SEMA News—February 2012
By Joe Dysart
Why Every Business Needs to Stake a Claim on Google+
Web security experts are urging companies to set up shop on Google+ to ensure that their company names are not snapped up by competitors or some ne’r do well—in much the same way that squatters appropriated the brand names of global corporations during the dawn of the web. And Internet marketing analysts say that some of the new social network’s more innovative features, such as “Hangouts”—which enables a group of people on Google+ to video chat simultaneously—make Google+ too promising to ignore.
The social network, which was launched this past summer, is Google’s answer to Facebook, which now has more than 800 million members and represents an ominous threat to Google’s advertising revenue base. But there are marked differences between the two animals, even though their core missions are the same: to provide a virtual meeting place where millions of people can socialize using chat, posts, photo and video exchange and other web communications tools.
Businesses, of course, continue to be rabidly interested in how activity on social networks can be parlayed into increased sales and brand recognition. They’re also fixated on the ways they might extract the most mileage from the word-of-mouth product and service recommendations that pop up across social media in the millions.
On Facebook, for example, legions of members have been signaling their endorsement of a product or service by clicking a “Like” button—a nod that became immediately coveted by businesses the moment it surfaced on the network. On Google+, members offer the same kudos by clicking a “+1” recommendation button.
Ali Husayni, founder of Master Google (www.mastergoogle.com), a search-engine marketing firm, said that Google’s +1 recommendation button makes creating a business page on Google+ “absolutely essential.” Husayni indicated that besides seeing marginally improved search-engine rankings in the short term, businesses using Google+ may very well see significant sales gains as Google+ grows beyond its critical mass and more and more people begin using the +1 recommendation button to exchange recommendations for goods and services on the network.
“If I’m looking for a dentist and a few of my friends in my town have +1’ed a particular dentist’s site or Google+ page, then that website is going to rank better than its competitors on my search results,” Husayni said. “As a potential customer, I’m more likely to consider him than other dentists who rank well on Google but have no recommendations from my people in my networks.”
Husayni said that Google’s increasing reliance on word-of-mouth recommendations when it comes to page rankings could even dramatically alter the way company webpages get found during the next few years. Instead of seeding company webpages with carefully selected keywords and key phrases to attract traffic, SEO experts will need to find ways to ensure that their clients have as many recommendations from Facebook, Google+, Twitter and other social networks as possible.
“My initial thought is that Google is shifting the power from SEO companies toward networks and circles,” Husayni said. “It’s kind of like the past, when word-of-mouth was more important than anything else. We’re almost moving in that backward direction, but on the virtual world of the Internet.”
Meanwhile, web security experts said that businesses that take a wait-and-see approach to establishing a presence on Google+ may easily get burned. Currently, anyone can stake a claim to a business name on the Google+ social network—whether or not that person is in any way associated with the company. Bank of America is still smarting from that hard truth after pranksters quickly put together a parody page of the brand in early November.
The rogue Bank of America page openly mocked homeowners facing foreclosures as well as those who would come to their aid. The unauthorized Google+ presence went up complete with the Bank of America logo, links to the company’s real website and legitimate address and telephone info. One snarky post made in the name of Bank of American hissed, “Big company party in foreclosed house #2340087 tonight!” And another dissed the Occupy Wall Street movement with: “You will sit down and shut up, or we will foreclose on you.”
Google is enabling companies to formally verify their presences on the Google+ network. (Here is an excellent tutorial on how to verify that a company page on Google+ has in fact been created and maintained by your company). But like many things web, it’s still the Wild West on Google+.
Google’s CEO Larry Page is betting big with Google+—Google’s answer to Facebook.
One of the most famous initial users of Google+ Hangouts was the L.A. hip-hop group The Black-Eyed Peas, which hosted a widely publicized backstage Hangout last fall during one of its concerts. Only 74 people actually attended the cyber-video event, but hundreds of thousands more heard and read about it via mainstream and other news media—a public relations coup.
For everyday businesses, uses for Hangouts will probably include video-chat customer service, video-chat focus groups and other more traditional company-to-customer communications that can be greatly enhanced by real-time, interactive video.
“For you and me, this means we can now hang out live with the local bike shop or discuss our wardrobe with a favorite clothing line or follow a band on tour,” said Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering at Google. “For businesses and brands, Google+ pages help you connect with the customers and fans who love you. Not only can they recommend you with a +1 or add you to a circle to listen long-term, but they can actually spend time with your team, face-to-face-to-face.”
Fortunately, the logistics are painless if you’re looking to set up a Google+ page for business. If you’re the type to plunge in and see what all the fuss is about, simply sign into your free Google account, then click to http://tinyurl.com/google-com-business and follow the prompts.
You can also find a webinar from Buddy Media on how to get the most from a business page Google+, although the tutorials include a pitch for the company’s social media product, Conversation Buddy.
And SEO Inc., a web marketing firm, has put together a fairly thorough white paper on maximizing Google+ for business.
Bottom line: There’s really no downside to establishing a business presence on Google+—only opportunity and potential.