Google+: Workplace boon or bane?

Google recently unveiled its new foray into the world of social networking with Google+. Here’s how the latest social media monster could help — or hinder — your workforce.
Google+ isn’t available to the public yet — it’s “invitation only” at this point — but employers would do well to get a handle on what makes the site different before it does.
It may look a little like Facebook, but Google+ differs from its competitors in two key ways – some good, some dangerous:

  • Circles: Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Google+, Circles enables users to easily share information with different groups of people.
    On Facebook, the info users post gets shared with everyone in their Friend group simultaneously — co-workers, acquaintances, family, that guy you met at the bar last week, etc.
  • Google+, however, allows users to share photos of the family barbecue only with the people you’ve added to your Family circle, or a link to a news article that you think only people in your Close Friends circle would enjoy.
    Where this becomes a problem for employers: Circles will make it far more difficult for firms to determine what, if anything, employees are saying about the company online.
    The added privacy of the Circles feature might allow staff members to badmouth co-workers or managers or trade company secrets completely in private. While that risk exists on Facebook or Twitter, things will become a bit tougher to track here.
    At the same time, Circles might be beneficial to the workplace. Users could create Circles for work colleagues, co-workers in the same department, or people on a specific project.
  • Hangouts: This feature allows up to 10 users at a time to video chat simultaneously with each other.
    While we can’t imagine many negatives to the feature (employees would probably have a hard time secretly video-chatting with friends at work), the feature could serve as a free alternative for small online meetings.

How to get prepared
Google+ may be new to the social media game, but employers can already take some actions now to protect themselves from problems down the road:

  • Add it to your policy: First things first: You’ll want to specifically add Google+ to your social media policy alongside Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the rest of the social media bunch.
  • Block access? If your firm blocks social media sites at work, preventing employees from accessing Google+ is going to be tricky.
    Why? The site operates under the Google.com domain – and unless you just bought a new set of encyclopedias, we’re guessing you probably don’t want to block access to Google.
    Solution: Make sure that, if you do want to prevent employees from using Google+, that you only block the plus.google.com domain.
  • Reiterate your social media policy. Now may be an ideal time to remind employees what they can and cannot do and say online.

The takeaway
Google+ poses risks — and carries potential benefits – for many firms. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, though, Google+ hasn’t become as ubiquitous yet – meaning you have an opportunity to stay ahead of the curve.
Best bet: Investigate the technology firsthand to determine if and how Google+ will affect your workforce in the near future.