Can Google do for social what it did in search? Advertisers have been waiting to answer that question for years as they waved good-bye to Wave, waited through privacy issues in Buzz, and watched as social network Orkut gained acceptance in Brazil, but nowhere else.
Enter Google+. Think paid-search ads, Interest-based ad targeting, Google TV, and social gaming -- not today, but long-term. Tie it all together in the belly of the Internet and Google+ truly offers a connection to your circle of friends.
"We currently do not offer advertising in Google+, but will continue to look for new ways for businesses to engage users in the project," said a Google spokesperson.
While ad products are not available today in Google+, it's just a matter of time. Frank Lee, head of sales and marketing at DataPop, calls Google+ the engine's "best attempt to personalize ad targeting," and it doesn't arrive without challenges. "The big obstacle for Google will be giving users a compelling reason to use Google+ versus Facebook," he said. Google is winning the search game because they have all the users. Same goes with social."
Rob Griffin, Havas Digital, global EVP and director of product development, calls Google+ an interesting extension of social efforts that began with +1.
"Time will tell if they can make lightning strike twice, but to date they have yet to crack social," Griffin said -- suggesting that Google doesn't have a choice, as social search grows in importance and advertisers begin to adopt multi-click attribution. If Google falters again, it will relinquish some search activity to Twitter and Facebook while losing/sharing value on the search clicks they retain.
Whether or not Griffin recommends the ad buy to clients will depend on the products and the brands. If there is a fit, he sees no reason not to test right away.
Advertising within the social layer is less about new units or formats, and more about advanced targeting techniques, said Kenshoo CMO Aaron Goldman.
Social ad spending rose in Q2 for search firm IgnitionOne clients. Advertisers spent 22% more on Facebook in Q2 2011 to run campaigns and impressions rose 11% compared with the prior year, according to a report released this week by IgnitionOne. But Wedbush Securities Analyst Lou Kerner notes that as the social site approaches 700 million users, growth in the most mature regions such as the U.S. continues to slow.
The IgnitionOne quarterly report points to Google's majority market share stake in search and display. In Q2 2011, Google held 80% share of U.S. search advertising spend, compared with Yahoo and Bing at 19%. The Mountain View, Calif. company also led in impressions, clicks, click-through rates (CTR) and eCPM. Google's AdEx took 51% share of U.S. real-time bidding display spend, compared with Yahoo's Right Media at 49% share in the year-ago quarter.
And what's missing from service on Google TV? Direct access to a Google-based social network, of course.
No doubt Google+ will provide an outlet for social gaming too. It will give game developers such as San Francisco-based Zynga another avenue for fans of "FarmVille" and "Mafia Wars" to play.
About half of Web users ages 18 to 44 play social games daily, according to a May 2011 eMarketer survey. The research firm estimates that U.S. social gaming revenue will exceed $1 billion this year. Most players are interested in social challenges brought on by brands willing to provide incentives such as coupons and discounts.