By Rob May
Google (GOOG) recently announced that it will begin offering corporate control features for its Google+ social network to businesses for free - at least for a while. If you run a Google Apps domain, you can set up domain-wide restrictions on how your users interact with Google+. Your users can also make "restricted" posts to Google+ which are visible only to members of your domain. It's social networking, but with corporate oversight.
That's sounds a lot like Yammer (which Microsoft recently bought for $1.2 billion) and Salesforce Chatter: Sharing streams designed for employee collaboration rather than personal socialization. It sounds less like Facebook (FB), the undisputed heavyweight in social networking that Google+ was supposedly intended to depose.
That Google is choosing to make the same bet on corporate social networks that heavyweights like Microsoft (MSFT) and Salesforce (CRM) are making isn't surprising. What's interesting is that Google isn't segregating private Google+ from public Google+.
That suggests Google's move into corporate social-nets is as much a flanking maneuver against Facebook as it is a direct challenge to Yammer and Chatter.
The restricted, company-only posts that Google Apps users make to Google+ will appear alongside the same public, personal posts everyone else is making on Google+. What better way to get a few million Google Apps domain users comfortable with Google+ than to have their employers require (or at least encourage) them to use it? This is the same tactic Microsoft employed to dominate the desktop operating system market for decades: Get users familiar with the product at the office so they prefer it when they make a purchase decision at home.
You don't pay for social networks - though Google Apps domain administrators will apparently pay for the corporate control features come 2013 - but you do make a choice in where to invest most or all of your online social activity. Google is likely betting that a successful battle for the social network at the office will help it win back some territory in the war for social networking at home.
The only downside of this tactic is that it blurs the line between personal and professional social sharing. While Google probably relishes the idea of getting a holistic view of its customers' social data, this cross-pollination of online social activities could have a number of unforeseen data security implications. User error is the leading cause of data loss for Google Apps domains, and adding Google+ to the roster of approved corporate applications gives users a whole new set of features they must learn to use safely.
Google's move to merge professional and personal social networking is a bold one. It remains to be seen what the impact will be on Google+ or it users.
Note: Rob May is the CEO and co-founder of Backupify, the leading provider of backup and recovery solutions for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications.