Jul 28

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Late last month, the unveiling of Google+ prompted the world over reconsider the future of social media and online networking, and many began to wonder if The Goog’s latest product would boast enough innovative features to dethrone Facebook, king of the social networking realm. Speculation has run rampant as the search giant’s latest foray into new media gains momentum, much of which attempts to size up Google+ against Facebook. Many in the tech world are projecting whether or not + will be successful both in stealing existing social network users and attracting new ones. But here at Oniracom, my compadres and I have been interested in how Google+ will integrate into the larger scheme of social media marketing and brand growth strategies. While wishful thinking would allow Google+, Facebook and others to harmoniously coincide with each other in the virtual world, it is becoming ever-more clear (as is obvious with Facebook’s Skype contract retaliation) that there really may only be room for one. It’s impossible to know which network, if any, will prevail, but Google+ is making a strong attempt by promising features and upgrades not available on Facebook or other social networking sites.

Taking lessons from the success of Facebook’s “Like” capability, the Google team has created a “+1” button that enables users to say, in Google’s words, “this is pretty cool,” or, “you should check this out.” Clickable +1’s appear next to all Google search results and advertisements, and users are encouraged to add a +1 button to their websites, akin to Facebook’s popular “Like” button now found in online articles and blogs. Thus, when you +1 a new restaurant, for example, your Google+ friends will see this on your profile page and those with similar interests will explore and even +1 the page too. When searching on Google, links will not only be +1-able, but will show which of your friends have +1’d as well as the total +1s the link has.

The +1 feature will easily integrate into anyone’s social marketing strategy, especially musicians and other artists. As the Google+ network expands and opens to the public, artists should simply add a +1 button to their website, to individual tracks available for streaming, to albums – even to their Facebook pages. Anything that a fan can and would see online should be +1-able. The more +1’s, the more “buzz” for the artist is created, and it’s likely a larger fan base would ensue. Fans don’t have to be the only ones +1’ing, either. Artists with Google+ profiles will have the ability to +1 their own content, promoting tour dates, album release parties, YouTube channels, etc. Furthermore, artists will be able to support both each other and causes they believe in by +1’ing their favorite spots around the internet.

Facebook has been and will likely remain the most popular social network for some time. But, the brand growth potential offered by Google+ and Google Search integration is certainly one feature that could potentially overthrow Zuckerberg’s giant. Early adapters to the new social network are quickly finding out that content posted or +1’d by anyone within one of their circles will rank higher in a Google search. This means that a simple search for “surf music” will include in its top results, among the obvious Beach Boys and Dick Dale, your college buddy’s band, since he is in your “College Friends” circle and many more of your friends have +1’d his site. Consequently, the potential for artist growth here is huge. A +1 doesn’t mean connecting to one more fan, it means connecting to a fan and his entire social network. Having an expansive online network will in itself actively boost online popularity and brand recognition for artists. At present, Google+ remains strictly a personal network with brand pages still in the testing phase. Google hopes to fully open + to brands by the end of this year’s third quarter. In any case, the integration of Google+ profiles and Google Search, by far the most popular search engine on the planet, will offer brands unprecedented opportunities at reaching a broad, worldwide audience.

The popularity of real-time search results skyrocketed during Twitter and Google’s (now defunct) two-year contract. Searching for topics in politics, science, entertainment and beyond brought up not only the most popular links but also the most pertinent of recent Tweets. Since the contractual relationship has been brought to an end, the next likely step is for Google+ live feed updates to appear directly as search results on Google. If this is in fact the search giant’s plan, the implications for the entertainment industry could be huge. Imagine – G. Love posts on his Google+ account that he will be playing a show in Santa Barbara, CA at the Santa Barbara County Bowl a month from now. Anyone who Googles “G. Love,” “Santa Barbara,” “Santa Barbara County Bowl,” or “August Concerts” will see G. Love’s personalized status update above links to his website or Facebook. A casual fan who normally wouldn’t take the time to research local shows could be notified of the concert the instant it is announced. If he includes a ticket link in the feed update, G. Love has a sold out show in a matter of hours.

Adding to Google+’s potential for success is the suite of apps already tried and true that will easily integrate into the new social network. For one, Analytics can help those interested in marketing themselves or their business over Google+ to keep track of traffic flow and evaluate brand growth strategies. Maps will play into geo-targeted updates or giveaways, perhaps more seamlessly than is possible with Facebook; many Facebook users are not registered within a location-based network, or a specific location has multiple networks (e.g. UCSB, UC Santa Barbara, University of California, Santa Barbara). The Google Checkout online payment system seems like an obvious integration that will allow users to purchase artist’s albums, merchandise, concert tickets and more directly from the Google+ account, giving fans not only ease, but security. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, is the prevalence of the Android Smartphone in the mobile world. Google+ has the potential to not just be an “app” (like Facebook), but to be fully integrated within the Android platform, giving users complete control that Facebookers would lack until Zuckerberg decides to release a mobile platform. Undoubtedly, Google’s collection of popular and weathered apps will assimilate into Google+ and play an integral role in determining the success of a brand’s growth over the new network.

Another feature unique to Google+ is Sparks. Sparks allows users to choose from a variety of “interests” ranging from yodeling to vegan cooking, and Google serves up a news feed based on that interest with relevant links and posts. As Google+ finds its way into the virtual lives of many, musicians and other professionals will be able to become an “interest” themselves and link their fans to content – be it a ticket link for an upcoming concert or a budding artist with a similar sound. Users who add specific genres will get up-to-date information and gossip about the most popular of artists, as well as links to groups or singers they may never have heard of, expanding one’s library while simultaneously garnering publicity for an artist.

Google has on its side is the ability to learn from the mistakes of Myspace and Facebook. Many complaints about marketing over Facebook revolve around the lack of freedom with which users can design their fan pages. Without knowledge of Facebook’s FBML coding language, you’re stuck with the layout they choose, and the options they choose. Here, Google has the upper hand in that they can make their fan pages (or whatever +’s equivalent will be) open to widely used programming languages, allowing professionals to truly stand out from the crowd and give users a more personalized virtual experience.

Currently, Facebook dominates social media marketing thanks to the ease with which a budding small business or professional can create a Facebook Page and reach a substantial online community. However, what Facebook lacks and Google does not is a strong sense of professionalism. Though its presence and influence in the modern era certainly cannot be overlooked, keep in mind that Facebook still was founded as a site where college kids could virtually meet and socialize – an online party minus the kegs and DJ. It has expanded to serve a much larger community and a greater range of needs, but has Facebook truly dropped its boyish charm? If you ask the modern college student what the first thing they do when they wake up is, or what a majority of their online activity is, most would answer Facebook. Conversely, ask the same question to the modern businessman or professional and email seems to top the list. And what often tops the list of the most widely used email client? You guessed it, Gmail. The fact that Google has already established itself as a premiere email client provider should make those who are ready to take the social marketing leap feel comfortable with Google’s record of success in the business/professional world. And, though email client popularity is certainly not the dominant factor in determining the success of a new social network, it provides a powerful example of the saturation Google has within the professional online community, and indicates a track record of success.

Google provides a strong reputation in online ventures, and promises innovative features for + that could not only attract users away from Facebook, but could potentially revolutionize online marketing and brand growth. Their suite of applications will integrate, in some way, into Google+, which could allow for a more versatile and substantial user experience. However, Facebook has for years continued to solidify itself as the first name in social networking, and to take down that giant is nothing short of ambitious. The Google team must take humongous strides if they hope to garner even a fraction of the users Facebook boasts, but I’m probably not alone in saying that if anyone has a chance, it’s Google. There is no way of telling which platform will emerge victorious, and we may not know for years to come. But, one this is for sure – the winner will not only provide a compelling personal online experience, but will also allow for artists, professionals and businesses to market themselves broadly and effectively.

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