What Brands Need To Know About Google+ Right Now

By Social Marketing Team

The short answer? Nothing.

The long answer? Get ready for a game-changer.

Since Google launched Google+, its new social network on June 28, the social marketing community has produced a tidal wave of coverage and commentary about the search engine giant’s first successful step – leap really – into social media.

Why? Because within three weeks Google+ has surpassed 10 million members and is demonstrating a strong capacity for prompting users to share content in a way that drives referring visits to top-tier news sites.

Let’s streamline things, shall we? What does Google+ actually mean to brands looking to build or extend their social marketing presence? Let’s start with the basics.

What is Google+?

Google+ is both a social network in its own right, and a socially-powered layer overhanging Google’s existing web services, namely Google Search, Gmail, GoogleDocs, YouTube and Google +1, but soon to include GoogleApps, Picassa, GoogleReader and the dozens of other services Google provides to users.

What’s the value proposition?

Google is attempting to bring a new philosophy to social connectivity, combining the popular features common to social media (friend networking, link sharing, location-sharing, object rating, etc) with a new emphasis on privacy, context and integration; three areas where the leading social networking giants like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare often struggle. The concept is abstract, but powerful nonetheless, as shown in this video from Google announcing the launch of Google+:

Where are the opportunities for brands?

Officially, there are none right now. Several brands, most notably Ford, pounced on Google+ invites in the first week and immediately started publishing updates. But Google quickly put a stop to this, explaining to brands that Google+ profiles are for individuals only, and that a comprehensive solution for their needs will be launched as soon as the Google+ user base has grown to a reasonable size.

To smooth things over with prominent brands and keep anticipation high, Google released a video articulating their belief that: “The business experience we are creating should far exceed the consumer profile in terms of its usefulness to businesses. We just ask for your patience while we build it.” They also offered brands the chance to take part in a pilot program to test out whenever the Google+ business solution is launched. The video below states Google’s official stance towards brand participation in Google+.

What action should brands take on Google+ right now?

Google+ represents a potential – and I emphasize the term potential – watershed for social marketing. In only three weeks, the service has demonstrated:

  1. An extraordinary capacity to grow its membership virally, as the social network will likely reach 20 million members by the time it turns 1-month old. At its current rate of growth, Google+ could rival Twitter in size by early 2012.
  2. An exceptional skill at driving referring traffic to top-tier websites. Google+ members are sharing over 1 billion items each day, and many leading news outlets have already seen Google+ crack their top ten sources of referring traffic.

That being said, Google+ is still in its infancy. There are many serious obstacles that it must surmount over the next few months to demonstrate that it is even sustainable as a network, to say nothing of being valuable to brands, profitable as a business or a rival to Facebook.

At IMRE, we are counseling our clients to take two initial steps with Google+:

  1. Devote time to learning about what Google+ is offering is individual members. The new social network certainly has an appeal, and studying how users interact with it and what draws them to the service can reap huge rewards down the road when developing a social marketing strategy for the platform.
  2. Begin to set aside time and resources for a thorough review of Google+ in late 2011 – Just in time for the social network to mature and the 2012 budget planning season to start. Tell your social marketing teams and agencies that you want to assess the viability of Google+ in late 2011, and that you want to see a clear recommendation about whether or not the new social network will support your core business and marketing strategies.

How Should Brands Assess Google+?

At IMRE, we always encourage our clients to assess a social marketing channel using six criteria, and an analysis of Google+ should take the same format:

  1. Audience – Is your target audience on Google+? What are they using it for? Is there an opportunity to add value to the conversation? Is there a threat to engaging with them?
  2. Connectivity Tools – Does Google+ offer audiences the tools necessary to share your content with others? Who will they share it with? Is their sharing and engagement measurable?
  3. Connectivity Barriers – Where does Google+ limit your brand or the ability of your audiences to share your content? Are these barriers surmountable? How?
  4. Functionality – What will Google+ allow your brand to do on the service? Will you be provided with the features necessary to forge a strong connection with your audience? Can your other marketing initiatives be extending into Google+ without risk and with maximum benefit?
  5. Terms of Use – What will Google+ not allow your brand to do on the service (contests, sweepstakes, direct messages)? Are these restrictions deal-breakers for you?
  6. Analytics – Will your Google+ marketing strategy be measurable? What insights will Google+ provide you? Are these metrics more or less helpful than those offered by other social platforms?
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