Google, which launched its social network 100 days ago, is adding a feature that puts another Facebook feature directly in its crosshairs: Google+ Pages.
Google+ Pages are the approximate equivalent of Facebook's fan pages, which have become central to the strategies of brands from Starbucks to L'Oreal to Pampers over the past several years. Marketers have spent heavily both to create pages on Facebook, and in their unending quest for "fans" that declare their allegiance to the brand.
Google's Pages will be open to a much wider array of businesses, organizations and brands than on Facebook. Anyone will be able to create a page for anything. Google will also make it tougher for operators of those pages -- be they brands, organizations, sports teams or clubs -- to add their equivalent of a fan to what Google calls "Circles." And Google+ users will have to opt in to a page to receive any sort of communication from the brand.
Pages are for anything, whereas profiles are for people," Google VP Bradley Horowitz told Ad Age . "None of these pages can interact with you unless you invite them into your life."
Google's +1 button will not automatically subscribe anyone to a brand page. Rather, Google is introducing a new button that brands or publishers can use to allow visitors to join a circle in one click.
In addition, Google is introducing a new search command that will act as a shortcut to joining a circle, in hopes of making the action as natural as a search query. If users type "+pepsi" into the search box, that command can automatically subscribe them to PepsiCo's Google+ page.
The first time a user tries a "+" search, Google will ask if they want to subscribe directly this way. "It's a setting users can change at any time," Mr. Horowitz said.
Unlike Facebook, Google won't attempt to derive any direct ad revenue from Pages, though they will be tightly integrated into search, Google's ad products and analytics. There will be no direct way to "buy" new fans through advertising, other than, say, a search or display ad outside of Google+. Google expects that having businesses in Google+ will enhance its other businesses, such as search and mobile advertising.
In addition to big brands it hopes to attract, Google wants small businesses that may or may not have websites to use its G+ "Pages" as their default presences. While Google isn't announcing it today, pages will soon be location-aware, allowing local businesses to send offers and deals to mobile phones.
Kevin Barenblat, CEO of social-marketing firm ContextOptional, doesn't expect the addition of Pages to diminish marketer enthusiasm for other platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. "One of the opportunities Google+ Pages offers to marketers is another prominent home on the social web," he said.
Most big brands already spend plenty of ad dollars on Google, mainly on search, and much more than they currently spend on Facebook. "One of the great things about search is it captures people as they are looking to purchase," Mr. Barenblat said. "But this is an opportunity to catch them earlier in the decision-making process."
As has happened on Facebook, both Google and brands face a learning process in terms of how best to use the new tools. Google is allowing brands to create any number of pages; BMW could, for example, create a separate page for each model of car. They are also allowing page administrators to put just 5,000 people in "circles," meaning most of the pages' communications will be accessibly by anyone.
Google will allow Pages to have "Hangouts," basically one-to-many conversations in a defined group.
When Google+ launched initially, hundreds of brands attempted to set up pages immediately, even though the service had no users. It was a sign of how deeply social-media strategies are now embedded in the marketing plans for brands. Going forward, however, brands will allocate resources based on impact, and Google+ still has 40 million users compared to Facebook's 800 million-plus .
"We knew brands would come when there were users we did not expect to have this many users this fast," Mr. Horowitz said.