GOOGLE+, the search giant’s new social networking platform, has the potential to eclipse Facebook and offer advertisers unparalleled opportunities, according to ad industry executives.
Google+ is in field trials with an invitation-only audience in 44 languages. Google is not saying how many thousands of people are in the trial, but a large bulk of the invitations in Australia were distributed to ad agencies and media owners.
This is Google’s third attempt to crack the social networking formula. Its previous efforts, Buzz and Wave, failed to lure users but the view from observers is that Google got it right this time. And it could be the game changer that kills Facebook, despite its 750 million-strong membership.
“I was sceptical before, but now that I’ve had some time on it I think it has a good chance of rivalling Facebook,” says Cathie McGinn, strategy director for media agency Mindshare Sydney. “Google+ is a well thought out, intuitive platform that thinks about the user experience. I can see the potential for a couple of our clients and I’m going to be talking to them about it very soon.”
One of the most praised features of Google+ is the Circles function, which allows users to categorise their friends into distinct groups — for example, close friends, colleagues, interest groups and family — and choose who gets to see which updates.
Trial participants say this is more in line with social behaviour in the real world. Also praised are the mobile group chat (Huddle) and group video chat (Hangouts) features.
Sparks, another feature, uses Google’s immense search engine power to deliver a constant stream of “shareable” content to a user on chosen topics, and visible to their nominated Circles.
For advertisers, the biggest benefit of Google+ would be the enhanced ad-serving relevance it will deliver Google, said M&C Saatchi Australia managing director David Whittle.
“Google will learn more about people and be able to serve them more relevant advertising,” he said. “Google isn’t going out in the marketplace saying, ‘Hey, the greatest benefit of this product is going to be targeted advertising’, but that’s what it is — and it’s going to be amazing.”
Google opened the trial to advertisers last Thursday. In a YouTube video, Google product manager Christian Oestlien said: “We’re going to take a small group of brands, businesses and other entities and create profiles for them and see how users interact with them via Circles, through the stream and even how they communicate with them through Hangouts.”
Iain McDonald, founder of digital agency Amnesia Razorfish, said advertisers should get involved in Google+ early.
“I would advise every client to get on board and try it,” he said.
“If you’ve been a social laggard in Facebook, it’s a great time for a brand to jump into this and benefit from being an early adopter.”
According to internal Mindshare analysis, mounting criticism of Facebook over security issues coupled with a decline in users in markets such as the US and Britain “may give Google the opportunity it needs to lead disaffected users to a platform with superior privacy and sharing capabilities”.
In Australia, Facebook user numbers dropped 1.7 per cent month on month in June.
Google+ has tight privacy settings and a function allowing users to retrieve and delete their information at any time.
“No doubt Facebook has a tremendous penetration globally, but Google+ is more useful from a business sense and a personal sense,” Mr Whittle said.
“A lot of people now run their personal life on Facebook and their business life on Twitter.
“With Google+, you can do that on one platform. Remember when MySpace was unstoppable?”