Murray Calder: Putting Brands or Consumers First? Google +

Google’s most successful foray into social media so far, Google +, is reported to have recruited over 20 million users in just over two weeks. Time will tell whether it is a worthy long-term competitor to the two behemoths of social media, Facebook and Twitter, but it's an impressive beginning. 

Brands have clearly shown early enthusiasm for Google+ with many jumping straight on and creating profile. However, Google have been very clear that this incarnation of Google+ is very much for real people, not brands. But is this a sensible approach?

There can be no doubt that, in the long term, brands will be crucial to the future success of Google+. Especially for the average user, the key reason to add Google+ to their repertoire of online spaces will be whether there is enough interesting and relevant content to keep them interested. While some of us might find the early-mover tech and marketing chat interesting, people in the real world are more interested in relevant, useful content which, for the most part is produced (or at least facilitated) by brands.

But brands will only go where their potential audience is so an emphasis on making Google+ a viable online space for people, before introducing brands, might be a smart move. There’s no doubt that some of the innovation Google+ has introduced, for instance Circles, have the potential to make the platform a better environment for discretely sharing content amongst specific groups of people than either Twitter or Facebook currently provide and this might be one key to growing user engagement.

However, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg question. Brands will only go where there is a critical mass of potential customers and those customers will only use a platform where there is sufficient entertaining, interesting or useful content, mostly provided by their favourite brands. However, in the short term, a focus on getting the consumer proposition and interaction right feels like a good move.

Certainly, Google have deep enough pockets to wait before they introduce money-making opportunities for brands, and themselves. The integration of social behaviour and search data has been a holy grail for some time now and I wouldn’t bet against Google making this happen with this new platform. Whatever happens next, we can be sure that Google will have their eye on the ease with which they can monetise the site in the longer term.

What is Google +?

Google+ is a social networking application conceived as a competitor to the currently dominant Facebook. It has differentiated itself from Facebook through the inclusion of a number of innovative new features including:

Circles: this allows users to create different groups of contacts with whom they can share information helping you avoid sending the same 'funny' video to your work colleagues as you do to your friends.

Huddle: is a group messaging application, which allows group, rather than one-to-one, discussions which might be useful when, for example, arranging a night out.

Sparks: dubbed a 'sharing engine' by Google, this app lets you easily share interesting content from around the web with your contacts.

Hangouts: a video chat app which allows you to speak in real time with up to ten people.

Murray Calder is a director of Edinburgh-based media planning agency, MediaCom. He is also chair of IPA Scotland. 

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