It's early and Google hasn't officially opened brand pages, but here's Exploring Social Media's preliminary guide to marketing on Google+.
DON'T FORGET: The resources over on the left side include some fun facts about Google+ and a video tour from Jason.
The big question right now is what will Google's "unique experience" for brands look like. Product manager Christian Oestlein cautioned us not to set up Plus profiles for our businesses like so many of us (yeah ... most of us did) with Facebook before it developed something different. He actually announced yesterday that Google was bringing consumer profiles to everyone faster. He recommended you set up a consumer profile as originally intended but as an official representative of the company. See more here:
While there's not a lot of definition yet, there is a clear definition that businesses need to be associated with human beings. A logo and a brand name is not going to cut it … yet. So adhere to what Google says they want to keep your nose clean here.
Google says the way people interact with brands and businesses is different than how they interact with other people. Fair. But if a brand or business is "social" (which most aren't) then that is less applicable. Perhaps Google is going to try to bring some impersonality back to business? Surely not.
The truth is, we have to wait and see. And that's frustrating. In the meantime, let's put some context around what Google+ is, can be and might be for the marketer, knowing their official brand profile or page experience has yet to be unveiled. So let's dive into what we can do now to use, but also prepare for the coming changes and opportunities, Google+ can offer.
The first thing we want to recognize is that Google is morphing into not necessarily a a more sophisticated version of Facebook, but a more sophisticated version of itself. It has already announced it will retire Picasa and Blogger, it long-standing photo sharing and blogging platforms.. They will be incorporated now into Google+. So where Facebook has its own images and videos, blogs (via notes) and various apps, Google now will integrate what were seemingly disparate services into a mega service. This will ultimately pose a serious threat to Facebook.
Bryan Eisenberg said on the SEM Synergy podcast that Facebook is the social media version of AOL: It has everyone hooked. Now companies like Google will come in and upgrade everyone's experience and expectations. Frankly, I can see that happening, though I think Facebook is much more in tune with its customers than AOL was or than we give it credit for. Certainly someone learned something from the AOL/Netscape/Excite and perhaps soon-to-be Yahoo! experiences.
What I think is most compelling about Google+ is that it serves Google with more data about users and what they're saying, sharing and who they're interacting with. Think about this: A user logs in to Gmail. Due to privacy law and certain settings Google can only glean so much about the user there. But the user stays logged in and Google tracks what the individual searches, what websites they visit from those searches, websites in the Google Ad Display network that recognize the browser cookie and they've got more information about the user.
But then the user goes to Facebook for their social interactions. Now they're off the Google grid and behind Facebook's walled garden. Google can't find out what they're doing socially, or at least not as easily as it could if the user were being social on a Google property. Hence: Google+. Now Google can pull together a more accurate and relevant definition of who we are. This helps them deliver more relevant advertising to us in more relevant places and perhaps at more relevant times.
Don't get all big brothery on me. The information Google uses -- and we have to trust this is true (I do) -- is anonymized. Right Guard can't say, "I want to target Jason Falls." But they can say, "I want to target 38-year-old men in Louisville, Ky., that share content about technology and visit TechCrunch once a week with our new ad for Smell-Like-A-Geek deodorant."
As Glenn Cabe pointed out on Search Engine Journal, this gives Google a closed loop between search and social. It makes for a more powerful consumer data set which empowers a more successful advertising business. And, though probably not the highest priority for the network but still important, it can produce a more compelling user experience for us.
What Can Marketers Do Now
While you certainly can go get Gmail account and set up a profile acting as your company, chances are Google is going to either delete that account or turn on business-oriented features you'll want when it finally does release its version of brand pages. Our best advice is to experiment and experience Google+ as an individual, get used to its features, think about how you can use the personal features as a business, then be ready to jump when the big brand page day comes.
Here are some things I think marketers can do personally -- and potentially as brands or companies when that day comes -- to optimize Google+:
Follow Standard Best Practices
Optimize Your Profile - Use keywords and descriptions people might search related to your business or brand
Link generously - Remember, Google likes links. They help it index more of the web which drives its cash cow: Search. Plus, people benefit from the traffic and search value. Those that understand what that means will likely reciprocate with your content.
Use pictures and videos! Like Facebook, images (first) then videos (second) attract more eyeballs and slow down the page scroll. Compelling images bring more people to your content.
Photo use means you'll be using Google's Picasa platform a bit. Might be a good time to learn more about Picasa and perhaps even switching from Flickr.
Segment the people in your circles by category, but keep in mind one person may qualify to be included in more than one Circle. For instance, Nick Huhn works with me here at Exploring Social Media, so I might have him in a co-worker Circle. But he's also a Friend and also lives in Louisville and our kids go to the same school. So I might have him in my Friends Circle, Louisville Circle and PTA Circle.
Think about how to apply this to a business page. You could potentially segment your audiences to customize your shares and messages for higher relevancy to the audience. A shoe store can send different messages to women than men, for instance.
Businesses could also create an "Inner Circle" for loyal customers and treat them extra special with coupons, links and content you don't share elsewhere.
You can use hangouts -- group video chats that you can invite up to 10 people to -- and offer live video chat sessions with your community manager, marketing staff or executives. The limitations will make them seem scarce, thus valuable.
For either your company or yourself personally, you can set up a circle of experts or influencers you want to connect with or at least read their content and filter it out easier.
Frankly, Sparks doesn't compel me. It's a feed reader pulling from various news sources, but they seem big and generic an not my news sources. I prefer Google Reader. But just like Yahoo news or some topical searches you might do to find news in your industry, they can be a nice, useful addition to where you get content.
It does offer a simple social media monitoring functionality. I have Sparks for "Exploring Social Media" "Social Media Explorer" and "Jason Falls" and look at them every so often to see what Google is finding out there on the web mentioning my companies or my name. But I'm not going to rely on Sparks to monitor my brand. There are lots more versatile software packages out there that do that. See our lessons on Social Media Monitoring for more.
What Makes Google+ So Different, User-Experience-Wise?
Google's user experience (or UX for short) design has always been fairly utilitarian, somewhat intuitive, linear, but disorganized, in my opinion. Google+ follows that look and feel and is frustrating a bit for linear thinkers like me. Putting one person in more than one Circle, for instance, took some thought on my part. It wasn't second nature to just say, "Oh! Nick belongs in a lot of different circles!"
Sending updates also dictates that you be very cognizant of which circles you're sharing with or you'll share with whichever circle you've browsed to. In Facebook, when you're in a Group, you post to that Group's page. When you post on a brand's page, you don't post anywhere else (unless you tag people or brands in your post).
In G+ you can post anything from any stream and add, subtract or choose which of your circles you wish to share that update with. You have to stop and think, which you really haven't ever had to do before. It's a behavior change which means some people will screw it up and share with the wrong circles. (I'm sure the media will then blame Google+ for some congressman showing his wang on Plus, but I digress.) The behavior change is the powerful features behind G+, however, so its one I'd bet most people are willing to make.
Notifications technically operate like Facebook, but are less intuitive to find and use than Facebook's red number on white and blue icons. Google+'s doesn't stand out as much. Psychologically, this makes it seem harder to keep up since you have to make an effort to find your notifications.
But these are my opinions. There are Google fan boys and girls, just like there are nutters for Macs. They'll swear I've lost my mind for criticizing anything about the Google experience. That's fine. Everyone will like or dislike different things about the network. But one thing we'll all have to agree on: Google+ is now a major social media player and we not only have to pay attention to it, we have to figure out if and how it can help our companies.
You'll likely have questions. As always, just hit "Ask" at the top or bottom of any page here and we'll answer as best we can! (Remember ... it's new to us, too!)