From the very beginning of Google+, it was expected that companies would have their own pages on the social network. Even when Google+ was in an invite-only "field test," requiring real names tied to Google accounts (but not Google Apps accounts), it was widely assumed Google+ would make room for the companies, brands, and organizations that are now a part of the social media landscape. Now that Google+ Pages have launched, the real question is, what makes them different?
Setting up a "Page" on Google+ is fairly similar to setting up a similar "Page" on Facebook. You sign in with a personal account, and then create a Page with a category, image, and short description. You can switch from your personal account to a Page, post updates, pictures, and videos to your stream, and add people to your page's Google+ circles after they've added your page to their own. So, hey, corporations and brands and films, and books - they're just like people now, right?
Yes, but with a few notable caveats. For one, Google+ pages will be very easy to find when searching Google - which has a market share, according to the latest estimates, of around 65 percent and rising. Google profiles often seem to show up on the first page of most searches for unique names, and if you search a term with "+" in front of it - "+Macys," or "+Marvel," for example - the page will show up as you type. It's a shortcut called "Direct Connect," and it's an advantage that Google+ has over Twitter and Facebook.
Another unique aspect of Pages is that they allow businesses and organizations to arrange group video chat Hangouts with the people following them. Obviously, not every team wants to take time out to get face-to-face with their customers, but Michael Dell, among others, is intrigued at the possibility.
For brands looking to gain exposure and connect with customers, Google+ Pages are both interesting, and perhaps a bit restrictive. Beyond the setup and usability issues (like the lack of multiple administrators), Google is informing Page owners that they can't run contests on their Pages, and there are lots of little details that need addressing.
But on the plus side (see what I did there?), Page owners can tie together the +1s they receive on their own site, Google+, and on mobile, and then use that combined mass of +1 recommendations to push out better and more socially relevant AdWords advertisements. That means people searching Google for, say, winter gloves, seeing advertisements focused on the glove brand their friends recommended with a +1 click.
Google+ is in a unique spot with its brand pages. Facebook has its own advertising platform that isn't as widely utilized as Google's AdWords, and while Facebook seems to have the advantage when it comes to tools for teams and social media marketing professionals, that's mostly because Facebook has had time to hear requests and complaints from their corporate users - and it's not like there aren't a few left. And Google+ users are exposed to a much wider realm of things they can "+1" across the entirety of the web, while Facebook "Likes" come from friends recommending things they've often specifically sought out. Time will tell which web giant can wring more money out of the contextual, social advertising market.
So if you're wondering whether your brand, a business, or organization should reserve its Google+ Page, the answer is yes. Grab your most socially savvy member, one with some likely longevity in the organization, and have them set up your Google+ Page from their Google+ account. It should take about five minutes, and it will be reserved for posterity, should you choose to hold off on developing it much. But don't think of Pages as one of those ooh-nifty features Google+ seems to add every week. They play to the social networks' strengths - search, noise filtering, and authenticity - in a way that's unique among its peers.
Kevin Purdy is a freelance writer, a former editor at Lifehacker.com, and the author of The Complete Android Guide.