Tuesday, January 10, 2012

“Search Plus Your World” Could Wreck Pharma’s World

Written by Michael Spitz, Ignite Health's VP of Engagement Planning

[Check out the breaking news and videos here]

Ever since Google realized that its uncontested strength of connecting people with websites paled in comparison to the infinite potential of connecting people with people, the once unstoppable company has made a concerted effort to embrace and conquer not only search, but social media. Following several missteps including the regionally popular Orkut and flat-out embarrassing Buzz, Google Plus recently entered the scene with an interface, features, and functionality in many ways rivaling or exceeding those of Facebook.

The next logical step in the evolution of search toward its inevitable integration with social media is “Search Plus Your World” rolled out this Tuesday, another line extension in Google’s unfolding and often awkward attempt at melding these two worlds and owning the online world. Simply by clicking the “show personal results” icon in the upper right hand corner of the results page users now instantly integrate their Google Plus experience with search, triggering contextually relevant links, status updates, and even photos of Google Plus friends to seamlessly integrate into the results area in a manner that profoundly personalizes search results.

The good news for Google is that it simultaneously advertises the fledgling Google Plus social network in a vital and unprecedented manner, and provides the company with an expansive bolus of data for further refining and customizing search results. The bad news is that a vast majority of search users as yet don’t participate in Google Plus, so the unique benefits of Search Plus beg the question for most folks who can’t take advantage of the functionality in the first place. But the idea makes tremendous digital sense, and is a foreshadowing of how search and social media will soon become indistinguishable from each other.

Enter the concerns of healthcare communicators in general, and pharma marketers in particular. These battle-tested communications veterans had high hopes for Google Plus in that the “Circles” features seemed a way healthcare professionals, patients, and caregivers could segment their friends into discrete groupings enabling private updates, conversations, and content sharing. But what Search Plus seems to do is bust these silos wide open, openly and indiscriminately accessing all this social content and contextually mashing it up within another user’s search results.

So for example, imagine a cancer patient sharing branded treatment content and their personal observations of care with a family member or nurse within a designated and presumably private Circle on Google Plus, only to discover that the content was being potentially shared on the results pages of friends or acquaintances outside that ostensibly private group? In other words any semblance of privacy offered by Google Plus is destroyed by Search Plus, which transforms a private social domain into a public search results page. Similarly challenging issues abound for any branded content, as who knows when and how such content could be displayed.

As privacy issues become manifest Google will no doubt offer ways to tweak and control the various settings. But for healthcare communicators and pharma marketers the verdict, at least for now, is to steer clear of Google Plus when sharing any information that is private, proprietary, or subject to regulatory scrutiny. The future is clear: As search and social meld into a contiguous user experience these issues will play themselves out, presumably with our shifting boundaries of propriety and privacy. Until then, let’s wait and see how Search Plus will influence our world, before we do anything brash to wreck it.

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Google Search, Plus Your World - Stories

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