Google+ has come a long way since it’s launch in June. Its estimated user-base of over 40m pales in comparison with a Facebook following of over 800m, but for the first time in a long time, the giant of the social media world will at least be glancing over its shoulder. And last week, Google+ announced the next stage of its development – the launch of brand pages.
In terms of how these operate, they’re very similar to those of its larger rival – the brand posts to its stream, and fans ‘+1′ (the Google equivalent of Facebook’s ‘Like’), share or comment.
Google+’s brand pages do have some disadvantages over that of its rival – only one page admin is allowed at present, there are no analytics as to how posts are performing and competitions and promotions are not allowed. There is also no funtionality to replicate Facebook’s applications and tabs, limiting brand’s flexibility on the network.
But Google+ brand pages do have some significant advantages too.
Firstly, there’s the ease with which fans can connect to their chosen brand. Brand pages are fully inetgrated into search results and simply prefixing the brand name with a ‘+’ in a Google search (i.e. ‘+Burberry’) is enough to find the brand’s page and connect to it from within that results page - a process Google has dubbed ‘DirectConnect’.
Secondly, there’s the ‘hangout’ feature – a video-conferencing facility which gives brands the opportunity to interact with their fans live, rather than just via posts and comments.
The 3rd benefit derives form the crucial difference between Google+ and it’s larger rival – circles. Circles allow Google+ users to group their contacts, and keep their conversations with each circle discrete from other circles if they choose to do so. Brands can separate their customers into circles too, albeit it only into 3 groups at present – VIPs, customers and team members - but it does allow at least some differentiation between messaging rather which will be useful for luxury brands wanting to differentiate between customers and fans.
But the final benefit is the most important of all – and that’s the advantages that we expect Google+ brand pages to confer on that brand’s content in search results.
As each brand shares content with it’s community on Google+, that content will attract ‘+1s’ - Google’s equivalent of the ‘Like’. When the friends of those ‘+1ers’ find that content in the process of searching whilst they’re logged into their Google account, they’ll see which of their contacts has recommended it. If, as expected, this makes it more likely that those contacts will click on those links, brand marketers will see improved click through rates from content shared on Google+. Hence, they’ll be encouraged to share even more content on the new social network and make it a more integral part of their social marketing going forward.
Are these compelling reasons to build a brand presence on yet another social platform? Yes, probably.
In the premium world, Burberry has already taken the step. At the very least, its a chance to secure your brand presence on this new platform and prevent others from setting up fake pages. At best, the costs of managing yet another social profile could be offset in spades by the enhanced performance of search activity.
It’s early days for Google+ and many have reservations about it – by size it’s still a niche community, there’s no evidence as to whether its community is unique to Google+ or can still be reached on Facebook and it’s following is still predominantly male and technology-focused.
But its inextricable links with Google search – both in terms of the integration of Google+ brand pages into search results and in terms of content shared on Google+ enjoying advantages in search – make Google’s fast growing social network one to keep a very close eye on.