Doubling Down on Google+?

When determining how to integrate Google+ brand pages into your planning for 2012, it’s important to understand what Google+ is and what it isn’t. By Google’s own admission, Google+ isn’t meant to be a social network. Or so it says.

When determining how to integrate Google+ brand pages into your planning for 2012, it’s important to understand what Google+ is and what it isn’t.

By Google’s own admission, Google+ isn’t meant to be a social network. Or so it says. Google+ Pages will help brands in terms of search position and relevance with more real-time content that’s prioritized above other search results. But it’s not designed to drive the type of deeper engagement true social networks allow. While Google+ should be part of your overall media strategy, it won’t replace other social efforts anytime in the near future.

For example, there are limitations placed on Google+ Pages right now regarding promotions and contests. Specifically, the inability to host any promotions or competitions directly on Google+ Pages may actually end up driving more promotional traffic to Facebook. This is further made likely by Facebook’s own policy requiring that contests running on its site be hosted there.

The threat to the existence of Google can’t be understated. How real is this threat? Google certainly feels confident that it owns the internet and mobile web based on current platform dominance. But it should remember that it’s benefited from disruptive shifts in technology and user behavior.

For mobile specifically, this threat is embodied not only in Siri, which we know Google fears, but also potentially in Windows Phone. From a user experience perspective, Windows Phone represents a paradigm shift. Flameouts show how a dominant position can be compromised by complacency and failure to shift product strategy to reflect evolving tastes.

What further increases this risk for Google is that TV online advertising rates are on track to return to prerecession levels, while the overall ad industry is still below 2007 spending levels. While 2012 will see the growth of online ad spending surpass TV (11 percent growth versus 7 percent growth), brand advertisers are still spending more on TV. With more and more ads driving traffic directly to Facebook in search of deeper engagement, we see yet another strong channel that bypasses search-driven web use, even websites, entirely.

While I’ll be the first to admit that speculation on Google’s ultimate demise may be a bit premature, it does lead to some questions about what this all means in the short term. While Google+ will most likely have to be part of your overall search marketing consideration set, it’s a nonstarter from a social platform or deeper engagement perspective. Plans should reflect that. Google’s impulsive product strategy should also pause brands when considering how much effort to expend on Google+ as a whole. What it’s already shown us with the recent product cancellations and refocusing is that on Larry Page’s watch, anything is possible.

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