With more than 10 million users sharing nearly one billion pieces of content each day, the Google+ social networking service has potential to be a true game changer in the way people connect and communicate over social media channels.
A few brands such as Ford and Mashable managed to carve an early presence on the service, but Google has since advised companies against creating personal profiles until its platform for businesses is ready. The company says the brand pages will offer a deeper experience than personal profiles due to integration with Google AdWords and the potential for in-depth analytics feedback.
As a pioneering brand on Google+, Ford has focused most of its recent efforts on figuring out the service and its potential, as well as spreading the word about its presence through the network.
“The most important thing is asking people what they want from us,” said Scott Monty, global digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford. Monty added that the company is keeping a close eye on figuring out what the community wants in order to deliver the best experience possible for consumers.
For example, followers expressed that they are interested in opportunities to interact with Ford designers and engineers on Google+, so the company is working to assess how it can grant that wish. One idea is to enable users to participate in video chats with Ford employees through the Google+ Hangouts feature.
“This is something really neat for us to focus on moving forward as we continue to humanize the Ford brand,” Monty said.
Though Google could not be reached for comment, Ford confirmed that the two companies have been in close communication about Ford's experience on the service before Google rolls out the brand pages to businesses at large.
“We are working closely with the Google team to make sure they've got our feedback directly,” Monty said.
As the waiting game continues, many communications pros are gearing up for the launch of the business pages and the potentially large impact this may have on social media strategy and communications.
“Any time a company with the clout of Google introduces a product you have to pay attention because they are just so vast and they have so much influence over the market,” said Sandra Fathi, president of Affect. “You have to take a close look to see how this will change or disrupt the market."
Fathi thinks Affect's roster of mainly B2B clients will likely be slower to adopt the service than B2C brands, but the agency's employees are still conducting research in order to obtain a strong grasp of Google+ to be able to help clients navigate the channel when the time comes. She added that until more consumers adopt the service it may be hard to advise on strategy, because at this point she can't tell clients that a certain demographic of consumers is waiting to be interacted with on Google+.
“Until there's critical mass it's also hard to justify the ROI,” she added.
While the service doesn't seem to offer many services yet that are unavailable on other social media platforms, the fact that Google + brings together a number of useful communications tools may prove to be a draw for brands and consumers alike.
“Right now Google+ is replicating experiences available elsewhere, but aggregating them in an interesting way,” Fathi said. “Which, in itself, has value.”
Like many communications professionals, Chris Vary, SVP of emerging technologies at Weber Shandwick, is waiting for the service to launch before designing any Google+ related communications plans. But he thinks that from an analytics and search perspective, the service may prove to be a huge tool for some of Weber's clients
“We do see it as a strong player for many brands as we are looking to do more search-related social media,” Vary said.
To help the agency prepare to use this potentially game-changing tool, an internal team is working to assess the service and best determine which clients it makes sense for, how it can best be used, and which verticals it will be most appropriate for, such as healthcare, travel, consumer, automotive, or food.
“The only problem is that Google hasn't released what it means for brands,” he said, referring to the fact that Google hasn't provided many details about what the brand pages will contain yet .
American Airlines is one client for which Weber is very interested in establishing a Google+ presence. The agency thinks the highly integrated platform could be a great way to monitor consumer conversations relating to American Airlines and the travel sector.
Additionally, Vary says Google+'s "plus one" feature has potential to drive search traffic for brands.
“We'll be able to track that with deeper metrics,” he said.