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Is Google+ of any value for market researchers?

OCTOBER 6, 2011 – Social media websites can offer marketing companies another means of conducting market research, and ad agencies now have more options for how they can reach out to consumers and gain more information on their client bases.

Google+ was the internet giant’s answer to Facebook – users can share pictures and facts about themselves, but can also tell friends about various articles and other items they find online. One debate in the marketing community is whether the new social media offering can do the same for advertising and promotions that its predecessor did.

In a debate for Direct Marketing News, the CEO of Bullhorn, Arthur Papas, and David Erickson – who heads e-strategy at Tunheim – discuss whether Google+ will add anything to marketing campaigns.

Papas thinks that Google’s social media offering will be a flop, likening it to a networking event where only one other person shows up.

“Everyone loves social networks. These networks took off because people have become accustomed to publishing without thinking about it at all,” he says. However, because Google asks users to determine which of their “friends” – their audience – should see the content they want to share, it forces people to second-guess whether what they’re reposting has any value at all.

This makes the enterprise worthless for a marketer, Papas says. “There are no conversations to which you can listen; there’s no jumping off point. While you could just walk in and start broadcasting messages, you’d be eliminating the very fabric of what makes marketing in social networks social: conversation,” he concludes.

In the opposite corner, Erickson argues that Google+ will actually be an added tool for marketing campaigns. Besides being a new method of conducting market research, companies now have yet another forum for their display advertisements and for creating brand profiles.

“I suspect you’ll eventually be able to target people based on their interests and lifestyles in addition to the searches they perform,” he predicts. “With the recent addition of behavioral targeting capabilities, Google may be able to out-Facebook Facebook in the social advertising department.

He adds that the network offers a valuable search engine optimization advantage, because the website content that users share – via the “+1” button – will probably show up higher in Google search results and give that added layer of trust. The idea is that someone you know thinks you should read this, Erickson explains.

“Increasingly, those links will include content that has been shared through Google+,” he concludes, adding that the network will be a driving force in ensuring a client’s blog or press release is seen by more people.

A report from Experian Hitwise supports Erickson’s argument. Although the network had a rough launch, the study suggests more people are tuning into Google+ now that it is publicly available and no longer “invitation only.” The website leaped ahead to the eighth most-visited website in the social networking and forums category in the week ending September 24, a huge accomplishment considering it was in 54th place the week before. The jump represents 1,269 percent growth.

According to Experian, the site drew 15 million U.S. visits during that period, and the study doesn’t even include traffic originating from the Google Notification Bar nor from mobile traffic. While Facebook is still light years ahead, at almost 1.76 billion hits during the period studied, Google seems to have covered serious ground in a short time.