Google+ Pages: A branding force?

Google+ and brands are now in a relationship.

This is a screen shot of a Google+ Hangout hosted by respected social media news blog Mashable on Wednesday, Nov. 9. The Hangout feature could be used in a variety of ways to reach customers/clients such as Q&A sessions.

But let me preface the above statement by saying be careful of wearing your heart on your sleeve for this newest tryst.

The reason why you should keep your emotional wall intact is because while Google+ sports more than 40 million users, it is a fad…for now.

Google+ is the newest social network created to combat social media giants Facebook and Twitter. Launched this summer, Google+ has more than 40 million users, but falls short in its number of users compared to its competitors (800 million on Facebook, 200 million on Twitter).

Let’s face it, Google+ is a fad. At one time Facebook was a fad, Twitter was a fad, MySpace was a fad, etc. But as of now, two of the above social media networks have flourished (Facebook and Twitter), and have solidified themselves as social staples. As for MySpace, well, when was the last time you heard anyone mention it?

Facebook and Twitter got serious about their product, and thus have built a long-term social relationship that most likely will end only with ‘til death do you part.

To garner further attention and expand its audience, Google added Google+ Pages this week, allowing businesses, organizations, special interest groups and other brands to create their own profiles.

Google initially held off from allowing brands/businesses from doing this, but now that it’s available, Google+ Pages gives these groups a way to interact with their audience.

Now the question is: Should your brand rush to build a Google+ Page?

This social network is still in the honeymoon phase for many, especially for brands, so it’s imperative one gets familiar with what Google+ and its Pages feature offers, or doesn’t for that matter, before making a decision.

But I will say, it is another way to spread the word about your name/brand.

So before you decide to give your heart to Google+ Pages, here are a few of my likes and dislikes (excuse me, +1s and -1s), and hopefully these can help with your decision.

By the way, “+1” is the equivalent to Facebook’s “Like” button.

+1s

  • Hangouts: This feature allows multiple users to interact through video chat. Now this technology isn’t new to the social world, however, what I like is the intimacy a brand can have with its audience. Using this tool to field questions from customers, and subsequently answer them directly, has the ability to make them feel special.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Google is a search engine giant, and by adding Google+ Pages, brands can now optimize their visibility on Google’s search engine. When logged into a Google+ account, you will begin seeing +1 buttons in your search results. Clicking this button, means you “like” the page, post or website you are viewing. Thus, the more +1’s something receives, the higher the ranking it will have in a search. Also, you can +1 content using Google’s browser Chrome, so it’s not exclusive to Google+.
  • Direct Connect: Again the “+” symbol comes into play here. Direct Connect allows for a brand’s Google+ plus page to be accessed directly, increasing visibility once again. When searching for a Google+ Page on Google, you place a “+” then type the first letter or two of the brand you are searching (see screenshot). Brands with “official” pages should be available to click and view, reducing the number of steps in searching for a Page. Now as for what constitutes an “official” page, see the “-1s.”

 -1s

  • Domain squatting: Currently, Google+ Pages do not have a way to verify an “official” page. Anyone can create a page and label it as “the official page of Coca-Cola” for example, even though it may just be Jane Doe of Kalamazoo, Michigan, who created it. A lack of a vanity URL address hurts, too. A vanity address coupled with a verification process would give solid credibility to a brand’s page.
  • No Page analytics: Facebook’s analytics, called Insights, gives Facebook Page owners the ability to understand and analyze trends within user growth and demographics, consumption of content, and creation of content. Page owners are better equipped to improve their business and create better experiences on Facebook. Google+ does not have this ability at the moment.
  • One administrator: Now that brands can market themselves with the Pages feature, the drawback is that only one person can be logged into an account at a time. I am sure this will change over time, but for now it goes into the -1 category.

So with all of that said, how do you feel about Google+ Pages?

Clear Channel Clearly Changing the Game

A couple of days ago I was listening to the radio on my drive home from work and heard a local sports talk show discussing the recent cutbacks made by Clear Channel Communications.

Clear Channel, the nation’s largest radio station operator, announced a plan to downsize many of its on-air and off-air employees from coast to coast. The cutbacks began the next day for many, most without a swan song to their listeners.

Their plan is rather simple and arguably a huge cost-cutting move in an attempt to help erase $20 billion of debt (although according to various articles, spokespersons for the radio giant say the debt is not the reason for regionalizing its stations).

Regardless, if you are able to read between the lines, denouncing this debt theory is just damage control by its public relations department. This strategy is not unique as the economic crisis of 2008 could be tagged as a catalyst for such action — and I’m living proof.

I began my radio career in March of 2008, months before our nation’s worst economic downfall in my 28 years of existence. After graduating from Texas Tech University, I broke into broadcasting and joined a local and privately owned radio station in Gainesville.

Major plans were in the works to rebuild the once-failing station, add additional staff and compete in a small market with extensive news and sports coverage along with a morning-drive radio program. It all came to fruition, except the part about adding more staff.

Once the economy tanked, I survived as a full-time employee halfway through 2009, but I was eventually reduced to part-time status. I understood the logic and never questioned the business decision, because it was just that — a business decision.

Luckily, for the audience and the remaining employees, the station has continued to thrive since my departure and is currently No. 1 among listeners 25 and up among the 30-plus signals in the area, according to Arbitron. The above ratings are important to focus on because it’s the local characteristic of the station that appeals to listeners.

We discussed everything in our morning show, whether it was a national, regional or local story. We made the station our own, and connected with our audience on a personal level. We talked about our lives, our relationships, our friends, our mistakes, our purchases, etc. We were a reality show on the radio — the “Days of our Lives” for the audience tuning in wanting a break from their own. Throw in an hour-long show where residents could buy, swap, trade and sell items, and you’ve got a recipe for gathering an audience.

With the latest cuts by Clear Channel, will they lurk into larger markets? Will companies follow this model if it’s successful? How will the audience react?

Only time will tell and it appears that talk radio could take a hit in the coming years. But, according to Clear Channel, the target audience will expand, so in theory, advertising should reach a greater number of people than being confined to a single area.

So is this a bad move?

Like I said earlier, my reduced role at the radio station was a business decision, just as it was for Clear Channel.

Coincidentally, I heard this change referred to as “fast food radio” on said local sports talk show in the Metroplex. It was a brilliant way to put the reductions into perspective. It will be like having the ability to order a Big Mac in Colleyville and having the same option in Denton.

The move is a “Whopper”, but it’s Clear Channel that must chew on this verdict.