Remember Google+? It was that social network the search giant launched a while back, around the same time signing up for yet another social network became about as attractive as stabbing yourself in the neck with a shrimp fork. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram… how many freakin’ updates can we handle until all our status updates will be about updating our status? Oh the humanity.
But if you thought Google+ was already over, you foolishly underestimate the power of the GOOG. This was never about making an immediate splash, kicking Zuckerberg & Co. to the curb and wrapping up world domination in a matter of months. With its latest social effort, Google was playing the long game. And that patient strategy has shifted into an entirely new and fascinating stage.
The most powerful search engine in the world is now offering brands and small businesses one of its most valuable products—advertising space—for free. The hitch? You have to have a Google+ page. Brands that have a presence on Google+ will see their profile appear at the top of any searches for their name in a special and very noticeable little box. Look what happened when I Googled “Nike.”
See that box on the right? Prime real estate. With a follow button, no less. As Wetpaint CEO Ben Elowitz wrote in a recent blog post, “post to Google+, and you can own a huge and prominent space on the most important page outside your own website – and build a following… The alternative? Don’t post – and not only forego what’s basically a free advertisement, but worse you end up leaving the results on the left side of the page to Google’s algorithm.”
It brings up a dirty little question. Is Google playing hardball or offering a worthwhile perk? Elowitz thinks Google is “using its dominance in search to all but force brands to be social on its network.” But Dave Llorens at Fast Company sees it as more carrot than stick. He says Google isn’t forcing anyone to do anything, simply leveraging its value in search to corral, attract and convince brands, businesses, bloggers and more that Google+ is “the Borg-like hive-queen that connects all the other Google products like YouTube, Google Maps, Images, Offers, Books, and more. And Google is starting to roll these products all up into a big ball of awesome user experience.”
One thing is clear, whether brands see this offer as a gun to the head or a helping hand, it’s an offer they can’t refuse.