We recently discussed in this blog the power of branding on Facebook, and specifically how different companies are taking advantage of the gradual shift in the demographics of Facebook users. Facebook is obviously huge, and it makes sense to focus your social media efforts there at least for the time being. But there's a new kid in town in the form of Google+ Pages, and no one's quite sure yet whether this town is going to be big enough for the both of them. Quite a lot to cover here, so please bear with us.

Google+: A Brief History

In case you weren't aware, Google+ launched amid much fanfare in July this year, prompting 10 million people and businesses to sign up straight away. Features that stood out included Circles, which allow more effective micro-management of social groups than Facebook ever has, Hangouts, where groups of people can webcam chat in real-time, Sparks, which is basically a 'Things you might like' tool, and Huddle, which is like a real-time message board for chatting, organising and collaborating. With much of the functionality of Facebook and a few neat twists of their own, Google+ looked set to at least give them a run for their money, if not necessarily be the 'Facebook-killer' that some observers were hoping for.

Slowing Down

Initially Google+ was available to people by invitation only, on the basis that Google were still ironing out some of the bugs, but naturally the invitation process was abused by many who perhaps didn't understand that it was still in the process of beta testing. Businesses also tried to jump on, despite being warned that the network wasn't ready for them yet. Google added at the time that they had something planned especially for organisations, and asked them to be patient. That something was Google+ Pages, and it finally appears to be ready. The problem is that many users have already grown impatient with the lack of progress, indeed according to some reports, many of the 10 million Google+ users on launch have already stopped using it. At least for the time being, that is.

However ...

We know from watching Google over the years that they like to play the long game, and that when it's all ready to go it's going to be pretty cool. Whether or not you think it's going to reach the heady heights of Facebook, it's still going to be a powerful tool for engaging with your friends, associates and customers alike. Circles allow you to group your connections in whichever way you want, while Hangouts and Huddles allow you to engage them face-to-face in real time. Plus there's all the Facebook stuff you're probably used to, with users able to associate themselves with your organisation, and '+1' buttons working in a similar way to Facebook's 'Like'.

The Money Question

Is now the time to get your organisation on Google+ Pages? The answer is probably, but we simply don't know at the moment. More than 3 months after the initial launch, Google+ is in fact still ostensibly in beta, but they've been known to keep fully functional projects in beta for years before now, so that might not even mean anything. The numbers of users suggest that a presence on Facebook will reach far more people than on Google+ at the moment and is therefore the social media platform you should be prioritising, but on the other hand there's every chance that Google with have a few things up their sleeve to rapidly get more people on board. We're also only beginning to see the massive potential for integration with their search engine for a complete social search experience. Don't forget that they've also got Google Docs, Gmail and YouTube, where there's potential for even more integration. Like most things though, this comes down to value. One could argue that until Google+ has at least a comparable user base to Facebook it's not worth concentrating your efforts there, but is a user base already in the tens of millions to be scoffed at?

So you're on Google+ Pages - what now?

The problem for Google is that the organisations on Facebook are already so entrenched there that to set up on Google+ Pages would be to merely duplicate the content they're already offering on Facebook. So Google is going to have to offer some real incentives to both users and organisations to get on board, as well as making it sufficiently different to Facebook to make it worthwhile doing so. Conversely, Facebook themselves are only another PR gaffe or privacy intrusion away from losing some users for good, and with a viable competitor now there's only one place that they'll end up. So what you might see is Google+ becoming the network of choice for power users and tech savvies (with generally higher disposable incomes), while Facebook remains the network of choice for the masses. Many people will happily use both.

Even if you don't think you're quite ready to take the plunge on Google+ Pages yet, it's still well worth knowing what it can offer so that when you do, you know what you'll be working with. On its initial launch Google+ was the fastest growing social network in history, so it's likely that when they're done tinkering there'll be another explosion of growth. With this in mind, you might need to get yourself on there at short notice, so it'll be worth knowing how it all works sooner rather than later if you don't want to get left behind.