Businesses Get a Place in the Google+ Sun
Google has introduced Google+ Pages, an element of its Google+ social network that has been much anticipated by corporate brands.
Pages provides a public placeholder on the Google+ network for any entity -- not just companies. A sports club like FC Barcelona, for example, could have its own page. Or a band -- such as alternative music group The All-American Rejects. Anderson Cooper 360 is another early adopter of Google+ Pages.
Indeed, in the early days of the network, several brands developed unofficial pages, much to their competitors' chagrin. Eventually Google shut them down.
With the official version now available, brands have a number of ways of connecting with customers and fans, and vice versa. The +1 button lets customers recommend a company or add it to their circles.
Google has incorporated Pages into its search engine, including them in search results and via a new feature called "Direct Connect."
Maybe a consumer is watching a movie trailer, or just heard that a favorite band is coming to town, Senior VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra suggests in an official Google blog post.
To connect automatically with these events, he explains, "go to Google and search for [+], followed by the page you're interested in (like +Angry Birds). We'll take you to their Google+ page, and if you want, we'll add them to your circles."
At the moment Direct Connect works for a limited number of pages, including +Google, +Pepsi, and +Toyota, but more are coming, promises Gundotra.
Google was unable to provide the E-Commerce Times with comments for this story.
Can It Beat Facebook?
The elephant in the room, of course, is Facebook. It is the social network to beat, and given its user base and the unprecedented amount of time people spend on Facebook, the Google+ challenge almost seems like a losing battle, Peter Cohan of Peter S. Cohan & Associates told the E-Commerce Times.
"Google had to try something, and Google+ and Google+Pages is as good attempt as any. The question is, does Facebook have an insurmountable lead?" he wondered.
This is pivotal to Google+'s long-term success, Cohan said, because consumers won't spend large blocks of time on both Google+ and Facebook. "Sooner or later, it will come down to one or another."
Other Goodies to Consider
Companies should not dismiss Google+ and Google+ Pages just because of Facebook's lead, Israel Mirsky, EVP of emerging media and technology at Porter Novelli, told the E-Commerce Times.
Features such as Direct Connect are just the beginning of what Google can do with Google+, he said.
For example, "although we haven't seen them yet, we can expect that analytics for Google+ Pages will be robust -- and based on Google's business model, will probably mesh with its other analytics views, such as those in Google Analytics for their owned websites and its ad products," he said. This will eventually give companies "a much deeper and more effective segmentation and understanding of the social networks' role in driving bottom line results."
Establishing a Beachhead
Even without the promise of more riches to come, and even though Facebook is a mere blip on the horizon, companies should take a flyer on Pages, Mirsky advised.
"Right now, business pages on Google+ are a bit of a "land grab," he noted.
The first pages to establish a presence on Google+ will have a smaller field to compete in, and the rules around gathering followers through advertising or "viral" tactics have not yet been well explored, so they are more likely to be able to collect a significant following," he said.
Nor can the impact Google+ Pages will have on search be ignored, Mirsky added.
"In the future, if you don't have a robust Google+ presence, you may not rank effectively in search results," he speculated. "Establishing a presence now can be seen as a defensive move to protect future organic search position."
Another thing companies should take into account, Mirsky continued, is that the people following a Google+ page at this point are likely to be more influential on a per user basis for some industries, like technology, than a similarly sized following on another network.
"A number of tech 'first movers' with large audiences got into the platform early and are either currently camped out on the platform -- like Robert Scoble -- or will be stopping by to see what the brands they care about are doing to engage with the new platform," he said. "Brands who can get or keep these folks early on have the potential to make very influential friends for a fraction of the cost it might otherwise take to attract them."