The burgeoning social media network offered by Google, Google+, recently rolled out the ability to create a presence for brands and organizations.
As this development gains traction among the public and, by extension, the business community, what does it mean for PR practitioners?
Implementation and Tips
There are a plethora of resources devoted to explaining the intricacies of the technology. Here are some specifics for PR practitioners:
- The impact of Google’s verification system. While there is a verification system within Google+, it appears that Google has delayed wide rollout of that verification. However, waiting for verification may not be advisable, and it can make sense simply to establish an unofficial presence if only to avoid pranks like this one played on Bank of America.
- Does your brand have the resource to properly manage Google+? The establishment of a presence on Google+ is the priority. Maximizing it may have to be sacrificed if it doesn’t fit into your strategic plans. Here is a skeletal setup guide from the invaluable Mashable to help you get started.
Connecting with Your Audience
One of the difficulties with Google+ brand pages is an inability to create a dedicated vanity URL. This means that when I want to link to PRSA’s Google+ page, I need to include this URL: https://plus.google.com/u/0/100146948392941605633/posts. It’s catchy in its own way (?), but it would probably be easier to direct readers if it had a more cogent address (sidenote: please drop in and say ‘Hi!’ ).
In the meantime, Google is rolling out an embeddable widget for brands to use to link to their Google+ page but, as with all things in this early stage, it’s rather difficult to secure one just yet.
Another thing to remember is that pages can’t circle users without first being circled by the user in question. It’s a noble effort by Google to make a more authentic experience for users, but you can foresee how it might be a bit frustrating for PR professionals.
When developing strategies to connect to your audience, it’s important to remember that each social network is different. Yes, the principles of connection and engagement remain the same, but what is popular and works well on one platform may not really be viable in another.
Keep in mind that restrictions for running a contest, long a favorite of marketers using Facebook and Twitter, will be more stringent on Google+. At present, brands can only link to a contest, not host the contest.
Mashable reports that the vast majority of the network’s users are men, and that among the network’s users “two of the top five most popular occupations listed (excluding “student) — software engineer and software developer — are computer science related.” So, the audience on this network is very segmented and specialized. This may dictate the amount of resources you devote to its exploration.
Facebook still has what looks like an insurmountable lead when it comes to the amount of users and legitimately. Prescient authors like Farhad Manjoo postulate that Google+’s inability to gain momentum in the public sphere is among a few factors that will doom its rise.
By the same token, we’re talking about Google. Google has a huge user base and a reputation for quality. And there does seem to be a unique innate quality to the Google+ engagement, as brilliantly elucidated in this post by ReadWriteWeb’s Richard MacManus exploring a group of artists using the network. So, there is something beautiful about the platform, even if it hasn’t become ubiquitous yet.
Reading the Tea Leaves
I’m sure Google is aware that the restriction of only allowing one user to have access to the Google+ account is untenable. My guess is that they are working towards a solution on this.
Additionally, there is almost certainly going to be innovative integration with other Google products like YouTube, Analytics, Checkout, Places, Blogger and integration with Droid.
At the same time, there exists a very real possibility that this will end up in the annals of Friendfeed, Second Life, Gowalla, the defunct Google Buzz and Google Wave or any number of other sites or campaigns that were hyped as being the next big thing. If you were involved in any of these sites, you know that even though they never panned out as expected, the expertise garnered by using them proved an important exercise for PR professionals in the development of vibrant online brand communities.
At this point, mastery of the Google+ platform is probably not an essential part of your outreach arsenal. However, acquainting yourself with your network by creating a simple presence is a valuable exercise and strategically advantageous for your clients. So go out, experiment and share your tips!
Adam Berkowitz is PRSA’s senior manager of membership development.
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