It's official: Google's answer to Facebook is finally here with the launch of Google+ Brand Profiles. There's only one major problem with that : Google+ is not Facebook. Scrawl those four words on a Post-It and stick it on your monitor or iPad until you memorize them. That's the first step toward mastering Google+ for marketing.
This may be hard to believe. Google+ has been billed as a Facebook killer, its user homepage layout borrows heavily from Facebook, and now there are free self-service branded pages for marketers similar conceptually to what Facebook introduced in November 2007 – almost four years ago to the day. Despite all of this, Google+ is different. This is largely because Facebook the company has only one eponymous flagship product, and Google the company is using Google+ as both a networking hub and a social layer across its diverse suite of digital products.
There are several reasons in particular for brands to treat Google+ as something entirely different. Here are the top three:
People use Google+ in different ways from Facebook. There is some overlap in uses like status updates and photo sharing. Google+ has social games, but that 's not part of the core functionality. Group video chats, dubbed Hangouts, are core to the experience, as are threaded conversations that can make discussions especially vibrant. Marketers who manage communities across various properties like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and message boards typically customize their own messaging rather than blasting the same post everywhere. Largely by testing and learning, marketers will learn what kinds of content works best for their brands on Google+.
Every link shared through Google+ has search engine optimization implications. At the most basic level, when links shared through Google+ attract +1's from a user (Google's version of the Facebook "like"), then that user's friends logged into their Google accounts will see the +1 for relevant searches. For instance, when I'm signed into Google and I search for "cream cheese recipes," I see that two friends and three others +1'ed kraftbrands.com/philly, while no one has +1'ed the related links on Allrecipes, Food Network, and About.com. That means SEO teams will want to be closely involved with the content strategy for Google+ Brand Profiles. It also means that if links with more +1's start attracting higher click-through rates, and perhaps even higher rankings in search engine results pages, then marketers will be extremely motivated to keep sharing more content through Google+.
Every link shared through Google+ has media implications as well. Those +1's appearing on natural search engine results can also wind up appearing on advertisers' paid search ads and display ads running on Google. If Google+ achieves enough scale, and if ads with +1's garner higher CTRs as expected, then Google+ powered ads will wind up as the most successful form of social advertising online. Facebook and Twitter also pioneered very successful social ads, but Facebook ads only appear on Facebook.com, and Twitter ads only appear on Twitter properties and select third-party Twitter clients. Google+ powered ads are already starting to appear all over the web.
To that end, a brand doesn't need a Google+ Brand Profile to add +1's to ads, but having a vibrant community connected to the Brand Profile could be a major driver of those +1's. If Brand Profiles drive enough +1's on ads, then the costs of community management and strategy around Google+ could be offset by the savings in media spend due to higher Quality Scores. There are no guarantees that everything will work as planned, but marketers have never had such an opportunity before, and arguably no other digital publisher can dangle such a carrot.
Despite all the reasons to treat Google+ has a unique offering, marketers that decide to create and manage Brand Profiles will need to allocate resources somehow. In an ideal world, marketers will add more community management resources without pulling them from existing programs while allowing ample opportunity for the Brand Profile community lead to interface with strategy, paid media, and SEO. Realistically, in the short term, marketers who are already at capacity for social programs will shift their existing staff's time from Facebook, Twitter, and other communities; community managers who are reluctant to cut back will wind up working an hour or two later each day.
Resource allocation should be a short-term challenge. If Google+ Brand Profiles add little value, it will plummet on marketers' priority lists. If the Profiles prove themselves, case studies and anecdotal reports will encourage marketers to invest in making them more successful. If you want one metric to watch, check if there's a sudden surge in help wanted posts for community managers come Q1. Google+ may make them in even higher demand, with the requisite skill set of working well with strategists, media planners, search engine optimization specialists, and other members of cross-functional teams.