An agency exec's thoughts on Google+
A couple weeks ago, I spoke with Scott Symonds, general manager of media, search and analytics, at AKQA Media, for a Q&A to run in our September issue. But as often happens, I couldn't squeeze all of the 20-minute interview into a 450-ish word story. You can read Symonds' thoughts on TV ad spending and online video innovation in a few weeks, but to hold you over I offer this excerpt on Google+. Enjoy.
Direct Marketing News: Social media's all the rage among marketers, but are we hitting a point where brands need to trim the fat and not necessarily be on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, Scvngr, Instagram and now Google+?
Symonds: I don't think consumers have 20% more time in their day to spend online on Google+. I think Google+ will have to take from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to be successful, obviously. We can't keep piling these things on and adding time. But I'm sure you've seen the numbers; Google+ is already claiming 20 million users and an incredibly attractive demographic of 25-to-34 [year-old consumers]. So it's already compelling as a media property. [But] we need to figure out when and why to use it versus Facebook, or to complement Facebook or to complement Twitter. That's still what we're figuring out right now.
DMN: I imagine it's a bit of a relief that there's a holding period to keep brands from setting up Google+ profiles. What are you hearing from your clients about their plans?
Symonds: What should we do is the question. I think you're right. There's a slight bit of relief that it's still in beta and [Google is blocking brand activity]. We still need to figure out what the application is for Google+, to complement or extend or replace the initiatives that we have in place for clients.
DMN: Since Facebook was a closed network for years, advertisers were able to come in to a more or less mature ecosystem that showed them off the bat how consumers were using Facebook. To a lesser extent, Twitter was the same thing. With Google+, it doesn't seem like there's going to be that solid of a foundation in use cases. How will that impact the advertisers' adoption?
Symonds: Like you said, we do have the precedents of even MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. I think that's what we'll do. [Google+] seems to have communication similarities with Twitter and even with some of the IM clients [through] the video chatting [functionality]. So we're looking at with those as precedent, certainly noting the scale and engagement potential we see in Facebook and figuring out how we bring that to Google. But like you say, we have less of a runway as far as behavior to monitor this. We sort of have to take the greatest hits we've seen on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere. The good news is we feel like we can probably steer it a lot. It definitely is somewhat malleable because there is such freshness. I think we're starting to distill some human behavior truths from social. We believe in the value that peer endorsement is valuable. We know there's an extension of messaging when you present something compellingly to a direct-target audience. Those are lessons learned that will apply to Google+ out of the gate.
DMN: Of Google+'s capabilities, it seems like “Hangouts” might have the best fit in advertisers' wheelhouses. Am I right in thinking that?
Symonds: Yeah, it's a nice way for consumers to signal that they're open. One worry in the early stages of social media was [the question of] ‘Is it fair for us to interrupt conversations between people?' Hangouts is kind of a brilliant idea that suggests an openness to conversation and new inputs. I agree that that seems to be the fertile playground right now.
DMN: In February, I covered a Social Media Week panel that discussed the threat of Facebook Messages to email marketers, whether it would segment out marketing emails with the potential of segmenting out marketing entirely from the general Facebook feed. With Google+ having “Circles,” I could create a “Brands” Circle to view separately from others. Is that of value or is it something that advertisers wouldn't want me to do?
Symonds: In some ways, I think that would be positive. When you've read your friends' emails and then want to look at your deals or retail or however you've segmented it, there's more of an open-mindedness to it. If there's one thing we've seen for sure, social media doesn't quite have that precise moment of activation intent that search does. You look up “plumber” on search, and you probably have a problem; you need to get your plumbing fixed right away. Social media, you're more [often] talking with friends and are incidentally made aware of brands and opportunities and don't necessarily hop on them right away. It's more influential than it is activation-oriented. So [Google+ Circles] is a great way to let users categorize whether they want to have brands and friends mixed or whether they want to separate their shopping time from their communication time.