Google Shirt

Last month, Google made significant changes to the appearance and functions of its social network. Google+ has faced an uphill battle to gain the traction that Facebook and Twitter have secured, but the redesign shows that the team in Mountain View is not going to call it quits any time soon.

With the updated network, Google is showing that it is still in touch with what people want and what a great social experience can be. Here’s a full rundown of the changes. If you haven’t taken the time yet to investigate for yourself, Google+ is definitely worth another look.

New Layout for Better Visuals

Google Plus layout

The first big change you’ll notice is a multi-column format for the Google+ feed. Depending on your device and screen size, the stream now includes up to three columns of posts. The column format should make browsing easier than it was in the single-column list.

We know that photos and images are the bread and butter of social networks. Google+ has placed a new emphasis on showcasing the pictures in your feed. Any high-resolution photos and videos will be displayed at the full page width.

In addition, Google has introduced a tool called “Auto Awesome” for enhancing other elements of your photos in the network. For instance, it combines your individual uploads into a GIF-style flipbook for display to your friends and followers. Or it can stitch together photos for panoramas, filmstrips, or other new picture creations.

Other new photo features include “Auto Enhance” for improving the brightness or contrast on your uploads, and “Auto Highlight” assists with organizing and collecting albums. No matter what type of visual material you want to share on Google+, the company is guaranteeing that it will look great to your readers.

Unified Web and Mobile Experiences

Texting group

The initial redesign focused only on the web platform, but a week after that announcement, Google presented changes to its mobile version as well. The new layout is similar, with posts now presented in card format. This change was meant to make content easier to read and share, according to a post on the network’s own profile.

The new mobile network has also added cover photos, which have become the standard for most platforms. The tap targets are also larger, so there should be fewer problems with navigational mistakes. This means that the experience of your brand page on Google+ should be more consistent across different devices, giving you more control over what your fans see and how they engage with your company profile.

According to a blog post on the redesign, one motivation for the change was to fix the static feel of social media news feeds. Google+ addressed this by making both the web and mobile versions more active. Typical activities such as writing a new post or sharing an old one will pop up new animated windows. Expect to see a more visually engaging and animated experience with Google+, no matter what kind of device you use to access the network.

Hashtags for Discovery

Google Plus Hashtags

The redesign will also put more of a focus on hashtags. Posts will have a drop-down section in the top right corner where readers can quickly see all the hashtags related to the status. Google will automatically label posts with relevant tags, or you can still attach your own hashtags within the post text. This makes Google+ easier for navigating around any major interests you have.

It could also mean a new emphasis on discovery. Clicking on one of those drop-down hashtags will flip that card over to show a stream of other posts with that label. Say you click on the #EXAMPLE tag. Not only will the new card let you click-through to other popular posts, but it also lists some related hashtags in the header. Again, this could make it much easier for people to stumble across a page or profile that they might not have explicitly searched for.

With Facebook also jumping on the hashtag bandwagon, it’s clear that the pound symbol will continue to be a prevalent player in social networking in the near future.

Get Deeper With Hangouts

Google Plus Hangouts

The experience of Hangouts in Google+ has also been updated and more fully integrated into the social network. The communication platform more fully incorporates messaging and photo sharing to the video calls. It is also available as a standalone app now, which could provide more flexibility for hosting large meetings or public discussions.

Brands may find the new agility of Hangouts helpful if they’ve considered using the tool for developing more immediate connections on social media. For clients, it could be a base for hosting customer service chats and demonstrations. For other businesses, it can help host your meetings and keep you in closer contact with important thought leaders.

Have you tried the redesigned Google+? Let us know what you think in the comments!

[Image credits: Chris Wetherell, John Morgan]