By adaptive - November 29th, 2011

As the new kid on the block, Google+ is gaining followers at a rapid pace. The question is should businesses be paying attention to it right now?  Launched at the end of June as an invitation-o...

As the new kid on the block, Google+ is gaining followers at a rapid pace. The question is should businesses be paying attention to it right now? 

Launched at the end of June as an invitation-only product Google+ is the search-engine giant’s latest attempt at building a social networking contender. With Facebook inexorably marching towards one billion users, the question being asked is whether Google+ can mount a serious challenge to Facebook’s dominance.

One of the keys to the potential of Google+ is the range of tools that Google already owns. And while it’s all too easy to focus on the failures such as Buzz and Wave, it’s important to remember Google’s many successes build on the astonishing success of their search engine. From the start Google+ has been combined with other Google products such as maps and gmail. And the brand’s newly launched iTunes competitor, Google Music, was immediately integrated into the Google+ platform.

Google+ also comes with a range of new features that will – the company claims – differentiate it from Facebook. Notable among these is Circles, which enables users to cluster friends, customers or other participants into discrete groups. Users can share content such as videos, text and pictures with specific people, while excluding others. Hangouts are another innovation – a kind of live videoconference or chatroom into which a user’s friends can dip in and out.

Says Dr Claire Wardle, one of the co-founders of UltraSocial, which helps organisations to develop and maximise their social media presence and potential: “The fact that you can integrate Google docs, create small or large Circles to target conversations, and have multiple video chats, offers interesting elements. I think Hangouts have real opportunities and when companies start using Circles effectively and connecting with certain types of customers who want certain types of information, Google+ might really start to take off.”

Pages: Google+ for corporates

Focusing on the business sector, with the launch in early November of Google+ Pages, the network is fully open to companies and brands. And while Google fully acknowledges that the business platform is still work-in-progress, and that it will develop considerably over the coming months, SEO specialist BrightEdge claims in its November SocialShare update that 61 of the world’s top 100 brands had created Google+ pages within a couple of weeks of the launch.

Tom McCloughlin of The WebMarketing Group says this is sound policy: “I would recommend businesses getting a page now. Early adopters of these platforms normally become the key influencers so the sooner you can be involved the better. Even if the format hasn’t yet been fully established, if you have a basic presence then you are in a good position to capitalise once Google irons out the creases.” Sam Allcock, Director at Custard Media Solutions agrees, pointing out that: “Owning your own business page on new platforms is a very important SEO and reputation management strategy.”

However, Erin Ledbetter, Director of Business Development at Ignite Social Media says that for most brands, she’d recommend holding off on Google+ for now: “There’s a misconception that social media is cheap because anyone can sign up for a Twitter, Facebook, Google+ account for free. However, time is money and it takes time to manage these channels, create content, engage with users, etc. By setting up a page on Google+, brands are simply creating another channel they need to put an effort behind when little to no business value has been established, yet.”

Differentiation in the marketplace

The battle that Google+ is waging at the moment is clearly to win the hearts and minds of Facebook users. In the business and corporate arena where brand awareness and customer conversations now have a monetary value across the social space, adding Google+ to a business’ presence must be carefully evaluated.

Erin Ledbetter of Ignite Social Media isn’t sure that Google+ is different enough, saying that apart from Hangouts and search: “I’ve yet to see a need for Google+ when it comes to social networking that is not fulfilled, in most cases, more successfully by Facebook.” She goes on say that Hangouts might not be a differentiator for long, pointing out that: “Facebook announced group chat in July and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them come out with group video chat in the future, especially given their Skype partnership.”

With UltraSocial’s Dr Claire Wardle concluding: “The reason Google+ has so much power is because of Google Search. I expect it will soon come to a point that when someone searches for a type of product in Google, the top links will include Google+ pages for that type of product. You want to be there, using Google+ successfully to rank highly.”

Time will tell: Google+ has had massive take-up in a very short time – seeing much faster growth from launch than either Twitter or Facebook – but this implies a similarly high level of expectation. If it lives up to this promise, then Google+ could well attain the tipping point, and become as much a fixture in the lives of Internet users as the search engine that spawned it.

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