Google+, which made its closely watched entrance into the social media sphere a year ago this June, has so far failed to decisively answer skeptics who would ask why the world needs another social network. Its meteoric rise in active users, surpassing 100 million in March, was notable given the time frame. However, as a recent report from research firm comScore shows, quantity isn’t inherently proportional to activity: Between September and January, visitors using personal computers spent 3.3 minutes on Google+ per month compared to 7.5 hours on Facebook.
But what about brands? Google opened up Plus to brands in November and a February study by Bright Edge SocialShare reported a 1,400% increase in Google+ brand page followers since December 2011. An impressive rate, but, as with overall usage numbers, the volume of brand fans doesn’t approach the scale of Facebook in most cases. One conspicuous exception has been Cadbury U.K.. The brand now has over a million followers on Google+ (it has 183K fans on Facebook), which puts it in a very small category.
The U.K.-based chocolatier has led a noteworthy charge among brands on Google+ with engaging campaigns that have utilized the social network’s signature features and made the brand one of the most popular on the platform.
Cadbury has put significant creative muscle into Google+ efforts, with buzzworthy events such as recreating its page entirely out of chocolate to celebrate hitting the 500K fan mark and unveiling a new candy bar on the platform.
"The attention we’ve been giving Google+ has been about starting small and experimenting with what works," says Sonia Carter, Head of Digital for Cadbury parent, Kraft Foods, Europe. "I think we’re fairly mature with some of our other platforms, so we’re enjoying pushing and stretching Google+ to see how it works for us—it’s really been a matter of finding out what we can do on Google+ that’s different." And of course the most obvious points of difference are two features unique to Google+: Circles and Hangouts
The Circle Game
Instead of using Circles to divide and address different social groups, Cadbury is treating them like mini fan clubs for some of their most loved products, like Dairy Milk, Wispa, and Creme Egg. "The fact that you can join Circles specific to what you’re interested in helps [brands] understand their customers and connect with them directly," says Gretchen Howard, Director of Global Social Sales and Strategy for Google. Brands with multiple products stand to benefit from being able to deliver customized information directly to those with vested interests, as opposed to creating white noise with mass blasted posts.
Cadbury also boosted engagement via Circles with Tasters Circle: an opportunity for a select few users to participate in chocolate tastings with Cadbury’s research and development team. "It’s the about the love of chocolate and tapping into an audience’s shared passion with something unique and engaging that can not only entertain, but enrich their overall experience and even educate," says Jerry Daykin, Social Media and Community Manager for Cadbury. The move was intended to reward loyalty, but also serves as an informal focus group giving direct feedback through yet another Google+ feature: Hangouts.
Aside from hosting the Tasters Circle, Cadbury has also held real-time events with prominent athletes in the U.K. as part of its London 2012 Summer Olympic sponsorship program. In a series of Hangouts, fans have had the opportunity to chat with six Cadbury Athlete Ambassadors, cementing Cadbury’s client relationship and creating something for fans that would normally be logistically impossible. "We’re definitely going to continue using Hangouts with this general idea that not everyone has tickets to the Olympics and not everyone will be able to chat with the athletes," says Daykin. "So we’re really hoping to give that experience to people who are thousands of miles away."
As Howard mentions, Hangouts can also serve as a new mode of customer service for a brand "to interact in real time with their customers," she says. "We’ve seen a lot of different uses across Hangouts. Whether it’s Michael Dell [CEO of Dell, Inc.] wanting to connect with different techies or users across the world—he jumps on hangouts all the time and just has conversations with folks." Circles and Hangouts are indeed valuable tools for a brand seeking new means of engaging with their community—but both, as Cadbury is well aware, are smaller pieces of the bigger picture that is harnessing SEO via Google, which has become a more attainable objective with Social Extensions.
Adwords: Social Extensions
Basically, social extensions ramp up a brand’s social marketing efforts by allowing it to share +1’s between AdWords ad campaigns and a Google+ page, meaning all +1’s on a brand’s Google+ page will serve as annotations to its AdWords ads and vice versa. Bottom line: The more annotations, the more ad relevance—the more ad relevance, the further the customer reach. "I think for brands in particular, showing social recommendation at the time of commercial intent is a really powerful thing," says Howard. "So we recommend any business that creates a Plus page to link it to their website—and they can do that using a Google+ badge or a snippet of code—so that it makes it easy for customers to find their Plus page." It’s this broad digital expansion of a brand that Carter says is the end goal her team has established for Cabury’s endeavors with Google+.
"What’s interesting to us with Google in the long-term is how this is going to start affecting the way people find information—and what we’re doing with Google+ puts us in stronger stead in future for the way search works," she says. "Cadbury is really a magical brand—we work with chocolate, which is a very playful product. So Google+ is a place for us to be able to play and get a lot of enjoyment and engagement from our consumers, but in the long-term we have to have an outcome we’re trying to get to; and the secret weapon we’re hoping for is how [Google+] will start influencing search."
[FastCompany.com Image: Flickr user CycloneBill]