Google is in the headlines again after creating new parent company Alphabet, and its recent distancing of the company from lackluster social network Google+. YouTube accounts aren’t forcibly linked to Plus anymore, and the new focus on ‘stand-alone’ companies within the Alphabet banner had many debating whether Plus would be left to live or die on its own merit. That chatter has also forced many analysts to re-examine whether Plus is a worthwhile marketing platform, or if companies would just be wasting their time. Personally, I do think Plus may still have a place in social marketing – it’ll just be much more specialized.
Plus was billed as a Facebook killer, but then didn’t do anything to distinguish itself from Facebook. A lot of people just signed up because it was attached to Google and then stopped using it. But, interestingly, the best section of the site was reminiscent of one of the oldest parts of the internet – forums. Google called theirs communities, and they were easy to find, navigate, and share content to. You may not find your friends on Google+, but you could find plenty of people with shared interests to talk to in these communities. These could be Plus’s redemption if the site focuses on, and bolsters, this feature. Industry experts have rightly pointed out that, while communities are active, they still represent a very small user base. Further, to effectively use inbound marketing in these communities, you have to be an active member and monitor what’s being talked about. A company can’t just post everything it writes into different communities and expect to see any sort of activity. Whoever is behind the company page has to actually, and actively, engage with people, which is fine when there’s a ton of active users. But until, or unless, Plus can get more users into these communities, it may not be worth the effort.
Back in May, Google announced its new Photos app, and industry commentators discussed how that was the first step in re-focusing Plus. I feel like they’re right on the money with that, and though I don’t think they’re attempting to make a Pinterest clone, Google knows what works on Plus, so they’re going to make that feature more integral to the network. Image-based marketing, then, could be a great way to use the site if images already work for you. Product and brand driven businesses – like clothing boutiques, restaurants, or antiquers – should like the combination of images and interest-based communities. But if you run or represent a business that can’t effectively use visual marketing, then it’s pointless to use Photos.
SEO AND LOCAL RESULTS
Google has taken steps that show it will separate local listings from Google+. Earlier this month users reported that local results would, occasionally, not have links to the company’s plus profiles. Google removing the impact of Plus activity on local listings would, in my opinion, make Plus pointless for most small to mid-size businesses. 50% of mobile users who look up a local business on Google Maps visit that store within a day, and Plus used to be a way to stand out. That said, Google is not going to alienate potential advertisers, and Google My Business is a pretty solid service. It seems, then, that Google may try to move companies and marketers off of Plus, and perhaps may even use that fact to distinguish itself from Facebook or Twitter.
I like Google+, and I have been trying to make the company page more active in relevant communities. That is where the service shines. But, likely in an attempt to “purify” these redeeming parts of the network, and attract more users, Google is experimenting with moving Google My Business and company pages away from Plus. So is it worth keeping Plus as part of your marketing strategy? Probably not. The only companies I can see marketing well in the new Plus are built around personal brands and products – photographers, wedding planners, authors, artists, chefs, even marketers themselves, if they’re thought-leaders within the industry. Basically if you have talent enough for people to want to see what you produce, or seek out your advice. Otherwise, just follow Google My Business wherever it goes, and use it to maintain your listings and reviews like in the old days of Google Local.