Despite Stumble, Brands See Potential in Google+ Business Pages

Social Network So Far Is for Consumers Only -- Unless You're Ford

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Google+ brand pages. For something that doesn't even exist, they've sure caused a lot of controversy. It's not clear why Google was taken by surprise at the massive demand from brands and companies for profiles on Google+ -- after all, Facebook brand pages and Twitter brand accounts have existed for years.

Ford's Google+ profile
Ford's Google+ profile

The search giant's response to the demand has been one of contradiction and confusion, but perhaps fitting for a product released in beta to a limited number of users. First, Google suspended the profiles created for brands, such as Mashable and Sesame Street , but then reinstated just one -- Ford Motor Company's page. (Google reps said they reserve the right to use Ford for testing purposes.) Then, Google collected tens of thousands of applications for a pool of companies to be allotted a limited number of business accounts, only to decide that was not the way to go and announce that business profiles would become available to one and all in the next two months.

It wasn't just the noisy Google+ digirati who didn't like the way things were handled. Even Google social head Vic Gundotra admitted to TechCrunch that he "made a mistake" in his handling of business accounts.

But has all the hoopla hurt brands' desire to work with Google? Not a bit. In fact, brands are looking forward to trying out what appears to be the only real competitor Facebook has seen in years. Sure, Google+ only has around 20 million users compared with Facebook's 700 million, but Google may have finally found a recipe for social success.

Shiv Singh, global head of digital at PepsiCo, said he thinks Google+ has great potential because it combines the best of social media. "Google+ tries to take the best from Facebook and the best from Twitter and brings it together," Mr. Singh said, alluding to the ease of sharing content on Google+ as well as choosing who to share with -- the selected friends grouped into now infamous "circles."

But perhaps more importantly than its slick user interface, Mr. Singh said he's looking forward to getting what it is that Google's good at from Google+: analytics. "Google has said publicly that its going to roll out with really strong analytics," Mr. Singh said.

Indeed, good analytics for brands are missing from Facebook. When interviewed for another article, Wendy Clark, Coca-Cola's head of integrated marketing and communications, said she wanted Facebook to come up with a benchmark way to measure success on the platform. (The brand's unofficial Coca-Cola Google profile -- not created by anyone from the company -- technically violates Google's terms of service, but has not yet been suspended.)

Another appealing part of Google+ for brands is its potential to let marketers target consumers in a better way. Scott Monty, head of Ford's social media, said that Ford is looking forward to the in-depth analytics that Google will be able to provide because targeting is important for the company, which launches different models of cars in different parts of the year all over the world. "An accurate assessment of who is engaging with our content and where they're from -- that 's particularly important since we're a global company," said Mr. Monty. "We're looking for the ability to determine the specific demographics about our followers in a way that 's not as basic as what we see on Facebook, but more in depth so can target our posts."

Brands could be the ultimate winners in the targeted "circle" game. Demographically sophisticated circles could allow brands to develop individualized messaging that will, finally, be relevant and interesting to their fans.

On Google+, Mr. Monty said that Ford has been testing various kinds of content and that fans of Ford have been asking for access to the engineers and car designers in the company. They have also been requesting archival data from the company's history, such as photos of cars. Ford has been using the "hangout" feature to have live video chats with fans and executives of the company.

Neither Google nor Ford wanted to explain how or why Ford was selected to be the one and only brand that 's allowed to keep a profile on Google+, but Mr. Monty said that Ford is "working closely with Google to determine what features we're requesting and other features that we think would be good."

Beyond Ford, Google spokesman Jim Prosser says Google+ just isn't ready for business, yet. "We don't want brands doing this in the consumer experience, it's not built for businesses," he said. "Businesses can expect from Google marketing tools like analytics and measurement."

Are other brands angry that they don't get to play around with Google? Perhaps, but PepsiCo thinks the wait will be worth it. "I'm happy waiting a bit," PepsiCo's Mr. Singh said. "Because I know they're putting in the rigor behind developing the right analytics and designing the brand pages so they meet business needs. Giving their history with AdSense and AdWords, I'm confident that they will do a really thoughtful job when rolling out the brand pages. They've been working with brands for years, they really know us and know what we want."

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