There have been a lot of Google+ updates this week, but by far the most exciting update is this latest update to the Google +1 button which makes content sharing more like Facebook, but ultimately, more useful as a content curation tool for your different Google+ Circles.
Sharing to +Circles
This latest feature update should reduce the friction for sharing to your Google Circles meaning that you can now start to develop you Google+ circles into proper marketing and broadcast channels rather than simply as a chat stream. It also makes it easier for any user to start a conversation in their circles about your content - providing even more incentive to get social on Google+.
Only a preview is available at the moment, but from the screenshot below you can see that after clicking the new +1 button a hover card/dialog box appears which enables you to share the content with any of your circles. In much the same way that you can repost content from within your Google+ stream to specific circles, you simply select the circle you want to share the content into.
From the screenshot above, what you can also see is that there is a mini preview of what your shared post will look like. Much like Facebook, the shared item automatically pulls an image from the document and also a description of the article. However, in order to control this you have to get your head around +Snippets.
To get the right +Snippets working for you, you will need to add the correct Schema.org attributes to the data on your pages. Using the correct attributes you can define what the item is, essentially signalling to Google whether or not the item is an article or an image, what the name of of it is and what the description of it is.
By marking up your code with the correct attributes, you can streamline the process of sharing for users and retain control over how your content appears when it is shared.
If you want to get an immediate sense of how well you are setup for Google +1 Button sharing, Hatlesshacker.com has posted a little hack that will show you how your site will appear on Google+ when it is shared.
Simply change the URL after the "=" sign in this code snippet: https://plusone.google.com/_/+1/confirm?hl=en-US&url=http://searchenginewatch.com
Also similar to the Facebook Like button is a new feature for the Google +1 button which, when logged into Google+, shows those people among your friends who clicked the +1 button from a particular page.
To add inline annotations you will need to update your +1 button code using the configuration tool. Go to the 'Annotation' menu and select 'inline' to get the new code.
Bad News Vs Good News
At face value, the emphasis of Google's announcement is on conforming to Schema.org to get the most value out of the social sharing. Yet, for most website owners the meta data provided by schema.org already exists elsewhere in standard HTML. For instance, itemprop=description is functionally no different to the meta=description tag. It seems non-sensical to require another attribute that says exactly the same thing.
But before you recode your CMS or product database to include these tags, hold back. The sharing button does actually pull your meta description or opening text anyway.
Also, if you have already configured your site for the Facebook OpenGraph, you are in luck because +Snippets does actually recognize that protocol. This is great news, as it means that streamlining your site for Facebook, will naturally streamline it for Google+ too.
That said, Schema.org is a collaboration between Google, Bing and Yahoo, so eventually you will need to get your head around it. Furthermore, Schema.org has plenty of other data attributes that can enrich your site.
As I discussed with Timothy Jordan at SES San Francisco, the callback function embedded into the Google +1 button will enable website owners to offer more sophisticated site personalization features to your users. The more Schema.org attributes you are using, the more axioms you will have to offer a personalized experience. If Google's version of Facebook's Instant Personalization takes off, we may see Facebook adopting schema.org in favor of the OpenGraph protocol.
Enough About Code, What Should Marketers Do Now?
Google's version of sharing is now adequately differentiated from Facebook and Twitter to get really excited about it in business meetings.
When you share a website on Facebook via the Like button for publishers, the default setting is to share it with everybody. There is no option to select who you share it with. The only option is whether to share it with a comment or not.
Google's +1 Button for websites on the other hand means will allow you to share only to a specific circle. This means, for example, that your obsession with bonsai tress really doesn't have to interfere with your work relationships on the site. Or a better example might be your politics, which is often a bone of contention between different social groups. Now, if you are a very active member of a political party or pioneering a particular cause, you won't necessarily have to dumb down your content sharing in order not to alienate users who are connected to you socially.
In a nutshell, you do not have to tailor your content sharing to the lowest common denominator interest in your network. It also means that, theoretically, you do not need to maintain multiple social networking accounts to manage all your different social groups.
As a marketer, the most exciting difference between Google+ and other social networks is the ability to communicate socially with people who you do not know in person, in everyday life, or have only met online. By creating connections in Google+ and asking people what circles they would like to be added to, you can create interest groups, and start sharing only within those circles.
This means that you could create a "network of listeners" targeted at niche topics where you only share to those with a common interest. One example of where this kind of collaboration could work really well is in following breaking news topics and curating reports in realtime whilst verifying facts for everyone in the conversation - as was possible on Twitter during the UK riots.