People who have ventured onto Google+ since its beta launch in late June are likely to find people talking a lot about one thing: Google+.
“Right now, about 90 percent of the conversation on Google+ looks like it’s about Google+,” says Scott Monty, global digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford Motor Co. “It’s pretty inside-baseball.”
Ford, which launched its Google+ profile July 1, is taking advantage of that conversation by asking Google+ users, “What would you like to see from us, in order to get the most value from interacting?”
The response has been huge, with 124 comments from some of the nearly 3,000 people who have put Ford in their “circles”—the Google+ equivalent to “following” someone on Twitter—in less than two weeks. Ford hopes to keep that momentum going as the brand is propelled forward by the distinction of being the first automaker to enter Google+, which Google says has exceeded 10 million users.
The ‘first mover advantage’
So far, Ford has really benefited from what Monty calls the “Woody Allen theory” of social media, based on the comedian’s quote that “80 percent of success is showing up.” By being the first car company on Google+, Ford’s showing leadership and innovation, he says, and the company’s gotten some nice press as a result.
But Monty points out the “Yogi Berra corollary” to that Woody Allen theory: “It’s the other half that’s hard.” That’s why Ford reached out to ask for suggestions for how it could interact with people on Google+. There’s no clear path just yet, and the brand is serving as an “active experimenter.”
“We wanted to be at the forefront to try it out, to see what people were saying and to see how a business might fit into this community,” Monty says.
Among the things commenters asked for were live video discussions with designers, access to other Ford employees who don’t usually speak publicly, event photos, plans for the future, integration with Google Maps and more questions.
Monty says Ford is listening to all those suggestions, and will do its best to implement them. For example, the company set up a chat with its director of marketing communications the day after the initial question went up.
Ford’s social media team didn’t ask for permission from executives to go ahead with joining Google+, he says.
“We’re seasoned enough in the space to know what is hot,” he says. But executives did pay attention once the press coverage started popping up.
Much of the discussion of Google+ so far seems to hinge on how—or if—it’s all that different from Facebook. Monty says he sees similarities between Google+ and Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Posterous, but Google+ has some distinct features of its own.
For one, it has “hangouts,” video chats involving groups of people. And rather than one large, amorphous group of friends, users categorize contacts into circles for friends, family, acquaintances, work colleagues, etc.
Beyond features, Monty says he sees Google+ as “sort of the opposite of Facebook,” even though many of its functions are the same. Facebook started as, and remains, a sort of “walled garden,” he says. Google+ has the potential to integrate with all of Google’s tools on the Web: its blogging platform, its photo-sharing service, its email service, its robust analytics platform, and more.
“It’s the glue to bring those disparate parts together,” Monty says.
Likewise, Ford employees may approach Google+ differently. Where Facebook, especially early on, focused on personal socializing and school affiliations, Google+ is a little more open.
Many people on Google+ identify themselves by their employer. So perhaps Ford employees who are hesitant to identify themselves as employees on Facebook would be willing to do so on Google+. It’s all in how people approach the network.
Still, there’s a lot to work out with how Google+ will actually shape up. Ford, which Monty says has been “a longstanding partner with Google,” is working with the search giant to try to determine what works on the site and what needs some retooling.
Ford needs to be “as flexible as possible” as the company moves ahead with Google+, Monty says: “We don’t know what we don’t know.”
For example, this month Google product manager Christian Oestlien posted a video stating that Google engineers are working on an “optimized business experience for Google+” scheduled to come out this year.
“We’re asking people to hold off on using consumer profiles to get a business identity on Google+,” Oestlien said in the video. However, Google is working with a small group of brands, including Ford, to test how Google+ users interact with brands.
Monty says Ford hasn’t added any staff to help with Google+ just yet, because the site’s still relatively small.
“We’re staffed the same as we always were,” he says. “We’re just keeping tabs on another site.”