We kind of knew it was coming. It was only a mater of time. Earlier this week, Google announced that it was allowing companies and brands, perhaps giving brands their desired place of residence on the fastest growing social network on the Internet today. So as soon as the opportunity arose, the race to secure the Google+ pages began — a land grab, if you will. And it was weird that this brand-friendly feature wound up being so controversial because at the beginning, when Google first rolled out Google+, they didn’t want any companies to really set up shop there…it was supposed to be more individualistic and they summarily decided to remove company profiles. That was nearly four months ago and some might wonder what happened during that four month period to cause Google to allow brand pages now – did they create a cool new system within Google+ that would really knock our socks off? Or was it to take the entire network out for a spin and get some mileage on it? Whatever the reason, the fact that they decided to wait has weighed heavily on the community’s evaluation of this program. When it was all said and done, the community seemed to pretty much state that they weren’t totally impressed.
The gist about Google+ pages
So Google+ pages are here and they’re apparently quite easy to set up. But some might even say that for the most part, they’re just profiles of brands on Google+…nothing that exciting. After all, the structure of a Google+ brand page doesn’t look any different than what would you see on your own Google profile. Are there new features that would help separate a Google+ page from an individual’s page? Not really. But Google does go the effort to try and justify why brands should be on Google+:
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. All you need to do is start sharing, and you’ll soon find the super fans and loyal customers that want to say hello.
Essentially, Google+ pages are community hangouts where brands can meet with their customers virtually and en masse and talk about what’s going on with their products, share news, and talk about issues surrounding the industry and what problems everyone is having. And believe me, there is a lot of potential for brands to have pages on Google+.
Build and connect with your community
In the screenshot above, you can see just what a brand page looks like on the social network. It’s very much like an individual profile with specific photos at the top underneath your header and description. Aside from that, the potential for brands is pretty wide open. Just what can brands do to grow their community and engage?
1. Post interesting content and solicit comments and feedback
Just like you might expect from FriendFeed, brands can go ahead and add in content they wish to share. In the case of the All-American Rejects, they can talk about their latest concert tour, find out what people think about their album, share video interviews, or just have hangouts and talk with their fans in a more private and accessible manner. It’s more than just a status update that you would get from Facebook. In fact, you’re going to be able to share this information with millions more without having them be your friend or fan you on the network. It seems that Google+’s system and mannerisms are to make information as accessible and open as possible….well, that is, unless the brand decides to make it open to specific audiences (i.e., Circles). And that leads me to my second point…
2. Special content for special Circles
If you want to share specific content to various members, perhaps leveraging Circles would be the best move. Imagine wanting to post specific content about a tour that only those in a certain area can participate in or attend. Instead of broadcasting it out to the entire Internet (or Google+ community), some brands may prefer to have it only viewable by those in a certain Circle. Maybe those who want to be entered into being a part of their fan club could get exclusive news about deals, pricing, specials, etc. just by having the brand add them to a certain Circle.
3. Allow the community to hang out with you
One of the things that separates Google+ from Facebook are their Hangouts. For brands, this could be a killer feature that they’ll want to take part of. For bands, they’ll be able to host special musical performances virtually. For CPG, they’ll be able to host impromptu focus groups or have celebrities be interviewed or do behind-the-scenes videos of their marketing promotions and events. Media companies will be able to do live interviews and solicit questions from the masses. In fact, they’re already doing that now with FOX News inviting people to join them for a Hangout where they will allow audience members to chat with the Republican candidates. Needless to say, video opportunities to communicate with their fans are endless.
4. Connect people to more than just your page
One small, but perhaps helpful feature that brand pages have are “related links”. What this will allow brands to do are share links to other properties so that they can grow their community in other ways.
So what’s the bad news?
Right after the launch of these brand pages, Google announces that as one of the “perks”, that contests and promotions are not allowed on the pages. I suppose that goes to them wanting more transparency and authenticity. This is a big mistake that I think should be remedied because I know that for a lot of consumer-focused companies will want to utilize creative marketing on their Google pages. We’ve all seen it for Facebook pages, so why not with Google+? TechCrunch is reporting that:
Per Google’s Google+ Pages Contest and Promotion Policies section, Page admins are informed that they may not “run contests, sweepstakes, offers, coupons or other such promotions” on their Google+ Page. Instead, they may display a link on Google+ that points to a separate site where the Promotion is hosted.
So the only way that companies can do promotions is by linking out to their own sites? I believe that doesn’t have the same viral effect as having it hosted on that network since you’re going to take them away from where they’re at and increase the chance at losing their attention.
Even technologist Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) feels that there’s something wrong with Google+ branded pages. One of the things he cites is that only one person can be an administrator for these pages. Why would that be important? Because right now Google is locking in the creator of a brand page into managing the account. So if you, as the creator, happen to go on vacation, are you supposed to give your login information to a co-worker? What if that login information is for your work email? There’s some security issues there and it doesn’t emote a sense of community. Having multiple people participate in the brand page will help show your customers just how diverse the team is and there’s just not one spokesperson managing the community…the entire team has to be invested in this effort. In fact, this basically sums up the main grievance that Mr. Scoble has about Google+’s brand pages:
So, let me get this straight, only one person, working on one team, can post to a social networking account? So, if the brand needs to say something to customers in a high-touch, high-service business like [Rackspace] (we have customer service people posting and answering phones and talking on chat 24 hours a day 365 days a year) they will need to wake me up to get me to post something? Really? Google, did you really think this through?
And he does have a point…for all the interesting features that Google has rolled out for brands, one wonders whether they actually thought about the community management aspect of having brand pages or are they more interested in the 1:1 conversations that they’d like to see take place. Okay, I suppose it’s not a 1:1, but more like one-to-many ratio. However it is, who knows what the adoption of Google+ will be. Sure, many pages are being set up by folks like World Wrestling Entertainment, Mashable, The Muppets, Angry Birds, All American Rejects, Good Morning America, Citi, Toyota, and many others, but I can imagine that this is a new frontier – not like the Facebook pages of long ago…everyone is taking a “wait and see” approach before putting more investment into it.
And that puts pressure on Google to make it right. We’re still waiting to be impressed.
Image credit: flickr.com/modenadude