Web Exclusive | November 2011 | By Jordan Melnick

What to Do with Google+

Google+ Pages let brands on the new social network, but many are still figuring out how to make it work for them.

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Google announced the launch of its Google+ Pages earlier this month as an opportunity for brands to get involved with the search giant’s new social network. 

And while a recent study shows that a majority of the world’s top 100 brands have already launched a Google+ Page, many are still trying to get their Pages off the ground.

The recent study by BrightEdge, an Internet consulting firm, shows that 61 percent of the world’s top 100 brands, including McDonald’s and Starbucks, created a Google+ Page within the first week of the technology launching on November 7. 

BrightEdge marketing vice president Brad Mattick says the top 100 brands were not early adopters of Facebook pages when they launched. The fact that they’re jumping onboard with Google+ more quickly, he says, is “indicative that small businesses should increase their presence on the Web as well.”

Many brands, however, have just dipped their toe in the waters of Google+. For example, only 13 percent of the brands that launched a Page linked to it on their company websites. Meanwhile, 53 percent of them link to Facebook from their websites.

And while McDonald’s has 11.7 million “likes” on its Facebook page, it has only 183 of the Google equivalent, the “+1,” on its Google+ Page, which has no content on it. Starbucks’ 399 “+1s” are a pittance compared to the coffee chain’s nearly 27 million Facebook “likes.” 

But restaurant analyst Aaron Allen says that with Google putting so much firepower behind this initiative, restaurants would be wrong to underestimate Google+ Pages.

“We’re advising our clients to start an account, to at least grab their brand name,” Allen says.

Launched as a field test back in June, Google+ already has 40 million users. This is miniscule compared to Facebook’s nearly 800 million users, but still “nothing to sneeze at,” Allen says. 

“Facebook will remain the 800-pound gorilla, but I think Google+ has the potential to be No. 2 in social networking.”

Subway is one of the top 100 brands that doesn’t have a Google+ Page. The reason, says Tony Pace, chief marketing officer of the Subway Franchise Advertising Fund Trust, is the company is still “trying to find a way that’s unique to Subway to be involved with it.”

Pace says it is likely that Subway will have a Google+ page in the near future, and that the sandwich chain is “actively having conversations with Google itself” about its nascent social-networking platform.

Still, Subway will hold out until it figures how to communicate effectively with its customers through Google+, Pace says.

Only 13 percent of the brands that launched a Google+ Page linked to it on their company websites.

“We try to make sure that we’re playing chess and not checkers, which means thinking two, three, four steps down the road, ” he says. 

“We may not have been first to make a big deal about Facebook, but we’re pretty happy with what we’re doing on Facebook now. We may not have been first on Twitter, but we’re pretty happy with what we’re doing now. So, to us, there are certainly advantages of being first to market, but in the technology space, I’d rather be best to market.”

One special way Subway may use Google+, Pace says, is through the platform’s Hangouts feature, which enables businesses to video chat with customers. Pace sees the feature as a potentially powerful way to leverage Subway’s “Famous Fans,” including Olympian Apollo Ohno and NASCAR driver Carl Edwards.

Google spokeswoman Katie Watson says Hangouts are a way restaurants can leverage Google+ Pages.

“Imagine a restaurant being able to directly answer customers’ questions face to face with up to 10 people,” she says. “Or imagine restaurant owners hosting regular customer-feedback Hangouts to gather insight into their favorite meals and what they like [or] don't like about the restaurant.”

Restaurants may also be able to take advantage of Circles, a feature that allows Google+ users to communicate with tailored groups of people, something Facebook users can’t do.

“With Circles … page owners can reach the right people with the right message,” Watson says. 

“For example, a restaurant can send special offers to their most loyal customers.”

Perhaps the most compelling reason restaurants should consider launching a Google+ Page is that it could help their search rankings. The BrightEdge study found that Google+ Pages already have a slight edge over Facebook pages in Google search results.

Restaurants should not miss an opportunity to get in good with the reigning titan of search, Mattick says.

“Google has been so dominant in search that marketers have to pay attention,” he says. “Facebook may still be dominant [among social networks], but Google+ is extremely important.”