Google+ is officially open for business.
On Monday, the social network launched its long awaited branded pages for business. Google’s senior VP of engineering Vic Gundotra wrote in a blog post:
“For businesses and brands, Google+ pages help you connect with the customers and fans who love you. Not only can they recommend you with a +1, or add you to a circle to listen long-term. They can actually spend time with your team, face-to-face-to-face.”
That last feature holds tremendous potential for small businesses, but first let’s talk about the biggest benefit to using Google+ as a brand.
Google+ has 40 million people registered for the service (according to an October announcement in October at their third quarter earnings), compared to Facebook’s 800 million active users and Twitter’s 200+ million users. Google only tracks sign ups and not active users. “The effectiveness and adoption of Google+ Pages, especially among small businesses, all depends on whether Google+ continues to grow and gains mainstream adoption,” says Greg Sterling, an Internet analyst with San Francisco-based Internet2Go—an Opus Research advisory service.
Assuming Google+ can keep up its impressive growth in new users (and find a way to keep them on the site longer), the biggest benefit the social network offers is its direct connection to Google search results.Type a + before a brand name into a Google search and the Google+ branded page will show up. Or, search for a business on Google Maps or Google News—if a business has a branded page, it will pop up. The more that Google surfaces your page through other Google products, the higher your visibility. For small businesses and their search engine optimization strategies, this could be a game changer.
So what should you do once you’ve launched your brand on Google+? +Al Jazeera English and +NPR interacted with users on Monday by asking where they’re “circling” from and what they’d like to see from their brands. The folks behind the new +The Muppets movie held a “hangout” (otherwise known as a video chat) late Monday to gather users to discuss the film. Only 11 people participated, but it was a novel idea and the comments thread leads me to believe that for organizations looking to drive deeper engagement with their users, hangouts are an excellent way to do so. +Macy’s launched its page promising “exclusive info on sales, promotions, events, and more,” and said it would offer a handful of users the chance to join a live chat with two higher-ups at the company.
In other words, much of what you do on Google+ won’t be all that different from what you’re currently doing on Facebook or Twitter—you need real people behind your page having real conversations with your customers.
But if some critics are right, your company might eventually feel more at home on Google+. “While Facebook could easily live without brand involvement, it felt like the lack of brands on Google+ left a large hole in the landscape,” says Aaron Strout, head of location-based marketing at WCG World and co-author of the recently released Location Based Marketing for Dummies. “At the end of the day, Google+ is going to be more business first, social second versus Facebook which is clearly social first, business second. And for me, Twitter is clearly a mix.”
So, while Google+ has great potential, don’t give up on Facebook or Twitter yet.