Social media marketing is increasingly becoming central to businesses’ digital strategies, and thus far has been dominated by the big two players, Facebook and Twitter. Both have sophisticated advertising platforms, in addition to cost-free Pages and Profiles. However, latecomer to the party, Google+ has been causing a buzz of late. In this article we discuss the pros and cons of Google’s social media platform and look at some recent case studies.

Despite previous failures (see Google Buzz [www]), since it’s launch in 2011 Google+ has rapidly increased in user numbers, if not in the public consciousness. With over 500 millions accounts, and 343 million global monthly users Google+ is second only to Facebook in its penetration. However, it is a distant second compared with Facebook’s 1.11 billion active monthly users.

However, it might be a mistake to think that Google intends Plus to be an all-round Facebook-killer. Although it has many of the hallmarks of a profile-based social network: feed, status updates, events, comments, pictures and videos, the most significant aspect of Google+ is integration. Google+ integration is being expanded across all of the companies products, and not least with Search. For Google it’s a simple equation:

More user data = Better search results = Increased advertising revenue

So what are the Pros and Cons of Google+ and how can marketers use the platform to their advantage?

Pros of Google+

  • Positive public reaction to the user interface, especiailly since it’s latest incarnation a few months ago. It’s slick, intuitive, uncluttered and especially good and highlighting media, such as photos and videos.
  • Google+ has now integrated hashtags in much the same way as Twitter. Now that Facebook has also taken the hashtag plunge, marketers are free to use them in campaigns in the knowledge that they will work across all the major networks, and Google+ will benefit from this.
  • Users can create Circles into which you can drag and drop the people and brands you know and wish to follow, effectively managing your social groups and allowing you to filter the type of content you see at any time. There are the typical default circles; Friends, Family, Work, but you can also create as many custom groups as are wish.
  • Circles have positive implications for privacy. Each post created allows the user to select which circles to share to or if they wish to share content publicly. What’s more, this can easily be edited after posting.
  • Google+ allows users to initiate a group Hangout, allowing anybody from the relevant circles to join in a group video chat of up to 10 people. In addition, brands can create livestream hangouts that can be viewed by global audiences. So far, Hangouts have seen some of the more interesting Google+ marketing campaigns.
  • Integrates across Google’s vast portfolio, including Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, and of course, Search and AdWords. Currently there is no ability to embed ads in Google+ streams, but it is possible to endorse Search and Displays ads with Google+ pages. It is also possible to hardlink web pages to Google+ and even blog authors to their own personal pages, suggesting that Google is heavily drawing on social signals to enhance search results.
  • The functionality is in place to allow Google users to easily take their accounts (and consequently their data trails) across devices.

Cons of Google+

  • The core negatives of Google+ come down to market penetration and reach. As noted above, compared with Facebook the number of active monthly users is low. However, in light of Facebook’s levelling off in the West, Google+ should be poised to take advantage.
  • Entered a heavily saturated market, meaning many marketers still fail to see the value in adding it to their social media marketing mix.
  • Currently there is no way to promote posts above others in user timelines. Google has prohibited competitions and promotions on Google+ brand pages and there is not facility for apps.
  • Currently a lack of social integration with other networks, such as is available with Facebook and Twitter. Consequently, social tools such as HootSuite and Buffer have yet to accommodate Google+. On the other hand, Google Social Login has no problem competing with similar facilities offered by Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo, and due to it’s wider portfolio of Google and non-google branding sites, is arguably in better position to dominate this aspect of the web.

While uptake has been slow, there have been several innovative marketing campaigns that have caught our imagination from Google+ business users, such as the previously discussed collaboration between Google Labs and Royal Shakespeare Company.

Cadbury’s: Sweet Deal

Chocolate giant Cadbury’s has also embraced Google+ to reach out to audiences in new and innovative ways. The company was an early adopter of the platform, utilising it to connect its global fanbase with product information, promotions, live taste testings, and personality interviews via Hangouts on Air. Uniquely, the brand has encouraged direct participation by inviting loyal fans to be the first to taste test new products live on Google Hangouts, allowing them both to promote brand awareness and get instant credible feedback that will encourage greater uptake within the market.

Clinique: Fresh Faced

Clinique was interested in incorporating Google+ and its ecosystem of products into their wider digital strategy. Its campaign, based around the launch of a new product, aimed to take informative content to where users are, feed social search results, and encourage audiences to produce and share content. Clinique began the campaign by sending sample products to carefully selected bloggers and then inviting them to an exclusive Hangout with a skin expert where they could ask questions and receive beauty tips on behalf of their readers. They then took the footage and made promotional videos for use in YouTube pre-roll ads, as video for the Google+ page and to endorse social ads in display and search. Furthermore, the Google+ page engaged with the wider audience on the theme of beauty advice, leading to 7,000 more followers on YouTube, and a 10 times higher pre-roll click-through rate.

ASOS: A La Mode

Online fashion retailer ASOS has also made good use of Hangouts to engage with shoppers. In one example an ASOS editor and a US fashion guru hosted a ‘Shop-a-long’ to 200 viewers in which they discussed fashion tips and walked through actual products in the webstore.

Despite the slow initial growth of Google+ Google has been quick to highlight its success stories. What’s interesting is the extent to which they draw attention to the search and advertising benefits of managing a successful brand page. This aspect is likely to become one of most defining features of the platform, and other social networks will struggle to compete with on this level.

Consequently, there may be a small element of coercion on the behalf of Google in that, as with other updates to the search algorithm, it might be a neccesity to have a brand page to compete in SEO. At the moment, however, features such as Hangouts are making (air)waves, and are often central to brand campaigns on the platform.

Here are our top tips for creating successful Google+ marketing campaigns:

  • Claim your Google+ brand page and populate it with essential graphics and information
  • Take advantage of the ability to incorporate large and beautiful imagery into posts
  • Treat your Google+ page as a community that encourages direct user participation
  • Try Google+ Hangouts, publicise widely, and keep the concept simple
  • Link your websites to your Google+ using rel=publisher
  • Link your staff bloggers to their own personal Google+ using rel=author
  • Take advantage of Social Endorsement for AdWords.