The Ford Motor Company has become one of the first large companies to get an approved, albeit still ‘Test Mode’, Business Page account at Google+.
Earlier in the year Google promised to start the business pages roll out as soon as we started the build up to the Christmas holiday period so that business can take advantage of it and it appears than on this, at least, Google management are sticking to their word.
Right now the attention is on what’s new, what fresh options does a business page provide and what are the benefits for marketers. A look at Ford’s test page will provide a disappointment at first. Superficially at least the page looks no different to any other Google+ profile. Business pages allow you to create a profile using a business entity name as opposed to a personal name and, from the outside looking in, that’s about it.
Like any Google product aimed at businesses however the real value of a business page on Google+ lies in what’s humming beneath the hood and here personal pages and business pages get a very different treatment on Google+.
Ford has been one global company who gets social in a way few global companies do. It hired Scott Monty, several years ago, as head of its Social Media and Scott has been instrumental in pushing every social media boundary for the company, even being an early adopter at Google+ who got in hot water with the search giant for using his personal account as a business account for Ford (he had to rename it and use it as a real person, though it was still on behalf of Ford) within the first ten days of Google+ starting out.
The company has been using Google+ as a very direct line to connect with potential buyers who are interested in hearing what the people who make the cars on the street have to say and as a channel for connecting with ‘influentials’ (major influence peddlers with a large social media following who are amongst the early adopters of Google+) to help promote the Ford brand further.
So what are the advantages of using Google+ business pages for business? If we look at Ford’s example of using hangouts (the group video conferencing feature of Google+) to connect directly with relatively small groups of casual users and discuss subjects specific to their cars (like the recent move to integrate Spotify on-demand music services on some models) we can see how what appear to be relatively small, low-cost aspects of social media connections become the seeds which grow into successful viral campaigns.
Considering that in a tough economic climate Ford has been enjoying a resurgence in sales and brand appeal their social media strategy is working. Part of that success will now lie directly with the ability of Google+ business pages to drill down on social media metrics. Google will be using the business pages to further refine what they have to offer but here’s what the functionality has to offer:
Integration with Google Analytics style reporting tools – not only will business pages users will see where their business page visitors come from but they also get stats showing the degree of interaction.
Reporting tools on the effectiveness of hangouts. Hangouts are turning into a powerful direct marketing channel for businesses. Twitter became central to social media marketers when it turned into a channel where companies can establish a direct connection to their customers. Google+ with its hangouts feature is taking that ability to the next level.
Geolocation reporting. Google+ business accounts come with full geolocation reporting capability and (if reports are to be believed) future capability for marketing segregation according to location. Geolocation is something Google is constantly developing and given its mobile platform dominance, believes staunchly in. Services here will only get bigger and better in the near future.
Summing up, the advantages of a Google+ business account lie in the ability to analyse its effectiveness and reach getting what is probably the clearest return-on-investment (ROI) picture of any social media tool to date, plus the added control this kind of data analysis now gives when it comes to planning content and designing marketing campaigns.
Is it really useful for the individual who wants to promote themselves? In Facebook many writers, journalists and marketers used a two-pronged approach, having a personal page before establishing a business page. Facebook programming also made it impossible to have the latter without first having the former. As a result many found themselves spread thin and having to abandon one or the other in order to free up some time.
Google+ is not like that. You can get an incredible degree of interaction, feedback and exposure straight from your personal page and there are no limitations to what you can do. What you miss out on, of course, is the analysis of interaction and traffic but that may not be such a bad thing in itself. I have argued before that when it comes to being authentic on the web there has to be a fine balance between artifice and what’s really real. Overmanaging a Google+ presence may lean towards the former instead of the latter and in the long term that can only backfire. For business however there is no limit to how much data one can have and here Google+ offers a clear advantage over everybody else.
Correction: Since this post was published Scott Monty has been in touch to clarify that it was not his personal account which was in violation of Google+ guidelines. On July 20th the Ford Google+ account was suspended alongside that of Mashable, Search Engine Land and Sesame Street. It was later reinstated along with Mashable's. Mashable had been changed to fit in with Google+ guidelines on personal profiles. The Ford account did not have to undergo such change and no official explanation was ever given by Google on the exception being made.