Google has decided to breathe down Facebook's neck with a new social network that looks an awful lot like Facebook, only with a plus sign attached. Soon we'll see a Google+ version of Facebook's wildly popular product pages, even though Google's group product manager, Christian Oestlien, announced today that it would temporarily be shutting down non-user profiles, while opening up a beta program for those who apply.
Before we can predict Google's upcoming "public" version of product pages, we need to acknowledge the differences between Facebook and Google's strategy. Even though Google presented the world with a product that is 97% similar to Facebook's product, it is attempting to differentiate itself by fulfilling a real need in the social world -- the need to divide your friends into different groups, just like in real life.
Google is attempting to distance itself from Facebook by mainly creating "circles" that allow you to divide the people you know into groups and share individually targeted content. This might seem like a small difference, but in the social world, a slight change in delivery can completely affect the nature of the interaction. For example, Facebook requires that you accept every friend, but Twitter makes it a bit easier for people out of your network to follow your newsfeed -- creating a more "open" environment.
All of our clients at FanGager, including global organizations like American Express and Microsoft, are looking for methods to target specific audiences on social networks -- like posting wall messages for women only. My assumption is that Google will attempt to capitalize on this void, and apply the notion of building individual audiences to its version of pages. This will allow page owners to communicate with different groups through one main page.
So, according to this logic, the products page will only look similar to personal profiles when logging in. Perhaps in addition to asking what circle they want to join, surfers will also be asked if they wish to join circles based on a specific category -- such as those looking for discounts, for brand fans or for fans of the brand's spokesperson. This way, they can choose the value they get personally when visiting the page.
The next stage will be combining all of Google's unique abilities into a section of the product pages, such as its map services and the business services basket. This may include the unique features of Google Analytics, which could feature not only the page's results, but more importantly, the movement from the Google+ page to the website; linking the visitor's social engagement with sales and other ROI goals.
So, who wins and who loses when Google+ launches its own version of Facebook product pages?
Short-term loser: brands First of all, Google+ shut down any brand pages already created and is now controlling access to a beta program that will be great for brands that get in early like Ford and MTV but bad for everyone else. It creates a period of uncertainty for brands, as well as another platform they need to be concerned about.
But on the plus side, this delay will give brands some time to get used to the platform and start developing a strategy. Brands will still have to train its social media managers and focus resources that may already be taxed by other social sites for the new marketing platform. But, for now, brands can figure out how, and if they should, create messaging that will be consistent across all its social networks, along with the daunting task of managing more fans.
In the long term, brands could be the overall biggest winner of the targeted "circle" trend. If all moves forward as it should, and other sites catch up to the trend, brands will be able to develop more individualized messaging that will meet specific ROI goals -- i.e. sales, website traffic, etc.
Immediate winner: fans and customers Once the pages are officially launched, fans will be able to create their own experience and conversations with brands. So, instead of receiving "white noise" from product pages, they will potentially receive what is only relevant to their individual interests. This can include information on specific discount promotions, customer queries on individual products or issues and other unique requests. Basically, they will now have the ability to get what they really want out of the brands they follow.
Facebook The social network will do what it always does -- pressure itself to be better. (As shown by yesterday's new product rollouts.) Expect it to continue to expand its product pages with new applications and services. Sure, it'll probably add similar Google services (its only fair), like more advanced data analytics and targeted fan engagement activities. But I don't think Facebook is worried, yet, due to its current social dominance.
It's very early but the opportunity for the corporate world is building with this upcoming launch.