In a previous post, we made some predictions on how Google+ could potentially become a useful platform for businesses. And now the time for speculation is over. Last week Google opened up the service to corporations, brands and organizations of all types, intensifying the social network’s competition with Facebook.
The announcement was a major one, since for the first four months of its existence only individuals were allowed to have Google+ accounts. Google even initially launched the service on an invite-only beta model before opening up to the general public on September 20.
In an official blog post last Monday, Google announced this latest feature of Google+, pointing out that in real life, we make meaningful connections with both individuals and businesses:
“So far Google+ has focused on connecting people with other people. But we want to make sure you can build relationships with all the things you care about—from local businesses to global brands—so today we’re rolling out Google+ Pages worldwide.”
Users can now add a business page to their circles just as they would with an individual, and they will then receive updates in their stream and have the option to “+1” posts and add comments. Some brands, such as Dell, have taken a very active approach and intend to use their Google+ pages to engage with customers and request their opinions on a variety of new products (PCMag).
The overall message for businesses is to use Google+ as a platform to build genuine relationships with followers, not merely as a broadcast medium from which to transmit marketing messages. To this end, Google+ has taken on a very different approach as compared to Facebook regarding contests and other incentives to connect.
As stated in one of its policy pages, brands are forbidden to hold “contests, sweepstakes, offers, coupons or other such promotions” directly on their Google+ pages, although they can link to another page that advertises a contest. Businesses on Facebook, on the other hand, are allowed to host all types of special promotions for individuals who “like” their page.
Google+ is not only avoiding liability by forbidding contests but is trying to do away with an atmosphere of bribery that tempts users into connecting with business pages. Without any special contests or fabulous prizes, only users who are genuinely interested in a brand will add it to their circles, thus increasing the quality of interactions and the likelihood of a response to future updates.
Some new features integrate Google+ with other Google products, namely web search. For example, “Direct Connect” allows brands to be found on regular web search by adding a “+” symbol before the brand name. A search for “+Pepsi,” for example, will take you directly to the Pepsi Google+ page.
Despite these positives, many critics are responding negatively to Google+ business pages, saying that they are significantly inferior to Facebook’s. Ted Samson of InfoWorld argues that the “inflexible platform and lack of integration with other Google services proves an Achilles’ heel” for business pages.
But since the model for Google+ so far has been a gradual unveiling of new features, it’s likely they still have plenty of tricks up their sleeve.