side-eye is its targeted advertising and paid promotions. If an artist hooks up with a large corporate entity like YouTube's Vevo, their videos will get pushed to the top of the heap. Will Google+ have "sponsored" links and videos that are easier to load and access than those posted by independent, unsponsored artists? Doubtful.
Similarly, the site's Sparks feature is a bit murky at present. According to Google, you can use it to enter in an interest, and then Sparks will suggest an article or site that pertains to your interest. A targeted-advertising scheme, basically. Facebook, meanwhile, keeps the targeted advertising relegated mostly to the sidebar. We shall see how Google deals with targeted advertising, and whether or not it will be recognizable as such.
It all boils down to this: In order to be successful as an entertainment-promotions tool, Google+ must be careful about how they proceed. Hopefully, they'll do the right thing and get an easy-to-use music page platform going quick. Because, as we've seen time after time and in social networking site after social networking site, these things are crucial to band success in this 2.0 world.