Google launched Google+, its answer to Facebook, last week amidst a good deal of, um, “buzz,” not all of it good.

The search giant has been hungry to break into the social networking space for years but has yet to get it quite right.

Still, Google has a billion daily web users and a vast advertising customer database, all eager for the Next Big Thing in communications technology. Is Google+ that Next Big Thing?

More important questions for our purposes are these: What utility and functionality does Google+ bring to the table for public affairs and communications professionals? Does your coalition or your client need a Google+ strategy? Below Hynes Communications analyzes some features and share some additional thoughts about Google’s new product.

1. Users can +1 your favorable search results and media placements, which in theory could increase their appeal in Google’s search algorithm. Your coalition or client can use this feature to help make news stories go viral, as they currently do with Facebook “Likes” and Twitter. However, early demonstrations show it is not yet competitive with Facebook and Twitter in the social sharing of news.

2. That said, a new “Notifications” feature on the Google toolbar (a dropdown menu that provides activity updates to your Google+ account) shows a good deal of promise. To date, Notifications simply tell you who has added you to a Circle or commented on a post. But it’s easy to imagine Notifications telling you who within your Circles have read an article (think Facebook Connect on Huffington Post but for every Google-owned property). This would generate a powerful deliverable that tells you which Key Influential or Target has read an important news story or even seen a potent YouTube video.

3. Circles have the ability to streamline message distribution to multiple press and stakeholder lists, making it potentially valuable to harried public relations and public affairs professions. This functionality is not limited to Google+ users. Google will deliver these alerts via e-mail to people not on Google+. However, unlike with Facebook, there appears to be no easy way to upload distribution lists to your account.

4. “Sparks” are essentially RSS feeds you can read from Google+ based on your favorite topics (like Google Reader). With two clicks you can then share these stories with your Circles. This makes Sparks a potentially major timesaver and powerful targeting tool for public affairs professionals interested in narrowcasting news stories or blog posts.

5. The final item of note about Google+ is that it is a platform, not a finished, finite product. That means developers will help to build it out and craft it to their own purposes. Social games will be played on Google+ as they are on Facebook. So creative public affairs professionals have an important new outlet to drive a message, collect information, build audiences and conduct media intelligence.