In the summer of 2011, Google launched its latest attempt at social networking, following the failures of Google Buzz, Google Wave, Orkut, and Jaiku – just to name a few. While Google+ has picked up a few million users, brands have been hesitant to adopt profiles on the social network as popular interest in Google+ is still lacking. To add to this hesitation, some super-savvy brands initially created profiles when Google+ first launched, only to be kicked off the network as Google told these brands – including the likes of Ford and news outlets such as Mashable – that it was intended for people only. Ford, however, was invited to test the development of brand pages, which officially launched in November, 2011. The result? A profile that looks and functions almost identical to profiles that people use, with the exception that brand pages are verified and identified with a square.
I recently had a chance to sit down and talk with Scott Monty, Head of social media at Ford Motor Company, about Ford’s strategy for their Google+ page. Scott explained why Ford decided to integrate Google+ into their social media strategy, and why other brands should consider doing the same.
Google Plus Is Not Just Another Social Network
Scott’s most adamant point about using Google+ as a brand (in this case, as Ford) is that Google+ is not just another social network – at least, not in the sense of a social network such as Facebook. On his personal blog, Scott explains that instead, Google+ is like a brand’s social “glue” that will bring together your social presence on the web – as well as your customer’s experience on the internet as well. This is primarily because of the dominance of Google and its integration with your customers lives, such as in their email (Gmail), their consumption of news and how they find what they are looking for (search), how they share their thoughts (Blogger), how they communicate (Google Chat), how your customers share photos (Picasa, which now integrates Picnik) and how they create and collaborates on files (Docs.) Scott told me that for brands, Google+ “is a common thread that can weave through all of their web experience. Along with the +1 button, brands can step it up a level with their search results, as these will then become contextual search results.” Scott said that for Ford, there was a huge value in this for the company. Although they already pay for advertising, this extra value in search results is another element to enriching search results. Scott points out that Google+ as a “hub” is very different from Facebook, in that Facebook has developed from the inside-out, expanding as it developed. Google+, however, brings all of a user’s social experiences together into one place. Brands that do the same will find that Google+ is extremely powerful “glue” that can tie together their search, video, offers local information and blog and even microblogging that users will eventually inevitably find – if the brand is on Google+.
Targeted Marketing: The Future of Social
One of biggest key differences in feature sets between other social networks, and Google+, is Circles. This feature, available to both brands and individuals, allows users to categorize their friends and then target their updates on Google+ to these specific categories, or Circles, if they so choose. While Scott notes that categorizing the entire follower base of a brand is impossible (as I write this, 208998 Google+ users have added Ford to their circles), the potential use of Circles could make a huge and positive impact on how brands can use social media to target their fans. Scott says that currently, brands essentially market on Facebook with the “spray and pray” method, as brands try to garner as many fans as possible and hope they convert. With Google+, however, Scott explains there is an ability to not only have single presence (as opposed to several pages for brand, each devoted to different product for different types of customers), but also create interests groups that leverage Circles to target users interested in different products or campaigns. For example, Scott explains that Ford has over 60 pages, but with Google+, Ford only needs one page with which they could potentially target users in a specific geographic region who may be interested in a specific vehicle. Scott says that “for us as a global company, this has the potential to create a lot of order out of what has been chaos.”
Experiment With Your Own Strategy
Google+ is new territory – not just for brands, but for users as well. Scott admits that Facebook still has strength in its number of active users, but there is something to be said for the eventual reach that Google+ will have on anyone who uses a Google product. He explains that Ford is still experimenting with their Google+ strategy, but made clear that Ford has made sure not to duplicate their Facebook and Twitter content on Google+. Early on, Ford asked their fans what they wanted to see on Google+, and the result was largely a desire for intimate conversations with those deep within the Ford organization, such as engineers and designers. The design of Google+ – primarily, the Hangouts feature – allowed Ford to easily facilitate this content, which was unique to Ford’s presence on Google+. Scott likens Ford’s experimentation with their Google+ strategy to his own personal experience with Twitter in early 2007; when he first signed up, he says he just didn’t understand Twitter. However, after listening and watching how others were using Twitter, he started using it again after a few weeks, using Twitter search to find interesting topics and look for people he knew. To Scott, acquiring followers and chasing numbers was never important. In fact, as Scott explained it, Ford’s Google+ strategy has been strikingly similar; not surprising, as Scott has helped to pave Ford’s social media path, after all.
Start Using Google+ As a Brand
If you own your own brand (or help manage the social media for a brand) you can easily create a Google+ brand page while using your personal Google account by visiting Create A Page on Google+. Be sure to also grab the code that allows your brand’s website readers to easily +1 your content to help share your your blog and website updates with their network.
Do you think brands should use Google+? Would you interact more with brands on Google+ than on other social networks? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.