Google+ Pages For Business – What’s the Difference-maker?

Since Google+ launched for businesses a few weeks ago, there’s been a breathless rush of articles, blog posts, videos and how-tos on this new feature. Certainly, Google’s entry into the social networking field seems to provide yet another opportunity for brands and companies to engage with consumers.

Yet in this first wave of Google+ business page launches, I haven’t seen significant differences between its offerings and those of Facebook – at least, not enough to justify the switching cost for brands and consumers. There are also some frustrating administrative obstacles in this beta stage. You can only have one administrator per page, making it hard to share admin duties between co-workers and colleagues. Nor can you secure a vanity URL (as in, plus.google/CuratorPR).

The caveat to both of these concerns is “yet” – I am confident that Google will adjust to business needs. Nevertheless, I am still waiting to see what Google+ will ultimately provide that can’t be found through another platform or channel. Right now, it’s hard for me to disagree with “the third sock” description – if you have two feet, why do you need a third sock? In other words, if all your online needs are being met by other tools, you aren’t likely to use a clone of an existing platform. (HT to Kristy Bolsinger for the analogy).

That’s not to say there aren’t features of Google+ that are fascinating and potentially disruptive for social networking. Here are five I’d put my money on right now:

-Hangouts. A genius solution for videoconferencing and customer service. Media outlets like the New York Times have already used this feature to chat with readers. We’re already brainstorming ways to connect our clients with members of the media through a Hangout, such as a video chat to show the features of a product.

-Ripples. I’ll just quote directly from Google here: “Ripples let you see your posts spread across Google+, who’s sharing and resharing your content, and whose opinions matter. Use it to identify influencers and add them to a circle, or see how communities are formed around your content.” What business wouldn’t want to be able to track their message to that extent?

-Search. Google+ features are already being incorporated into search results. For example, the +1s that Google+ users give your page, links or content contribute to search rankings and appear in results. Also, I have to think a search engine is going to index its own product more quickly than the competition’s product…

-Direct Connect. Eventually, if you add + before a brand name, it will take you right to that brand’s Google+ page (it is not set up for all pages yet, however). This is another way to make finding your brand’s page incredibly easy – much more so than Facebook­­­­.

-Circles. You can start sorting customers/clients (those who follow you) into circles and target posts at each group. Members of the media would get one update, while investors might get another. If one of the big challenges of Facebook is cutting through the noise, this ability to segment can help followers know what to pay attention to.

All these features provide the opportunity to do more than what’s currently available on other social networking platforms. I’m looking forward to seeing how brands take advantage of that opportunity – and if users and consumers will see value in engaging on Google+.