The launch of Google+ this summer was difficult to miss. It was a long-anticipated release and subject to all kinds of speculation about how it would change the landscape of social networks. Would it threaten Facebook's dominance for personal networking? Would it replace Twitter as the de facto link sharing tool for millions? Would Google finally get social right or simply launch another mediocre product, destined for the scrap heap? While we're a long way from knowing all of the answers, the last few months have given us a chance to get our hands dirty and start to understand how Google+ fits into the larger social picture.
With the latest news that Google+ has opened its doors for brand pages, marketers have a whole new set of questions to tackle. Is Google+ worth the time and resource investment? Can brands use Google+ to interact with customers in a new way?
To be sure, there are some considerations for integrating Google+ that don't exist for Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. I've picked out a few pros and cons that will hopefully help frame up the unique space that Google+ is trying to carve for its social product.
More customizable page setup
Google realizes that there are all types of businesses and organizations out there that want to communicate and share with their audience, sometimes in unique ways. Google gives you the opportunity to categorize your page in the setup process, with each designation having some unique benefit. The categories are:
- Local business or place
- Product or brand
- Company, institution or organization
- Arts, entertainment or sports
This is especially helpful for local businesses, for instance, who want to tie in their Google Places account, which displays helpful info like maps, hours of operation, phone numbers, etc.
Better search results
Google has integrated brand pages into its search algorithm with something they call "Direct Connect." Now, adding a "+" to a standard Google search will take you directly to that brand page, skipping the whole search results stuff. For example, try it by typing "+Anderson Cooper 360" into a Google search bar. You'll see that it jumps straight to Anderson's +Page. Again, this is a great benefit to local businesses who often struggle to make it to the first page of standard Google searches. And speaking of that first page, Google's algorithm will now count how many of your followers have clicked the +1 button (Google's version of liking) as a way to boost your overall page ranking. It's leveling the playing field for brands, while adding a way for Google to improve the user experience for their main search product. After all, most users are more interesting in finding than searching,right?
More targeted sharing
As we try to get better at tailoring messages and content to the right people at the right time, the need to segment and understand your audience is more important than ever. That idea is baked into the Google+ platform in a fundamental way with its Circles feature. When it comes to sharing content, page managers will have a much easier time sharing links and content to one, some or all of their members with just a few clicks and some smart grouping of members into circles. Google+ also opens doors to easier direct engagement with hangouts — think of it as group Skyping. The combination of circles and hangouts means that a page can share and interact with only specific groups of followers really easily and all on one platform. Pretty powerful stuff for businesses who don't have a full staff of marketing and customer service folks at the ready.
No support for multiple users
At this time, pages can only have one manager who is allowed to own or post to the official page account. This will make it hard for social media or customer service teams to collaborate or divide up work among team members.
No contests, sweepstakes, offers or coupons
Perhaps the biggest difference between Facebook and Google+ will be the nature of the interaction between brand and follower. According to Nielsen, the number one reason folks "like" a brand on Facebook is to receive special discounts or offers. This will be fundamentally different on Google+, and depending on your strategy, could be a dealbreaker for you.
No vanity urls
I expect this feature will come shortly, but as of now it will be a tad cumbersome to tell folks how to navigate to your page. Vanity urls aren't in play yet, so instead of something easy like plus.google.com/Emma, urls look more like plus.google.com/106168900754103197479/ – not the easiest thing to remember.
At the end of the day, we need to craft a mix of content and communication that meets our customers, fans and followers where they are, and one that delivers consistent value, regardless of delivery channel or network. I don't think Google+ will be a natural fit for everyone, but I do think it offers some interesting and unique value to a great many businesses. If you're time-strapped, a small team or a predominantly local business, Google+ may be a perfect fit for you, with benefits that extend beyond the direct engagement you create on your page. As with any new technology or tool, taking an inventory of your own strategy, your audience and how you engage is always a great starting point for determining where you should spend your time and energy. Who knows, a few weeks from now Google+ may be your new one stop social shop. Have a look for yourself, and come back to tell us about your experience.