Google+ introduced brand pages, an almost exact match for Facebook Pages. While Google now claims that Google+ is not a competitor to Facebook, the Pages products are so similar that they are bound to go head-to-head. Brands are going to end up getting more value out of one or the other.Last week
In this post we look at the early efforts of two leading luxury car brands: BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The comparison shows that Facebook has a clear first-mover advantage in user numbers and its comparatively advanced developer platform. But Facebook shouldn't get complacent, Google+ has a lot of promise as a destination site where brands can truly engage their fans.
I chose cars for this comparison, not because I'm a car person (far from it!). It's because cars - particularly luxury cars - rely heavily on branding for their sales. They're also very social brands, because many people tend to be loyal to a certain car manufacturer and therefore fellow fans.
Let's first look at BMW, because it clearly illustrates the advantages that Facebook Pages currently hold.
Facebook's Trump Cards
The other big difference is that BMW's Facebook Page is very interactive, whereas the corresponding Google+ Page so far isn't. When you 'like' the BMW Facebook Page, you are prompted to customize your dream BMW via an application called MAKE IT YOURS. Below is a hot little red number I came up with.
But the developer platform is something that Google can quickly catch up with, too. The Google+ team is promising big things for its nascent API.
The 'E' Word: Engage
The big question is how can Google+ Pages get an edge and not merely catch up to Facebook Pages on user numbers and interactivity. Looking at BMW's Facebook Page Wall gives a clue. It's a complete mess, because BMW allows its millions of followers to post directly to the Wall - which encourages spam and other irrelevant content. It's the opposite of BMW's clean and focused Google+ Page, which users cannot post directly to.
But wait, you say, other brands do a better job of managing their Facebook Wall. That's true, Mercedes-Benz USA carefully maintains its its Facebook Page. Including a moderated Wall full of engaging content. Over 175,000 people have liked Mercedes-Benz USA on Facebook and there appear to be a lot of comments its Wall. But are there? On average it's around 20-25 comments per post, with a few getting up to 40-45. So at best that's less than 1/4 of a percent (0.25%) of its total Facebook fan base engaging with the brand. Which is precisely the opportunity for Google+ and its brand pages...
Google+ has already shown that it can engage its users around topics of interest to them; and foster discussions. Look at the activity among artists on Google+, for example.
There are millions of car fanatics in the world and many of them have their favorite brands. So where brands such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz may find the best use for Google+ is in engaging with their fans.
Also, because of Google's media products - such as YouTube and Google Reader - Google+ integrates well with other forms of media. This post on the Mercedes-Benz Google+ Page is a good example:
Let's not forget the Google+ Hangouts, which are group video chats. It's not hard to see the potential for Top Gear-like group discussions among car fans, using Hangouts. Of course as with any social media channel, the key for brands like BMW will be to post content that isn't just advertising. On launch day last week for Google+ Pages, The Muppets were lambasted for holding a pseudo Hangout that was really just an extended promotional video.
What About Those User Numbers...
While there aren't many comments so far on the Google+ Page for Mercedes-Benz, that will come once more of Google+'s reported tens of millions of users start following brands.
What's more, Google has the capacity to - ahem - drive more car fans to Google+. It can do this through its enormously popular services like YouTube and Google search. For example, adding a prominent 'related' link next to a YouTube video about luxury cars that points to (you guessed it) the Google+ Pages of BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Or adding contextual links to Google search results. Google can also, not incidentally, make a lot of money charging brands for those links.
Update: Google has already begun the integration with search via Direct Connect. This allows you to go straight to a Google+ brand page by searching for "+[name]" in Google Web search. This feature is in limited beta currently.
So, Facebook or Google+ Pages?
Google+ also shows a lot of promise as a platform for two-way discussions around specific topics of interest, which plays right into the hands of brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Let us know your thoughts about Facebook Pages vs. Google+ Pages. Do you think brands will eventually find the Google+ version to be more rewarding?