Notes on Google+

Gmail or Google Apps?

Many people have multiple e-mail addresses: a person may have a Google account logged in with a Gmail address and another Google account logged in with a Google Apps e-mail address, for example at an educational institution such as at a university or at work, and as such that person may have multiple Google+ profiles. I would like to add at this point that there are Google accounts logged in using neither Gmail nor Google Apps e-mail address and have a Google+ profile, but for the purposes of this piece, such cases will be lumped together with Gmail / Gmail account, since the essential difference relates to Google Apps: it would have been rather long to state non-Google-Apps account (which is often Gmail). In such a situation, which Google account should the person use for Google+? The personal Gmail address or the Google Apps work / organization address?

Individual circumstances play a big part, and I do not think there is a clear or correct answer to the question I posed above, so in this piece I would like to offer a few suggestions without wishing to be too prescriptive. In most cases, my feeling is that it depends to a large extent on which capacity or persona the person needs or wants to use Google+, but I would put forward an argument that it often makes sense to use a Google+ profile on a Gmail account rather than a Google Apps account.

Some of the issues raised in this article will be subject to laws and regulations: I am not a lawyer, so if there must be clarity with regard to the applicable laws and regulations, it is best to consult a qualified legal practitioner. Many companies and organizations have internal policies and codes of practice regarding use of social media, and such may have been incorporated in the terms of employment, so it is best to seek advice from the relevant person about how best to comply with the rules.

Let’s first imagine a situation where someone has a Google+ profile on a Gmail address and another Google+ profile on the organization Google Apps e-mail address. If the person is required to use Google+ as part of his / her job, posts on Google+ under editorial constraints set by the employer or by the organization purely for work, and uses Google+ during working hours, then it would seem best to use the Google+ account on the Google+ Apps account. The person is using the Google+ profile in the professional capacity, or the professional persona if you will, and the content may be owned by the business or the institution. If this person wishes to use Google+ in a personal capacity, then it would make sense to use Google+ profile on the Gmail account for that purpose. In other words, creating and maintaining two separate profiles would make sense, since they are used in two different capacities, representing the person in two personas.

There are trickier situations such as when someone operates outside the formal editorial control of the employer, but is expected explicitly or implicitly to portray the company or organization in a positive light, perhaps encouraged to use social media as an employee of the company, during but also outside working hours at the work place and outside, and posting certain kinds of materials such as bringing the employer into disrepute by inviting a storm of negative media coverage may lead or contribute to that person losing his / her job. In this case, it may be said that a Google+ profile is used in both capacities or personas as a private person and as an employee. How much do the two personas overlap? If he / she considers the private and work as completely different spheres, then it would in most cases make sense to keep two Google+ profiles, one profile as the private person and another profile for professional purposes, like in the preceding paragraph. If they overlap and there is a free choice to use between the two, which there may not be if the employer insists on the use of Google Apps, and the private elements predominate or are substantial, then I would use the Gmail account. Indeed, only when the work element is overwhelming would I consider using the Google Apps account.

If everything being equal or there is a choice, and unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, I would be minded to use the Gmail address, as indicated above. The most important reason in my view is that a Google account accessed via a Gmail address and including the Google+ profile belong to the person, and graduating from university or changing jobs for example will not affect the ability of the user to log in to his / her account and use Google+. A Gmail account might be deleted by the user, hacked by a malicious third party, or terminated by Google, but it is the user’s account. On graduating from university or leaving work, the Google Apps account – the e-mail address and the Google+ profile – may become inaccessible, since the accounts are controlled by the institution or the company. There is no method to merge or transfer content from one Google+ profile to another, or to detach a Google+ profile from its Google or Google Apps log-in credentials, even if it is possible to download the data: this lack of portability means that losing access to the account results in the loss of the history and connections built on that Google+ account.

The issue of loss of access to Google+ content outlined in the preceding paragraph does not apply to self-employed individuals or proprietors of businesses who are in a position to control the Apps account. There may even be an argument for concentrating everything under one roof and within the domain attached to the business or organization. Yet, the Google+ profile will be attached to the Apps account, and to that extent, complications may arise from changes of the business name, mergers and demergers, or simply moving to another service that offer similar functions to Google Apps. Additionally, there are small things, such as the inability to create a Google account for a Google+ page owned by a Google+ profile on a Google Apps account, that rather limit than enhance Google+ as a product.

Individual circumstances differ: for that reason, there is no one-size-fit-all answer. Due to the lack of portability, it probably pays off to plan carefully how and in what capacity or persona the Google+ is used. I have framed this piece predominantly from the perspective of the user who is an employee, but it also points to the need on the part of the employer to have a clear set of guidelines on the use of social media. Because the personal and the professional intersect, and the medium is about individuals, it can be a tough balancing act for all parties concerned.