Marketers Intrigued by Google+ but Questions Abound

Brands Fully Embraced Facebook as an Advertising and Communications Platform. Will This Measure Up?

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Even though the Google+ social network is still in diapers, it's a baby that 's growing at a lightning pace, with more than 10 million users signed up in only two weeks.

Finally, it looks like Facebook has a competitor, and brands are scrambling to get in on the ground floor. This week Google closed its application process for companies that desperately want to be included in the test phase of Google+ business pages, and some of the agencies that help brands maximize their Facebook presence are thinking ahead, anticipating similar client needs for soon-to-come Google+ brand pages.

"If I'm a brand, I would be preparing for a very structured conversation with your agency as to how to on-board your brand into Google+," said Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer, who works with clients including Nike , Nintendo and HBO. "The opportunity here is for technology and service providers to tap into the potential of a real-time communication platform and the opportunity for agencies is to help their clients to develop the right strategy, approach and execution for Google+."

Building out brands on Facebook has turned into big business -- costing up to tens of thousands of dollars a month -- and if Google has its way, companies such as Buddy Media, Vitrue, Blinq MEdia, WildFire, 22squared and many others could be adding Google+ optimization to their offerings.

"We're seeing Google+ as a strong competitor in social media from an advertising opportunity," said David Williams, CEO of Blinq Media. "The brand pages need to roll out, an ad model needs to develop, and we want to take advantage of all Google+ has to offer."

Mr. Williams, who works with brands including Baskin Robbins and Mentos, says that because Google has expertise in search, what has always been true for Google and Facebook remains: While Facebook knows who you are, Google knows what you want. That difference could be a major advantage when it comes to advertising. "Facebook has interest data, but not intent data," Mr. Williams said. "Google will have a tremendous amount of intent data that could allow them to create a better ad model for social than Facebook -- a very, very powerful ad model."

Despite all the potential, no one really knows what Google is going to do with brand pages -- what they look like and what features they'll have -- and, most important, if Google+ can make transition from the safe confines of worshipful tech power users to more mainstream users. Buddy Media CEO Mike Lazerow said his clients need big numbers. "Our core focus is on the social networks that have scale and that our clients are interested in," he said. "Google+ could be one of these, but as of now it's not."

Building a brand presence on Facebook or any social network doesn't make much sense if marketers can't promote that presence and that 's where paid advertising comes in. And so far, that doesn't exist on Google+.

It took Facebook years to find the right advertising model for the social network, and that 's still very much a work in progress. Google may be able to use some of its typical ad platforms on Google+, but its challenge is to come up with ad units that fit that particular environment, a similar obstacle Facebook faced did before coming up with "Sponsored Stories."

Without waiting for the release of "official" pages, many brands -- including Dell and Ford -- signed up profiles on Google+ practically the minute they could, only to be asked to slow down. Businesses have been asked to take down their profiles, Google in an announcement said: "Please note that we are still actively closing profiles that are being used by businesses." The same announcement said it will be selecting companies to participate in the test phase next week.

"Introducing a brand into a new environment, there's a risk of losing the value that you've created, especially since Google can shut you down," Mr. Schafer said, adding that copyright, trademark and terms of service must be clarified before businesses can take it seriously.

But as Google+ users already share 1 billion items a day, agencies and brands need to figure out how to begin integrating Google+ and its circles, huddles and hangouts into an all-inclusive digital ad strategy to become one of the billion pieces of content shared daily.

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