Can Google+ for Businesses Compete with Facebook/Twitter?

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Google+ Pages are here, and major businesses are already jumping on board. Having lost a certain amount of the summer’s momentum for personal users, Google may be hoping that a strong showing by the business sector will reverse the increasingly lackluster overall view of the company’s social network.

“For you and me, this means we can now hang out live with the local bike shop, or discuss our wardrobe with a favorite clothing line, or follow a band on tour,” wrote Vic Gundotra on the Official Google Blog. “Google+ Pages give life to everything we find in the real world. And by adding them to circles, we can create lasting bonds with the pages (and people) that matter most.”

The question is largely one of competition and coexistence. Although the various social media venues are competitors in many ways, it’s worth remembering that this is not a winner-take-all scenario.

“Many businesses have a blog, and a Twitter feed, and a Facebook page already,” analyst Ray Valdes told PCWorld, “and now some portion of those will add a Google+ Page.”

However, Google+ Pages aren’t really directly competing with Twitter, or even with LinkedIn. Twitter is ideal for quick-and-dirty breaking announcements (generally leading to other places), and LinkedIn is nearly untouchable for job-hunting and other professional development networking.

The real trick is to find a niche that one of the others isn’t quite filling. Facebook and Google+ will either remain vaguely competitive, or develop along separate and complimentary lines with (increasingly narrow) specific features and benefits.

According to analyst Dan Olds, Facebook is geared towards individuals and not businesses, but Google+ can move ahead of Facebook if they can make social networking easier for businesses.

One analyst criticism that keeps popping up is that of ‘multiple admin accounts’. It’s a biggie. For years, businesses’ digital Achilles’ heel was depending on webmasters and other specialized employees to keep their digital lines of communication flowing. LinkedIn and Facebook have already taken steps to reduce the bottleneck at the social media level, and Google+ knows it.

Google’s single biggest potential is in the “+1”. Facebook has ‘Like’, which certainly has its place, but it doesn’t directly translate into improved rankings and personal recommendations on the world’s most-used search engine.

Facebook spent years integrating and refining their targeted marketing and advertising goals, and it’s still a bit of a mess. Meanwhile, Google has AdWords, Analytics, and “+1” integration — all intimately connected to Google Search. Expect to see Google+ rapidly gaining on Facebook in this area. Add that to “Direct Connect”, right from the Google toolbar, and you have a much more, uh, direct route between people and businesses than Facebook has to offer.

Not only that, “targeted” takes on a whole different dimension when you consider the emphasis that Google+ has placed on defining different Circles. Businesses speak to different segments in different ways, whether it is internal vs. external communication, or a specifically defined consumer subset. Not that this potential isn’t available on Facebook, but Google+ has made it an eminently visible cornerstone of its core offering — to the extent of pre-set ‘customers’, ‘VIPs’, and ‘team members’ circles for businesses.

For Facebook to match this potential, it would basically need to get people to use a Facebook browser and/or a Facebook toolbar by default — not to mention a Facebook search engine that has been powering the digital world for a decade or so already. The lurking danger is that Google already has a number of regulators looking closely at potentially anti-competitive practices, so there’s only so far they can go along these lines before it comes back to haunt them.

However (and it’s a big however), Facebook has also harnessed the power of apps, especially third-party ones. Until Google+ can let businesses embed or integrate unique ways to make the Pages do something extra, you’re left with little more than the Google version of your company’s About Us web page.

Still, Google already has “Hangouts”, an intuitive, immediate, and integrated means of real-time video communication (again, with internal, external, or any combination of individuals). Facebook saw this challenge and rushed out its own Skype-powered video chat (they’d been working on it for some time, apparently, but the timing was still significant), but like many FB features, it still suffers from the ‘bolt-on syndrome’.

Ultimately, the strength and weakness of social media is obviously the matter of widespread adoption. Social media success is, in many ways, little more than a popularity contest — and one that is greatly dependent on inertia (consider Facebook’s continued popularity amidst countless flaws and failures). No matter how optimized Google+ Pages become for business-oriented features and benefits, winning the battle will come down to whatever it takes to attract and maintain an engaged user base.

Elli is an avid skier and tennis player who enjoys writing in her spare time for - Home of CenturyLink Internet.