A flurry of online media has covered the recent news that Google+ head Vic Gundotra is leaving Google and that about 1,000 of the team that worked on Google+ will now be assigned to different teams. Techcrunch ran the sensationalistic title “Google+ is Walking Dead” which has received more than a little pushback from Google reps.
So, what does this shift in leadership and staff mean for the Google+ platform? What does it mean for people and companies attempting to use Google+ for marketing?
An article in the Huffington Post offers a punchline: “The Google+ profile you haven’t looked at in months isn’t going away anytime soon. The difference is that Google is going to start paying a lot less attention to it, too.”
It’s easy to be skeptical and take potshots at Google with it’s history of failed initiatives from Google Wave to Google Video to Google Buzz. But what I’ve always thought about Google+ was that it was a great way to collect information that could be used for everything from advertising products to signals for search engine rankings. Even if Google+ doesn’t succeed as a direct competitor to Facebook, it still wins with tracking and data. On Google’s future, Slate says: “Google seems likely to keep up the social networking aspects of the service as a way of deflecting claims that it’s just about data-mining.”
In terms of the Google+ impact for marketers, I think it’s important to consider three things:
1. Google+ for SEO - I don’t see Google+ as ever having been a magic bullet for SEO. Are there advantages? Since Google+ is a publishing platform with public content and links, of course there are potential SEO benefits. Authorship enhances the appearance of search results by placing the author’s avatar next to their content, which is a clear advantage over all text SERPs. Also, public Google+ content can achieve prominent visibility in Google.com search results. While it carries a lot less impact, search visibility within Google+ is also a search benefit.
Even if Google+ content, links and engagement do not directly affect the search visibility of content on Google.com (of course it does) then there are still brand search visibility benefits from participating on the Google+ platform.
2. Google+ for Social Media Marketing - Google might seem like a ghost town for some, but for those who have carefully cultivated connections and organized circles according to specific customer segments, then Google+ can be a very useful social media marketing tool. Sending relevant content directly to topic specific circles via email can be very effective. Plus, there’s Google Hangouts for real-time video interaction and cross-posting to YouTube and Google Communities. Images and tagging is another way to create social interactions or touchpoints on Google+. Although, my experience with Google images, especially on mobile, has been pretty disappointing.
3. Google+ for Content Marketing - Google+ provides ample space to write long form posts, near blogging length, that can support an off-site content marketing approach. Google+ is also a very useful source to surface new content ideas, curate content and cross-post content. From an integration standpoint, Google+ is an effective content amplification channel too. But if all you do is amplify, then no one will listen.
Here’s the thing: Of course it makes sense to pay attention to the longer term plans for a platform, because if it’s destined to be sunsetted, then why invest resources? At the same time, evaluate use of any platform according to it’s current impact, future impact and your organization’s ability to deal with any substantial changes the platform will make. This is happening with the shift on Facebook, virtually killing organic brand page visibility. Companies are having to evaluate their approach to Facebook and shift to a different type of organic content and paid model than what they’ve been used to.
I would use the same criteria for evaluating Google+ right now as I would use for any social network. Are customers and those that influence your customers active on the network? Can you create value for those audiences and engagement to support your business objectives? If you don’t know, then experiment before you commit. If you are able to gain value from Google+ that you can see and measure, then stick with it. But be prepared to change.
If your only reason for being on Google+ as a brand is in the hopes that someday there will be some significant SEO value beyond what I’ve mentioned above, then you might just have wasted your time. Creating a profile with occasional re-posts from your other social networks and formulaic plusses and comments on keyword specific content is not a competitive SEO strategy on Google+. Few companies will see social media, content marketing or SEO benefits from Google+ without an attempt to create content that attracts, engages and inspires a community to interact in turn.
Whether your brand should run from Google+ isn’t really the question to be asking as much as, “Should your brand be doing a better job of evaluating and optimizing social platform performance?” Do you agree? Or maybe not? What questions do you have about Google+?
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