When Google+ launched for users, the world cheered at the idea of another social network actually standing a chance against Facebook. Whether it was just rooting for the underdog or an actual feeling that Google was onto something nice was never clear. In reality, it didn't even matter. Google delivered "Circles" to users and they liked it. Then Facebook delivered the "kitchen sink" of experience updates, and users like that, too. But the truth is, neither of these two colossal events mattered to businesses.
This week, Google+ launched Pages  for businesses. Someday, Facebook will launch "timeline" for brand pages. And both launches will really matter. But most important will be the difference Google+ pages can make for brands and businesses if Google gets it done right.
HOW GOOGLE+ IS PAVING NEW WAYS
Google+ brings a fresh new spin on content distribution and discovery. While Circles are rooted in social behavior, Google, unlike Facebook, isn't betting on "the graph" as the conductive material. Instead, a more open paradigm around circles (vs. friends), is betting on proximity over connection. And indeed, anyone who's used Google+ knows it definitely organically opens up the conversation.
Proof that proximity works in wonderful ways: Yesterday, the Google+ Pages launch post  listed a number of brands on the roster of business +Pages. I quickly noticed some massive follower growth. I went on to pick the Coldplay Page , because they're awesome and also not on the launch roster, therefore not directly benefiting from post traffic. I tracked how organic chatter was impacting Coldplay's growth over a short period of time. The results were impressive. The two pictures below show Coldplay at 3:30 p.m. and 3:55 p.m., at an average follower growth rate of about 1,680/hour. Note that +1's, in contrast, are only growing at about 393/hour (probably the topic of another post).
Through a more open model, Google will connect social content distribution to some of the most powerful sources of traffic on the web, namely search, YouTube, and the Google ecosystem at large (let's not forget that includes Android). This will be its strongest advantage.
New Ad Behaviors
Google will do what Facebook has shied away from doing: integrating social distribution and relevance into ads that can be placed anywhere the display network can reach. This will spark a long-awaited integration of social and direct media, creating brand new opportunities.
More interestingly, the application of +1 to ad placements is disruptive. At its core, the idea of +1 and sharing directly from an ad unit forces advertisers to think twice about engagement intent. While media placements have largely been designed with strict paths to conversion, they will now allow marketers to do what is done every day via social media: tell more compelling stories and encourage users to share. This will undoubtedly revive anemic engagement rates in this category and lead audiences more naturally from direct media into social conversations, a long-awaited change.
Social Media ROI Through Mature Metrics
Google will allow marketers to deliver value through social media, while measuring impact through directly related metrics that are far more mature. A few things that will become possible, at least in ways that won't require too much science, data collection, or expensive tools:
- Understanding the impact of social content on search and keyword relevance.
- An integrated understanding of traffic and distribution through search, web sources as well as social propagation (do check out Google+ Ripples and how post distribution can be tracked).
- A clear connection between direct media conversion data and social behavior.
It's no surprise that at the heart of this strategy, Google will leverage Analytics to integrate measurement into a single view.
CAN GOOGLE PAGES BE A WIN? IT MIGHT...
…If Google figures out its launch strategy. Google needs to grab control of its feature release cycle, at least as far as public perception is concerned. A clearer direction can drum up massive excitement (as its initial launch organically demonstrated). Add to that a little more pizazz and commitment to communication (think Lady Gaga for Chrome) . A better handshake with partners, especially platform vendors, wouldn't hurt either. Last time we checked, +Pages are not integrated to any social media management platform, there is no sign of an official API, and page-management permission features are too primitive for big brands . Forgiveness can't last forever.
…If there are incentives for engagement. Brands could easily spare themselves the trouble of yet another social channel to manage, with its own set of processes and policies still to be defined, unless Google can create clear ways to show brands that engagement is worth their effort. For example, the launch of a page should not be another uphill battle towards a large following, but rather a clear demonstration of how the Google network can help social "pay off." The question is how Google will productize this value proposition for the product and how it will aggressively make it happen for marketers.
…If marketers can reach beyond the page. In a world of Facebook marketers shackled to EdgeRank, Google should focus on reach and relevance, enabling +Page marketers to reach far beyond their page, fans and circles and into the Google network, allowing wonderful things to happen. Think about "One Click Video Seeding": allowing marketers to "buy up" on video posts, reaching directly into YouTube and Display Network placements. Or think about Google enabling the idea of YouTube Publishers on Google+, allowing marketers to tap into the right influencers and to watch the impact of social sharing through Google+ Ripples . Or better yet, Google+ providing marketers with the ability to align their page content with the right SEO keywords, also with a "buy up" SEM option. This strategy has endless possibilities if it's considered.
…If brand circles are flexible. More powerful than the idea of brands added to user circles, or even followers added brand circles, is the idea that fans can add themselves to a brand's own circles. A follower that identifies to something the brand stands for is a natural thing. It's also a much richer new basis for a relationship than Facebook likes, or Google+ follows. Let's consider a hypothetical--if I choose to belong to vitaminwater 's "Hip-Hop" circle on Google+ Pages, it's very different than saying I dig the "Skaters" circle. It's basically just saying: "I like you because…". Yet, it is a powerfully new concept for both brands and fans.
…If Google focuses on integrated value. It's easy for Google to get caught up in the social network "runner up" game against Facebook. It needs to stay focused on the fact that its first and biggest opportunity is in realizing value across their ecosystem. Content, +Pages, +Ads, Circles, Influencers and the Google ecosystem together are pure power.
Will Google get it right? I would love to hear your thoughts. I'm @perezable  on Twitter.
[Image: Flickr user late night movie ]