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Is Google Putting a Gun to Brands Heads with Changes to G+?

Judging by the nature and content of a number of reports and commentary which I have read recently – Google+ is becoming a little bit Marmite (you either love it or you hate it). Maybe it is due to the fact that G+ is nearly one year old that people have now decided to come down on one side or the other.

For me, I shared my initial early two cents on Google+ previously and I think the fog is clearing for me with G+.

There is a lot to like about G+ (the new iPhone app, Hang Outs, sharing features) however I think Google is forcing it too much and is missing the core problem.

I think everyone knows how much Google wants to be active in social but with some recent moves I think it has now gone too far and it is putting a gun to the heads of brands and companies by saying get involved or we will hit you where it hurts and where we have power – search! It needs this to drive engagement rather than just drive more users.

Let me explain.

In short – Google+ has a large user base however they are largely (unless Google proves otherwise) inactive and now Google after publically declaring social is a priority (the words of Google CEO Larry Page), is telling brands, use G+ regularly or risk dropping down our search rankings! As a user I think it has benefits but as a marketer, I am annoyed and may just repurpose content to G+ to maintain search listings rather than drive engagement.

And in long…

It’s a Voyage

The growth of a social network should be organic and viral – a voyage of discovery for new members. You can expand beyond your offline social network and meet new contacts online (if you wish).

Google built up a huge hype about G+ leading to huge demand for initial invites. What happened then was all these people got invites, logged in but didn’t know what G+ was about. Was it a destination for B2B professionals (like LinkedIn) or was it was place for personal sharing (like Facebook). People were unsure, the network had not been defined yet so users posted once or twice (if even) and then sat back to wait and see.

The network needs to be defined by the habitants, not the creator. Remember it was users who created the RT standard for Twitter – not Jack & Co.  Users define you, not the other way.

Rushed

I do think Google rushed G+, particular when you look at their iPhone app. The original version was poor which is surprising given that Eric Schmidt openly talked about “Think Mobile First” being the Google approach to all new development. Also look at the success Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have enjoyed due to mobile sharing and engagement. Google missed a trick which was only truly fixed in the last month.

Lessons Not Learned

Google had learned a lot of lesions about social from other social experiments with Buzz & Wave. Like myself, other commentators expected Google to start integrating G+ with its other portfolio of tools (gmail etc).  However for me I don’t believe Google has applied the lessons it has learned. It is still trying to force social too much (it gave every gmail user a Buzz account without much explanation about Buzz).  It is integrating G+ with its tools to drive its user numbers when the core problem is usage (the same problem Buzz had). Fix the problem first, then scale.

The Loaded Gun

Last week, Google started displaying enhanced listings for  G+ Brand Pages next to searches for brands (see more here). This would appear to still be in beta so the quest to understand it continues (as you will see in the comments on that post).

However I believe that this is Google putting a loaded gun to the heads of brands. It is saying if you don’t have an active, regularly updated G+ page (they want fresh content every 24 hours), you will miss out on this prime search position. It is a big call from Google as currently it looks as if it is willing to sacrifice PPC revenue from brands bidding on their terms (the G+ page pop up would seem to push any right hand side ads downwards). This comes on from the recent updates to Google’s search algorithm which also rewards increased social activity and the launch of Search Plus Your World.

To me it would appear that Google is hoping brands and companies go to G+ and by placing 24 hour windows on their activity, they will need to invest more time and resources there (potentially at the expense of other networks).  Is the Google bet – get brands on board and user engagement will follow???

There is no arguing that the users are on G+, the issue is that users are not posting or engaging.  This post claims G+ is a ghost town and I would share similar concerns. Google could clear this up by sharing usage stats similar to the style of Facebook but it hasn’t (or won’t).

For brands to invest in G+, they will need to know expected ROI and will want to understand engagement and interaction rates. Google claims all published data is inaccurate as it excludes private activity and sharing, fine, so tell us the real story! For now the only reward brands can be hopeful of with G+ brand pages is protection of their search rankings. 

The Future

I think Google has upped its bet on G+ and it is now close to going “all in”. If G+ was to fail, it would leave more egg on faces that other attempts.

Reports suggest Google is losing market share to Bing, maybe the team have taken their eye off the ball and should stick to the knitting for now. Cost per click is also down and maybe time would be better invested on search and in expanding mobile search (expected to account for 1 in 4 dollars in 2012) then another attempt at social.

Their latest moves may see more brands heading to G+ but unless user engagement increases, brands could treat the social network as a tool to be updated (similar to their website) rather than nurtured and developed (similar to other social networks).

 

Advertisements

Why Marketers Shouldn’t Care that GM Pulled $10m of Facebook Advertising

There has been a lot made this week of the news that General Motors announced it is pulling its spend of $10m from advertising on Facebook. Obviously the news is getting more coverage due to Facebook’s IPO but the news should only interest those potential Facebook investors with little knowledge of how Facebook works, rather than marketers and people who know how Facebook operates for brands.

The piece of news that got less coverage was that GM also spends $30m creating and generating content for Facebook and as all good marketers know, to succeed on Facebook you need content not ads. GM’s CMO described their content on Facebook as being “effective and important” (Facebook needs to worry about how its gets its hands on some of this $30m but that is not for us to worry about).

When the Game Changed

If we go back 18-24 months, Facebook marketing was focused on advertising, whether it was PPC ads or Sponsored stories and brands were scrambling to jump on board and spend some budget on Facebook advertising.

Despite low and descreasing CTRs (currently estimated at an average of 0.04%), brands pumped the budget in. Then Facebook changed the game with their new Edgerank system and the clever brands realised that it was all about engagement, quality content and frequency of posting rather than getting more people to like your page (notice how GM spends 3:1 on content generation vs advertising). 

How to Win Now

To succeed now on Facebook you need focus on content and delivering value to your fans. Despite engagement levels apparently being low (estimated at approx 1% here and here) and posts only reaching 16% of your fans organically (according to Facebook themselves), Facebook wants brands and page owners to work hard at creating good quality content that fans like. Similar to how Google rewards websites that create good quality content which high search results.

While Facebook advertising can extend the reach of your page and can contribute to fan growth, you will win the Facebook game with content – which will deliver engagement, growth and reach and more in terms of favourable brand perceptions, awareness and so on. The news which should have interested marketers this week is the launching of the Pages app for iPhone – allowing community managers to manage pages on the go – a long overdue and welcome addition.

It’s a Platform Dummy!

The important item to remember is that Facebook is not an advertising channel (such as traditional TV or radio), it is a social platform. A platform where people (and brands) share news, stories, links, videos and pictures and where friends and fans can engage with this content and re-share it if they wish. This is what is important to Facebook and should be to marketers.

Whether things will change when Facebook has to report quarterly earnings and revenue growth is a different story but for now, the news that GM pulled 1/4 of its budget for Facebook (and the part that is least important) should not really be a big story for marketers.

 

Two cents worth on Google+

When Google+ launched at the end of June, there was huge amount of hype about the latest attempt at social from Google. Over the first 3 – 4  weeks, it was all very positive with various statements about it being a Facebook and/or Twitter killer. Towards the end of July and into August, attitudes seemed to change with concern about the large number of accounts being dormant and unused (apparently only 13% of the 25m accounts are active in any way and a lot only have a few posts). Rather than jump in with an early verdict on the network, I have taken time to get used to it before making any judgements.

This is a slightly long post but it is broken down between my perception of the Postives, Negatives and the Future for Google+.

Positives

  • Kick in the rear for other networks: Some networks had been inactive with regards to innovation recently and G+ will hopefully provide them with the incentive to develop new tools and functionality. In the last two weeks we have seen LinkedIn and Foursquare improve their mobile apps and Twitter is introducing some new functionality including better image management and viewing in your stream. The word is also that Facebook is working on new tools, some of which were announced on Tuesday night. Hopefully there is more to come from everyone.
  • Combine the best of others: Google obviously has taken its time to roll out this network allowing it to learn from other networks. The use of circles is similar to Twitter Lists. Sparks is a mix of following trends or hashtags and Google Alerts.
  • Variety of content formats in your feed: – within your feed you can see images, text, animated gifs, videos, and comments along with “+1s”. Similar to Facebook in this way, it allows for viewing more content without clicking.
  • Ease of set up and starting: Set-up is straight forward and it is easy to integrate your email account to find contacts. There is a negative side to this (more below).
  • Better reading experience than Twitter: As the volume of content types is wider than Twitter, this means you see more before you click.  You can see the first lines of an article along with some comments from other “Plusers”. Again, less wasted clicks to articles of content that are not of interest, which happens a lot with Twitter. Clicks with Twitter come from great headlines, while with G+ you need to have a good headline and killer first paragraph. The poster has to work harder but the clicks are probably of more value.

Negatives

  • Mobile experience: The G+ iPhone app is poor for a lot of reasons. Some commentators are going easy on Google for this, claiming it is still in beta. However given how much they can learn from other apps and their mobile knowledge, the bar is set higher for G+. The inability to share posts you like with your followers is a basic functionality which cannot be achieved with the app. For a social network app, this has to be a large #FAIL!
  • Inactive accounts and incomplete profiles: At the start, Google+ was invite only, however rapidly it became very easy to get an invite. Those with the ability to send invites did so freely and generally those who received one, registered, added contacts from their email accounts to their circles and did no more. Hence the large number of inactive accounts and accounts which have no profiles, pictures or biogs. Potentially overtime as people come back, we will see an increase in participation. 
  • Management via third parties such as TweetDeck, HootSuite: It is regularly shown that the number of people who tweet via Twitter.com is low and most users manage their accounts via 3rd party tools such as TweetDeck and HootSuite (hence the acquistions of Tweetie and TweetDeck by Twitter). These tools allow management of multiple accounts and posting to multiple networks. Currently, to the best of my knowledge, you can only post to G+ via plus.google.com or their app
  • Content topics: While the variety of topics has been growing recently, there is still a lot of chatter about G+ on G+ and other tech topics. This would reflect the tech bias of the active accounts
  • Location: – When posting on G+, you can post with details of your location. However when I have tried this from the App and from a desktop, it has always been inaccurate – out by kilometres rather than meters.
  • Scrolling: Slightly in contradiction to some of the positives, since G+ displays part of each post and sometimes some of the comments, the length of posts can be long. This has a direct inpact on the amount of scrolling users need to do, if they have a large number of posts that they are not interested in.

The future

  • It will take time: If we work on the common assumption that G+ has 25m users but only 13% of these are active, that is still over 3m active users in two months. Think about how long it took Twitter and Facebook to reach this level of active users.
  • Integration: Google has generally not been shy sharing its tools with others (think Android) or integrating its tools across its own portfolio so expect to see more integration overtime. 
  • Yes, it is another social network to manage: We will see which of the current range of networks last and whether some of these burn brightly but fade quickly, which leads me onto my next point.
  • A killer?: A lot of the early chatter was whether G+ would kill some of the other social networks, mainly Twitter and Facebook, but will this happen?
    • Facebook – From a personal point of view, I use Facebook for personal content and LinkedIn and Twitter for professional content. Google+ Circles may allow the combination of both, but early adaptors could set the trend and direction for G+. At the moment, based on my own estimation, 95% of content is professional so this may continue. Like Facebook, G+ allows for multiple content types to be shared and this has attracted brands. On Facebook, Fan pages are growing at a greater rate than personal pages which could have an impact on the direction of Facebook content too. Facebook is protective of its users, requiring all friend requests to be confirmed, whereas G+ works on a similar set up to Twitter, where you can generally follow a user without requiring of any permission. Finally with 750m users and approx. 1 in 4 of US advertising dollars, G+ has a long way to go and only a brave man/woman would write Facebook off.
    • Twitter: If I had to choose between Facebook and Twitter, which one would be put to the sword by G+, I would say Twitter. The main reason is the lack of innovation recently by Twitter and their inability to find revenue streams. Other issues for me are that G+ allows me to quickly review a large volume of content and by reviewing either the opening section of a post or the comments I can decide if the post is worth more of my time. However with Twitter, I only have the headline to make this decision and this leads to clicks which I wish I had not made. A great headline, doesn’t make for a great post. In the defence of Twitter, sharing is more widespread and easier on the network, than currently it is on G+.
    • RSS readers: This is one area that I think could be killed off (finally) by G+. With the combinations of circles and longer posts, it could spell the end of Google Reader if the number of bloggers and publishers increase.
  • Search: With the value that brands place on search results, the integration of G+ posts with search, could direct more traffic and users to G+, especially once they roll out their brand pages.
  • Brand pages: Google has promised to roll out brand pages shortly and in the mean time is banning users from setting up pages as brands. While some people have found ways around this, generally Google has been shutting them down. If Google can crack brand pages for G+, brands and advertising spend will follow.
  • Roll out of advertising and impact on the UI: Currently G+ is ad free and it can be expected that Google will introduce advertising to the network. Based on how Google has introduced advertising to their search engine and Gmail, expect it to be well thought out and very targeted, which will appeal to brands. The UI on G+ has been praised and the challenge will be for Google to keep it aesthetically pleasing for users but impactful for brands.

Tips

Some tips to share from recent experience

  • Read in private, post in public:  While using G+’s circle feature makes categorisation of those you follow easier and also the topics of posts, by only posting to your circles, it means that anyone who wishes to follow you cannot see your posts as they are protected. Therefore, if you want to grow your influence and followers, mark your posts public.
  • Complete your profile, add a biog, profile and picture: Google+ is a new social network and with that comes the ability to discover new people to follow and interact with. If you want to be discovered, ensure you complete your biog and profiles as others you are not doing your best to sell yourself.

And that is my slight long two cents on Google+.

“Just google advertising!”

I am not sure if you have heard the current radio advert for First Advertising that is on Today FM and Newstalk. If you haven’t, you can find out more here or to sum it up two people are discussing advertising with one character telling the other to just “google advertising”. At the end of the ad we hear it is for First Advertising.

According to First Advertising, the campaign is to celebrate their dominance of organic searches on Google and Bing for Irish advertising agencies.

My first reaction when I was listening to the ad for the first time was that this was an ad for Google themselves, driving awareness of Adwords through radio. Then at the end when I heard it was for First Advertising I thought it was strange. While it is clever in that the listener doesnt need to remember any web address or phone number and the call to action is very simple – what would happen when you do “google advertising”?

I did just that. When I typed advertising into my browser’s Google tab, I saw 3 adwords ads – all not for First Advertising. The organic links didn’t contain advertising.ie (First Advertising’s website URL) either. Then I remembered that my browser searches google.com so I changed it to google.ie and tried again. Adveritising.ie was third in the organic listings and didnt appear anywhere in the adwords links.

While it is an interesting approach to radio advertising it would be great to hear some results from First Advertising on the campaign. I wonder did any of the other agencies on page 1 see an increase in traffic? Also, why hasn’t any other advertising agency decided to run a PPC campaign for the word “advertising” to try and jump the listings and capture those people “googling advertising”?