Google+ Pages Gets Mixed Reviews

Some brands' needs not yet met

Brands and businesses, which were booted off Google+ this summer, have been waiting months for an invite back. But now that they can finally join the social network, some are finding it leaves much to be desired.

In launching Google+ Pages Monday, Google said it “has lots of improvements planned and miles to go before we sleep.” And, in a briefing ahead of the launch, the company said it intended to listen to feedback and ramp up functionality quickly. But some industry insiders and tech observers indicate that they still hoped for more from Google’s newest social release.

Popular tech blogger Robert Scoble, who has been very active on his personal Google+ profile, tore up the new business-oriented product in a post titled, “I wish I had never heard of Google+’s brand pages.” Noting flaws in how account administration is set up, he wrote, “Google+ brand accounts are woefully inadequate for public companies’ needs.”

In a piece pronouncing that “Google+ Is Dead,” Slate’s tech columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote that Google’s brand pages might even be “moot,” given the reported drop-off in Google+ traffic and lack of widespread interest.

It isn’t just the tech punditry that was expecting more.

Chris Copeland, CEO of GroupM Search, said that, aside from a few additional features such as Direct Connect and the way brands add users to circles, he doesn’t see how brand pages are different from the profiles that were made available this summer. While brands may realize that they have to join Google+ for the search connectivity, he said, offering a work-in-progress with little guidance and while brands are already deep into holiday planning doesn’t necessarily get the relationship off to the best start.

Some of those responsible for implementing Google+ pages for their businesses echoed that lack of guidance. “There was very little communication with Google,” said a community manager with a major news organization. “Google did not manage expectations," and they weren't told exactly when the company would launch the brand pages this month. Consequently, social media managers were left scrambling to get their pages up and running Monday night.

Others are more positive about Google+. Daniel Lewis, director of new media communications for Sesame Street, one of the early adopter brands that got the boot this summer, said his experience this time around has met expectations. When he launched the page Monday, he said he found the process to be straightforward, and while he acknowledged that there’s some vagueness around how the product will work, he sees a lot of potential in it. “It’s like any other emerging media, it’s emerging,” he said. “I’m excited to have an opportunity to be a part of it.”

“It’s a baby step but a step in the right direction,” adds Sean O’Brien, director of innovation and technology for Campbell Mithun. “My initial reaction is that this is definitely a me-too move, but Google is adding some good things to the mix.”

Dan Patterson, digital platform manager for ABC News Radio, welcomed the arrival of Google+ pages and quickly set up an account for his platform, but did concede that “it’s a little confusing as to why it was not launched fully baked.” Some of his concerns: It doesn't allow for the annotation of authors on the page, and it only connects to one individual’s personal Gmail account.

Multiple account ownership is an essential need for any brand page, he said, adding that it’s “baffling why they didn’t consider this.” He also said he hopes Google quickly rolls out a metrics service so that brands can monitor implicit actions in addition to explicit ones, such as +1s and shares.

Others in the industry said they’d like to see Google add apps and a rich API.

Campbell Mithun's O'Brien noted that the perception of Google+ as a ghost town will impact brands’ willingness to embrace it. To get the brands, he said, Google+ needs to give users a reason to join the site and stick around. But, so far, there aren’t enough ways for users to stay active on the site. “What brands are looking for aren’t users or followers, but engagement,” he said.  “Without an engaged user base, G+ has a mountain to climb.”

Bryan Fuhr, svp of strategy at Havas, sees things a little differently. “It requires a lot of work on the part of brands to get it right, so it’s kind of good that there isn’t a large audience there,” he said. “You can hone how you want to build your community, what kinds of interactions you want, what kind of content you want to share, and then get it right." Given Google’s overwhelming market share in search, he added, it’ll be hard for Google+ to not reach scale. It just hasn’t happened yet.

As for search, experts say the new pages hold tremendous opportunity for brands that properly connect their websites to their Google+ accounts and make sure to feed it with fresh content. “Now you’ve got the ability to broaden your brand through your content, and it happens in a place that affects search rankings,” said Chris Watson, CMO for SEO agency Everspark Interactive. "That’s a great thing.” And while other kinds of social media may take up more time, he said, Google+ can piggyback on content created elsewhere by connecting with other Google products and content from a website (like press releases, for example).

Still, for Google+ to really live up to its full potential, some say it needs to part with its penchant for secrecy.

“To be successful in social, it has to act the opposite of how it acts in search,” GroupM’s Copeland said. “Google has historically been a black box, secret sauce kind of organization. For Google+ to be successful, they have to be more collaborative with brands."