Playing with Google+ Pages for Businesses is like unwrapping the world’s most disappointing Christmas present. We put out the milk and cookies. We waited up, hiding under the covers, ears attuned for the sound of 32 tiny reindeer hooves prancing on the roof. And, when we trundled downstairs on Monday, bursting with optimism and excitement, we discovered that some unshaven fat guy in a red suit had ransacked our pantry and left us with an empty Millennium Falcon playset, not even a Han Solo action figure in sight, and two hours of cleaning frozen reindeer poop off the roof.
All right, maybe it’s not as bad as that (thanks for the memories, mom), but the analogy is the same. We were eagerly awaiting Google’s foray into the world of company pages, hoping that it addressed shortcomings that currently exist in other offerings on the market, including Facebook Pages. However, due to a bevy of missing ingredients and some questionable information about the Google+ user base, Google+ Pages tastes like yet another bad soufflé served up to the social media palate, failing to rise to the occasion. And, while Google is still refining their recipe, it’s not ready for consumption, particularly for proprietary higher education institutions which already have myriad stable social venues to engage on.
Here’s three reasons why:
#1 - The User Base
First, we don’t know all that much about the Google+ user base. Sure, it’s 40 million strong now and it’s growing, but who is actually using it? According to research released by comScore at the end of August, the groups that indexed highly for interest in Google+ were young and wealthy. Specifically, interest in Google+ was skewed significantly towards 18-34 year olds who made more than $75,000 each year. Earlier in August, Experian Hitwise reported that “prosperous, middle-aged married couples [living in] affluent suburbs” were also a quickly growing demographic on Google+.
Information about the types of occupations most common on Google+ also seem to indicate that, for proprietary schools, Google+ might not be hitting the mark. In mid-August, We Are Cloud found that the top ten occupations using Google+ were students, software engineers, engineers, software developers, managers, web developers, photographers, designers, graphic designers, and marketers.
Incidentally, this makes Google+ wonderful for traditional schools looking to engage existing students or alumni. They can reach their existing students (or at least the approximately 200,000 that were seen in We Are Cloud’s survey) through Google+, as well as engage with alumni that are early adopters or involved in high-technology professions.
For proprietary or career schools, though, all of this information, coupled with the relatively small user base (when compared with the 850 million Facebook users) indicates that time could be better spent elsewhere.
#2 - Page Management is Flawed for Businesses
The system for administrating Google+ Pages is also lacking. Even if you remove some of the more confusing design elements (for example, if you navigate to the page that you created, you can not post updates as that page. Instead, you have to go to your own profile, select the manage pages option from the drop down menu next to your avatar, and then enter in what you want to publish), the way the pages are managed is also inherently flawed.
Let’s walk through the process for creating a page to illustrate this. Right now, each page must be associated with a Google+ user account. Just for background, Google frowns on creating dummy Google+ accounts for businesses (which is why they created the pages). So, all right, you, early adopter that you are, go out with your personal Google+ account and create a page for your company, figuring, “Hey, I’ll just add a couple more administrators to the page when it’s up and running.”
Wrong. This is where the angry buzzer sounds in a game show. You can’t do that because, right now, Google does not allow you to have more than one person administrate a page. But, hey, you’re pretty innovative, so you now say, “That’s fine. I’ll just create that page and get everything set up and then we’ll transfer ownership to the person who will also run it.”
Bzzzzzzzzz. Again, big angry buzzer for you! Because Google also does not allow you to transfer ownership of a page. So, now you, innovative early adopter that you are, have been saddled with management of a company page for the rest of your life, even if you leave or get fired. The moral of the story, at least for businesses, is that you should make sure that the person who creates your page will never, ever leave your company, or else you may have to completely recreate your Google+ Page from the ground up. Quite simply, Google+ has a page management system that doesn’t just fail for some companies (like Facebook’s lack of different access rights for page administrators), but actually manages to fail for all companies, especially given that Google does not want you creating a company Google+ account that you can pass between page administrators.
The flipside of this is, if you want awesome job security, go ahead and create your company’s Google+ Page right now and you know that you’ll be safe, at least until Google fixes this mess.
#3 - No Baked-In Vanity URLs
The last point I want to make is that, currently, Google+ lacks a baked-in vanity URL system. In the grand scheme of things, maybe this isn’t so important, because services like gplus.to exist. But is it too much to ask that this would be a feature actually included with Google+ Pages, especially given that competitors (like the big, bad Facebook) already do this?
What does this means for a school? Well, there’s no existing functionality, without using a non-Google service, to be anything more than, say, http://plus.google.com/u/0/114593921297208801251.
Look, everything about Google+ Pages isn’t bad. For example, having customers be able to +1 your Google+ page (and for those pages to show up in search results) could have great benefits in terms of search engine optimization. And allowing customers to interact with staff through video conferencing in Google Hangouts is a pretty awesome feature as well, which has substantial implications for increasing not only the level of engagement that you can have, but also drastically changing the types of engagements that you can have.
Unfortunately, those positives do not outweigh the severe problems that exist not only in the feature set, but also the relatively limited user base. As much as I hate to say it, this is one of those instances where hopping on the early adopter bandwagon just doesn’t make sense when compared with, you know, building and managing engaging school communities on already existing platforms that better address institutional needs.