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Advertising In a Ghost Town: What Are Brands Doing on Google+?

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You and everyone you know probably signed up for Google+ when it launched, but how many people in your circles are still posting publicly on the system designed to rival Facebook? Not very many. According to researcher RJMetrics, 30 percent of first-time posters on Google+ don't post again. Ouch.

Brands like Pizza Hut, Heineken and Visa have built pages for Google+, but like many of its users, haven't posted anything since. Even Google CEO Larry Page was caught red-handed not really using the social media platform his company created. That's not a good sign.

And what should cause advertisers further worry is that Google is now playing with its language to make Google+ seem more populated by referring not to Google+ usage but rather to usage of "Google Plus-enhanced products," which they claim is 50 million daily and double that per month. But "Google Plus-enhanced products" doesn't mean Google+; it means YouTube and Google Search.

But maybe it's not so bad. After all, even though Google+ has far fewer users than Facebook, it scored much higher on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI); Google+ scored a 78 out of 100; Facebook got a 61. And Google's second quarter profits for 2012 beat market estimates, as compared to Facebook's IPO boondoggle, so that's not bad.

And as far as advertisers go, 62 of the top 100 global brands (as defined by Interbrand) have Google+ pages, even if some of them are dormant, especially after many of the companies' social media teams decamped from Google+ to move on to Pinterest - but there still must be a good reason for an advertiser to remain present in Google+ if not overtly active, right?

Well, yes. There is.

For starters, Google could re-weight its search algorithm whenever it wants so that companies with Google+ pages receive more weight. Even now, advertisers can link their Google+ pages to their AdWords accounts. This creates a "social layer" on the ad and increases its click-through rate by 5 to 10 percent; that's a big jump.

And high-dollar keywords that cost $6 to $15 per click are clicking through not to paid ads, but to Google+ listings.

Plus, there's one thing that Google+ does that is actually cool, and that's the Google Hangout, an open videoconference platform with a surprisingly robust set of options and tools. It's like Reddit's Ask Me Anything feature, but with video. Driving customers to a Hangout by offering an attractive raffle prize would be a good way to generate interest for any advertiser. A new feature, Google Events, allows users to combine the functions of Google+ with Google Calendar and YouTube to serve up some good looking invitations to practically anything.

It's clear that Google+ lacks the hype of Pinterest or Instagram, but the question is: does it need the hype when it has the Google? After all, at the end of the day, it's Google. Whether its social media world is a ghost town or not is practically irrelevant. If you're an advertiser that relies on Google in any way - from AdWords to Search to YouTube - having a Google+ account is mandatory, even if you feel like the only cowboy in Tombstone.

So what companies are advertising on Google+? Here are a few that are getting noticed:

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Versace - Of course the high-fashion medusa would be on Google+ with 383,428 +1's, compared to its 951,216 likes on Facebook.

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BMW - One would think this company would make more use of YouTube video integration on its Google+ page, but that oversight hasn't hurt it too badly with over 933,000 +1's; compared to 10.7 million likes on Facebook.

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IGN - One of the most popular gaming-related media outlets on the Web, IGN attracts the eyes of one out of every four young men between 18 and 34, and apparently, it's attracting those eyes on Google+ too with 1.7 million +1's, compared to only 806,000 likes on Facebook.

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Time - Time Magazine is the quintessential old-media property, so of course it has a Google+ page because it needs all the help it can get to keep its masthead above water. With 1.3 million +1's, that's a good start and a great way to serve content and ads to Google+ users, if people are actually using it. Interestingly, there are only 552,000 likes on the Time Facebook page.

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Top Gear - A TV car show with franchises in the U.S. and U.K. with one anonymous test driver named The Stig, Top Gear has become the new smart person's auto show. So of course, it's on Google+ and it has 901,568 +1's, compared to its 11.8 million likes on Facebook.

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Electronic Frontier Foundation - Sure, its last Google Hangout only brought in 13 people, but for an advocacy group dedicated to keeping the internet free of regulation, Google+ is an essential component to EFF's social media presence. And with more than 658,000 +1's, EFF is getting its message out on Google+ better than on Facebook, where it only has 38.6K likes.

What are you doing on Google+?

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