Google+ is Here for Businesses

November 10, 2011

The Official Merchant Services Blog has been following Google+ and its beta for awhile now. We previously detailed the potential upside of Google+ for small businesses in this blog entry. The major setback to Google+ for businesses at that point time was that Google hadn’t fully allowed businesses to function in Google+.

That changed three days ago. On November 7 Google announced that businesses were fully allowed to add pages and started accepting submissions. No longer restricted to just personal accounts and no longer tied to strictly Gmail, Google+ gave users the ability to utilize their fledgling social networking tool.

Host Merchant Services jumped on the offer, and you can find our Business Page here. You can also find our local small business page here.

So now that Google has opened the flood gates to businesses, what is the impact going to be? Should you jump right in feet first? What will this do to help your business and its marketing?

The Nuts and Bolts

First let’s review what Google+ Pages can functionally do for businesses:

Google+ Pages are different from regular use profiles. They have some limitations, such as Pages can’t add people to circles unless the page is added first or mentioned. Pages default privacy settings are public, they can’t +1 other pages nor can they +1 stuff on the web. Pages don’t have the option to share to “extended circles,” they don’t receive notifications via e-mail, text or in the Google bar. Pages can’t initiate a hangout on a mobile devices.

Google+ Pages also have advantages, such as they can be made for a variety of different purposes (brands, shops, celebrity figures, sports teams). They have the +1 button and can +1 certain things. Local pages include information about a business’ physical location (map, address, business hours and contact details).

The Pros

One  big factor for Google+ Pages right now is the functionality of circles. It’s more flexible and offers merchants more abilities than its Facebook equivalent. G+ Pages can use circles to segment different groups of connections, better organizing a business’ connections with its customers. The default settings already demonstrate the power of this over Facebook, as it sets up the circles for “customers,” “VIPs,” and “team members,” making it easy to target how you share information with your followers.

Another big plus for Google+ is the Hangouts feature –– which allows users to set up one-click video conversations with other users, fans or colleagues. The potential for your business from Hangouts is quite robust and Facebook offers nothing like that. You can utilize this as standard customer service, or instant face-to-face feedback from customers; you could also utilize it for marketing services, or running mini-workshops or webinars. That’s just a few off the cuff ideas on how to utilize this feature.

And then there’s the as yet unrealized potential of Direct Connect –– the feature that lets you quickly navigate to a Google+ page (and add that page to your circles) directly from a Google search bar. And that’s the real strength of Direct Connect: The Google search bar. This feature is still being worked on so it only works for a handful of big brand name pages, such as Pepsi. But this is definitely something that will shape businesses and what they can do, because it ties the social media extension into the Google searching functionality. Which is the bread and butter of Google.

The Cons

What are the cons of Google+? It’s still new, still in testing so there are some very noticeable drawbacks to Google+. Right up front, one of the biggest ones is G+ Pages do not currently allow multiple page administrators. So while with your Facebook page you can have multiple people in your business accessing the page and managing the content, G+ still only has its Pages as an extension from a single account. That needs to change. And Google is aware of the issue and is working on it. But for now it does create a bottleneck in terms of usage and is an obstacle for businesses in terms of utilizing Pages as powerfully as other social media options.

Another drawback is that Google+ does not allow contests. This TechCrunch article reveals that there’s explicit language in the Google+ Pages terms of service prohibiting businesses from running contests, promotions, sweepstakes, offers, or coupons. That’s a big blow for businesses, as all of those activities are popular with other social media outlets. From Facebook to Groupon, businesses are extensively using Social Media to promote and market through coupons and contests.

And another problem for Google+ Pages stems from the difference between a Page and a Local Business Page. The Local pages include your business’ location, and is tied into Google Maps and the Google Local features. But it is separate in some of its functions from a page setup based on the other list of purposes. Google explains the difference as: “Currently, Place pages and Google+ Pages must be managed separately. A Place page provides information about a business and makes it easy for customers to find local businesses on Google Maps and local search; while a Google+ page provides business owners with additional ways to engage, build relationships and interact directly with customers.

Many businesses already have their Local entry set up through Google maps. So this raises some concerns and issues with compatibility that Google itself opened up by making the Local entry available in the Google+ Pages signup.

The Verdict

Google+ Pages have revitalized the Google+ project. It launched with a lot of buzz and then it tapered off. It comes storming back into peoples’ attention with this new development. And even with the few obstacles and issues it currently has, it’s definitely worth getting your business involved in it. From the start it benefits your e-commerce presence. Right now Google+ may not overtake the established juggernauts, like Facebook. But it’s really quick and easy to create your G+ Page and get it set up. Tying it into other social media outlets and continuing what you were already doing is what The Official Merchant Services Blog would advise.

Keeping it fresh and active will help you in the long run, because in terms of marketing your business, the potential that Google+ has over all the other social media tools is that it’s going to be able to impact the Google search engine more directly. And that’s the bottom line for businesses: Page ranking. The value to be had in the long term is too great to not get started now. As Direct Connection gets worked on and improved and as Google+ begins to ramp up its efforts to compete with Facebook and profit off of the investment in its social media tool, the strength of the search engine is what everything will hinge on. Including your business and its online presence.

So give Google+ a try, get your Page going and prepare yourself for more SEO opportunities.

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