In the week since Google Buzz started hitting people’s Google Mail accounts much has happened, and there has been a veritable avalanche of opinion. It’s all very confusing to those who aren’t that interested in the finer technical details. But if you’re sitting there wondering whether Buzz is something you need to incorporate into your online marketing efforts, then hopefully I can help you decide.

What is it?

Buzz sits very squarely in the social networking camp, allowing you to follow people, be followed by people, and post information that you think others may be interested in. In appearance it is like a mix between Twitter and email, although it allows posting of pictures and videos like Facebook. To paraphrase Tony Blair…it is the ‘third way’!

If you use Google Mail then the threaded comment interface will be familiar and comforting. If not then you may take a minute or two to get used to it, but it’s pretty accessible. You can link some external services to Buzz, including Twitter, Picasa, Flickr and Google Reader. Once linked, public-facing updates on those sites will also appear in your Buzz feed.

Currently, you need a Google Mail account to use Buzz. In time, those using the Google Apps suite will be included too, and there is a strong suspicion that Google may disentangle Buzz from Google Mail entirely and offer it as a separate service.

Should I use it?

If you are currently using Facebook and/or Twitter to try and generate awareness of your business and what it does, then the answer is a qualified ‘Yes’. There have been well-documented privacy issues with Buzz that have undoubtedly affected the initial enthusiasm and take-up of Buzz, but the general consensus is that Buzz is, for now, a bone fide rival to Facebook and Twitter and thus is worthy of consideration. I feel that Google have probably taken a deliberate step to release Buzz to Gmail users first. They tend to be Google-friendly and willing to put up with a few quirks if they feel that the rewards are good enough. Google Apps users are more business-focused, and so will be less tolerant of problems.  Once those groups are happy, I’m sure Google will feel more confident that the release to the general public has a good chance of succeeding.

OK, so how should I use it?

Good question! In fact, it looks like there are two ways in which you need to consider using Buzz. Firstly, you should think about using it like Twitter. Stuff you would normally Tweet, you should also Buzz (or link Buzz to Twitter so it happens automatically). If you Tweet about new blog posts (manually or automatically) then Buzz about them too. If you have a company Flickr feed or Picasa account, hook that up to Buzz so that new pictures get Buzzed too. Of course, you should have a ‘Follow me on Buzz’ link on your website too. In short, assume there is a community on Buzz that may be interested in what you have to offer.

The really interesting and different aspect to Buzz, though,  is in mobile awareness. Google has been very active in the mobile market space recently, between Android and the Nexus One handset. Unsurprisingly, Buzz works very well on Android handsets, and on the iPhone. When accessing Buzz this way, it automatically geotags your Buzzes, and allows you to see nearby Buzz users and Buzz posts. The theory being that localised and very temporary virtual communities spring up for Buzz users to participate in. Of course, if you are a retain business with any reliance on passing trade, then there is no reason why you can’t form one of those virtual communities to attract custom.

Localised virtual communities? What are they?

OK, let’s look at a possible scenario. Assume you run a pub in the middle of a small town. There are public footpaths through the town, but another pub gets much of the walking community’s custom by virtue of its physical location. Buzz may just be the tool to help you change that. You set up a Buzz feed, and make sure that your Buzzes are geotagged. Every so often, particularly before lunch and mid/late afternoon you post a Buzz publicising a special offer for member’s of any walking group (free half of bitter with any meal over £6, for instance).

Now all you need is for one member of a walking group approaching town to be an active Buzz user. When he/she checks Buzz on their mobile, nearby Buzzes will appear, including yours. Being a thrifty lot, the walkers will no doubt be attracted to your pub and you will gain customers that you would not have done otherwise. All this for the minute or two it takes you to create a Buzz.

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