Google+ has officially rolled out +Post Ads to all Pages and Profiles with over 1000 Followers. +Post Ads are a new Google display ad format, which is really nothing more than a re-purposed Google+ post. In Facebook terminology, a +Post Ad is a Promoted Post, but with one key difference: +Post Ads don’t get promoted on the Google+ social network, instead they appear as Google Display Network ads. The Google Display Ad Network is the largest display ad provider on the internet reaching over two million websites, followed by Facebook which previously led the category.
This move could mark a major turning point in the balance of the social media playing field in a few important ways that strongly favor Google.
The Onboarding Problem
+Post Ads may help Google+ overcome the problem of inactive profiles (people who signed up for a Google account but don’t use the Google+ social network itself, leaving their social accounts essentially abandoned). As long as you browse websites or read blogs, you will now potentially be shown a fully interactive Google+ Post sooner or later, and if you are one of the more than half billion active account users across Google properties, it will be easy to engage with these ads. Twitter has the same inactive account problem (even more so) but has no such mechanism to reach their users wherever they are on the web.
Eyeballs and Calls-To-Action
All else being equal, ads with more exposure (i.e. more eyeballs), and which are designed to make it as easy (preferably impulsive) to take action perform better. Even if someone isn’t using Google+ right now, a certain number out of every targeted audience that sees the ad is likely to do so if only that one time. Multiply this by a large enough audience, with a well crafted ad that calls the user to action, and you’ve got reach to rival Facebook, with a social element to engage the user directly in the ad.
The challenge here is that people are on Facebook to engage socially, whereas casual web browsers may not be, so it remains to be seen how well this idea scales. Facebook has the opposite problem: people aren’t on Facebook to buy stuff, read news, or any of those things Google outperforms them for. Even if +Post Ads don’t ultimately match Promoted Posts for engagement, they may become a preferred social advertising medium on the web because they’re literally the only game in town. You simply can’t embed a Facebook Status Update or an interactive Tweet in a Google Display Ad.
The Search Wildcard
The power of a Google+ Follower who uses Personalized Search (which is on by default for logged-in users) is potentially nothing less than the theoretical ability to dominate that user’s Search results in perpetuity. Scale this by millions and millions of users and any SEO worth their salt will be forced to think about baseball to calm their libido.
Google+ may become the new standard of Google Search Engine Optimization, and unless Google tweaks the algorithms down-the-line to make a social Follower less valuable for Search, the race right now is to the quick and dead. Those who get in early will reap the greatest benefits for the longest time. Integration between Google+ and Google Search, already deep enough to mistake them for conjoined twins, will almost certainly accelerate geometrically until it has become the internet equivalent of a force of nature. Only an utter failure of the project seems likely to prevent this. That or a sudden cataclysmic implosion of the Google brand.
It Solves The Ad-Free Problem
Being Ad-Free is a selling point for Google+. This is an odd departure for a company that prides itself on being able to monetize almost any consumer internet product successfully. Certainly on-site social ads can be and are a rich source of revenue for some companies, yet Google+ dares not do it, since it isn’t what their users want. They may also feel that current approaches to social advertising are not good enough to meet their standards yet.
The problem with this, however, is that a significant investment of talent and resources goes towards maintaining Google’s advertising platforms and monetized properties like Search, Gmail, and YouTube. Google hires tens of thousands of the brightest minds, but many of them are involved in maintaining the core business. Not everyone is building driverless cars and wifi balloons. Social may be Google’s Next Big Thing, but will have to prove it to earn the same allocation of resources.
The Google+ team could easily claim +Post Ads as a victory for social advertising and gain the additional investments of talent and resources this brings with it, perhaps even setting the stage for a true “Big Push” that ties all the components of Google and Google+ together and drives their users deeper and more tightly into the ecosystem.
What’s At Stake
+Post Ads are a Hail Mary pass. They will either collapse spectacularly, possibly taking Google+ with them, or arise triumphant, coming to redefine the next generation of Google as a whole. Either way, +Post Ads will change Google forever. Assuming they can tie the value of Google+ to their entire brand, while delivering a satisfying experience for end users that engages and retains them, there is nothing that can stop them now but a failure to execute (which is always a possibility).
Google+ may never “kill” Facebook or Twitter, or even Foursquare for that matter, but it also doesn’t need to as long as it contributes significantly to the value of the company, brand, and ecosystem, and +Post Ads are a critical test of that goal.
I love technology and how it changes our lives. There’s something almost spiritual about how new technologies connect and empower us. And it’s really cool, too.