Change happens.  Get used to it.  

Networks change.  Tools change.  People change. If we want to make the most out of our limited time on the Earth, we must be able to adapt to the shifts that occur all around us, whether we like it or not.

Last week, Google announced their much-anticipated answer to Facebook, Google+ and the chatter amongst digital pioneers and A-list bloggers has reached an almost fever pitch.  I’ve been participating in a few discussions here and there, but definitely listening/observing more than posting.  I like to see how people are responding and utilizing this new resource, because it will inevitably impact the work I do with my consulting clients.

Google+I’m not going to do a recap of Google+, as it has been well documented here, here, and here.  If you’re eager to learn more about it, check out those links. Instead, I wanted to use this example to highlight the importance of embracing change and being nimble with your approach to digital communications.  Of course, you can extrapolate some of the same ideas for how it impacts life overall, but for now the focus is on community building online.

If you look back over the last 15 years or so on the internet, there are some valuable lessons in how online communities are built and how the tools for building community evolve over time. For instance, in the early days of AOL, people would pay a monthly subscription to be a member of this community, which was essentially a gateway to the internet. Chat rooms sprung up that allowed people to connect with each other based on shared interests. At its peak, AOL had 30 million users worldwide, which was a staggering figure at the time.

Then online social networking came into the limelight. LinkedIn was one of the first, but didn’t gain traction nearly as fast as other general market offerings that would follow.  Friendster was the first one that really took America by storm. It was the original ‘time suck’ online, and I freely admit it was highly addictive. I’ve often mused that the Summer of 2003 was a time that not much work got done around our office, but in reality we were all pioneers in this emerging field, which is a big part of how I developed my skills as a strategist in this space.

Not long after Friendster had its tentacles in seemingly everyone’s friend networks from elementary school, MySpace came on strong.  For some people, MySpace was basically a ‘cooler’ version of Friendster that had the added benefit of great music content and more freedom for creative expression.

MySpace was king. People and brands alike invested significant time and resources into the creation of their profiles and friend lists. Nobody in 2005 could have guessed that MySpace would fall so quickly just a few short years later. Facebook was around back then, but in its early days and was open to students only.

When Facebook opened up to the general market, there was not a mass exodus from MySpace to Facebook initially.  It took time.  But eventually, people flocked to the newer thing, and we all know what has taken place since.

Today, we sit at yet another potential milestone in the evolution of the social web. Google is clearly gunning for a bigger piece of the coveted social pie, and by initial indications they have a great shot at succeeding.

Take a minute and look back over this abbreviated timeline and think about the implications to your own use of these tools.  At each stage along the way, these networks had what appeared at the time to be ‘critical mass’ and seemed to be unstoppable.

But the thing is, change happens.

Regardless of whether you attribute these shifts to innovative new features, better servers, more attractive user interface, resources of the parent company, alignment of the planets, or whatever, the fact remains that change is part of the game and nobody has a lock on the market.

I’ve always been a big fan of interacting with people where they are, but always keeping a watchful eye on the future so that you’re ready for the next thing when it comes along. That’s why I cringe when I hear people talk about needing a ‘Facebook strategy’ or ‘Twitter strategy,’ as if these could exist in a vacuum.

If you develop a ‘Facebook strategy,’ and a year from now most of the people you need to reach aren’t on Facebook, then what?

Change happens.  

While the industry discusses the merits of Google+ and whether or not Facebook adding video chatting or group texting will keep the user base satisfied enough to prevent them from migrating to the new rival network, keep your eye on the ball.

The real win is connecting with people and adding value to their experiences online. Like Ford is trying to do with the post below.
Ford Google+
If you can do this on Facebook now, great. If Twitter suits the need better, then use Twitter.  If your own website/blog can serve this purpose, spend time there.  Chances are, you’re going to use a blend of these and many other tools.

Just do yourself a favor and don’t get too attached to any specific channel – especially one that you don’t own!

Today, Google+ is the new shiny toy.  It’s extremely early in its life cycle, and there is no way to know for sure how it will shake out. Keep an eye on it and be prepared if the opportunity presents itself for you to jump in and realize some value from participating.

In the meantime, ask yourself how you can add the most value to the people you are wanting to connect with. The ‘where’ will vary over time.

What do you think about this? Are you prepared to embrace another tool?

By the way, if you’re on Google+, you can find me here.