With the combination of 40 million users in a little more than 88 days, and a 68 percent share of the search market, Google is positioned to fully maximize social engagement with Google+. The initial launch strategy was primarily consumer focused and any branded solutions were put on hold. With the recent release of Google+ pages, now is the time to define your brand's strategy when it comes to fully maximizing the benefits of Google+ both short and long term.
There has been a lot of discussion about how Google+ compares to Facebook and the ideal ways to leverage the platforms. It is important to note that even though there are many similarities, the fact remains that both platforms have some major differences and strategy around maximizing resource allocation will be key moving forward.
On the surface the two networks are eerily similar. Both have status updates (news feeds and streams), photo sharing, social games, and external activators ("like" button and +1). Further, they both enable third-party development, integration with mobile, and a desire to connect and share. But the fundamental difference is that Facebook is a true social network -- and has been from day one -- and that is the true strength of the platform. Google+ appears to be a social network but is actually a representation of the evolution of user behavior tied to relevant content, search, discoverability, and connection.
Thus, when it comes to maximizing your Facebook strategy, be it acquisition, engagement, or advocacy, it is fairly self-contained within Facebook's walled garden, with the ability to aggregate content to third-party locations and a limited contextual impact on topical search results. That being said, one of the key points of differentiation is how Google+ content is directly relevant to search results, and how that will potentially drive business value around the +1 as it is pervasive beyond Google+.
This statement was just reaffirmed by an email I received from Google this morning: "Your +1's reach not only the 40 million users of Google+, but all users who come to Google every day."
Here are 10 potential strategic advantages and benefits for brands to incorporate Google+ into their 2012 social and search strategies.
Potential brand benefits of Google+ brand pages
Integration with Google search
Google currently owns 68 percent of search market share. The fact that the Google +1 icon is now a part of every Google search result shows a glimpse of the level of integration Google has in store for users and brands alike. A user can directly recommend a link from search results, and that recommendation is simultaneously shared on the user's Google+ +1 profile section. By combining paid search and incenting +1 behaviors, you can begin to see the potential of this level of integration. The user may not be actively engaged on Google+, but the ability to drive a user to engage by recommending content with the click of a single button is appealing.
Now, you can also automatically add Google+ pages to your circles from Google Search. Here is an example of a search for BlackFin360. I choose to +1 the page:
The +1 is then aggregated into my Google+ profile under +1s.
Similar to the Facebook "like" button, the Google +1 button has the opportunity to truly transcend the platform by driving significant third-party integration. In fact the Google +1 button overtook the Twitter tweet button on most major websites, with a 33 percent spike in integration recently. Granted, it is still far behind the "like" button in terms of saturation, but the fact that both Facebook and Google+ drive engagement to a central destination -- as opposed to simply being a conduit to various destinations such as Twitter -- shows the potential of third-party integrations to drive engagement.
According to Google, "People can now recommend your brand, not just your individual ads or sites, helping your +1's add up faster."
The +1's value goes beyond Google+ and really speaks to the longer-term goal of Google, which is true integration and relevance across social and search content. This is an incredibly smart move by Google. What will really win the day for Google is the ability to connect social, search, and self-service profiling. This will further enable brand sites more so than Facebook's internalized approach. Further, with the addition of the +1 to image searches as well as integration with YouTube, it is possible to drive additional +1s from multiple points.
Now you can also automatically add Google+ pages to your circles from Google search. By adding +BrandName as part of your search query, you will be taken directly to the brands Google+ page and have the ability to add to your circles. This is not immediately available and certain steps have to be taken in order to enable this process, but the potential benefits are significant.
Circles and user segmentation
Allowing brands to potentially segment fans is a big win. One of the issues with brand management on Facebook is tied to messaging across audience segments. By allowing brands to seamlessly categorize fans, it allows the style of engagement to change dramatically. Imagine if you are driving engagement with 13- to17-year-old segments as well as 18- to 24-year-olds. The brand and social persona's associated with content could shift to further driving engagement based on audience segment versus a one-size-fits-all approach.
One important note about "circles" for pages is that the brand page cannot add people to its circles until users have already added the page to one of their circles. This is primarily based on messaging to users and having to opt-in by adding the brand into their circles first. Another major change from the user profiles is that all content is set to public.
When it comes to driving an acquisition strategy within Google+ as a brand, it is initially inherently more valuable for a user to add you to a circle as opposed to giving you a +1. Think of it this way: The addition to a user circle is equivalent to a Facebook "like" in terms of impact to the stream and ability to interact directly with users.
Branded circles are arranged by Following, Customers, VIPs, and Team Members.
Google advertising programs
Google+ will inherently "increase the performance of your ads: +1's surface recommendations in search and display ads." (Or so the email from Google referenced.) Looking at the tightly coupled integration with social content, relevance associated with interests within Sparks and Google's display network, Google AdWords and Double Click advertising products, and how robust Google Analytics can be in comparison to Facebook Insights, it is easy to see the strategic benefit to a brand to take advantage of this level of integration.
Sparks and recommendation engine
One of the most impactful elements of Google+ for brands is potentially Sparks. Brands could focus advertising dollars on Sparks programs that are relevant to their brands and product offerings. Taking it a step further, creation of a recommended or +1 relevance based on users and circles sparks, or interests, that is socially shared could be very compelling. This would be very similar to Facebook's sponsored stories.
YouTube, Hangouts, and Google TV integration
With YouTube a part of the Google family, Google+ integration was sure to be a part of the strategy. The inherent social nature of YouTube translates well in terms of integration of +1 -- embedding video and further integrating the YouTube and Google+ experience to make sharing and recommending content even easier. From a brand perspective, being able to distribute unique, consumer-generated content that is relevant to the brand while driving +1s back to a brand page is very appealing. One of the interesting additions was also the decision to integrate Hangouts with YouTube's sharing options.
Now a brand can post video content and possibly give a product preview to VIPs or influencers. This takes the traditional webinar and flips it into a more engaging way to drive F2F discussions.
One area that really intrigues me is how Google TV may integrate with Google+ to create a truly social entertainment experience. I envision further integration between Google TV, YouTube, Hulu, and Android to drive truly integrated entertainment experiences across screens. From a media perspective, you could bridge the gap between traditional and digital placement by incorporating a relevant ad placement via information collected from Sparks and Google Search. This to me is the future of enhanced television.
Google+ and social gaming
Google invested $100 million into Zynga in 2010, and recently rolled out Google+ Games. With more than half of Facebook's 700 million users using Facebook social games every day, it is a key motivator for brands to monitor the Google Games offering. Keep an eye out for how Zynga and others align with Google+ to further drive engagement, creation of options to add users into brand circles, and how game engagement will translate to the Google AdWords program.
The success of recent brand integrations on Facebook with FarmVille, including a recent world record for driving "likes," has forced brand managers to take notice of the power of social games and strategic partnerships with the game providers. With the additional layers of integration found with Google+, it will be interesting to see who can quickly capitalize.
Third-party development platform
One of the keys to successful Facebook engagement has been the enablement of third-party developers to create an application ecosystem within the platform. As with the recent rollout of Google+ Games, Google+ will provide developers access to relevant APIs, as it has done in the past, and the ability to extend the platform. This is crucial to creating opportunities to engage and differentiate on the platform.
Take a look at Google's robust APIs (click to enlarge):
Other areas of focus and interest will be how international or localized regions are supported in terms of aggregating brand +1s, and how the Google+ commerce and currency platform strategies will unfold.
Brands will need to evaluate the true reach and amplification of the +1 from an earned media perspective. Be sure to note the differences in what shows up individually in your streams versus what is tied to content. With Facebook, one of the secrets outside of EdgeRank is the level of detail that is shown by interaction.
There is enough evidence of the potential benefit of Google+ brand pages to dedicate time and ample resources to develop a platform-related digital strategy heading into 2012.
Add BlackFin360 to your circles here.
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