Does Google Want Brands in Your Social Circle?

children sitting in a circleIt has been a couple months since Google Social Search was made available in beta to all users on Google.com so I thought I would revisit it from a marketing perspective.

As I covered when Social Search initially launched in Google Labs, for companies the main objective in social search optimization is to get included in their target audiences’ social circles. That’s great for marketers, but is it what Google wants?

On The Current State of Social Search panel at SMX West a few weeks ago I asked Johanna Wright, Google’s Director of Product Management, Web Search, about this. Johanna said she could understand why brands would want to connect with users through Social Search but that Google had developed it with individuals in mind, not companies.

Thus there isn’t any type of official Google profile for companies as there is with Facebook Pages or branded YouTube channels. It is still possible for a company to set up a Google profile; Tad Miller offered tips on this last year. But the lack of an official corporate option complicates the process for businesses, particularly if someone else has already created a Gmail account with their brand. Danny Sullivan wrote about this in connection with Google Buzz last month.

Despite these challenges companies are experimenting with Social Search and the launch of Google Buzz has increased the number of brands setting up Google profiles, particularly news and content sites. But ultimately what companies need is for users to connect with them through various social media outlets and then link to those accounts from their own Google profiles.

So how well does this translate into brand visibility in Google Social Search?

To get a sense of how it’s working I took a look at my own social circle and Social Search results. I follow a number of different news sites (and other companies) on Twitter, Facebook and other social media, and each of those accounts is linked on my Google Profile. I’m also subscribed to 368 feeds in Google Reader including a wide range of blogs and news sites. So in theory I should have as good a chance as anyone of having brands and especially news sites in my social circle.

In the current “snapshot” of my social circle there are 432 direct connections and 28 secondary connections. Of those 460 connections 67 are companies, news sites or blogs, roughly 15%. (This information is available by clicking the “My social circle” link above your social results or going directly to this page while signed into your Google account).

Snapshot of Google Social Circle

So while Google created Social Search with individuals in mind at least in my own experience brands are not specifically being excluded although they are certainly a minority.

I was also curious how Google Social Search was connecting me to the 67 non-individuals. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Twitter 42
  • FriendFeed 19
  • Digg 4
  • Flickr 2

At least in my case following a brand on Twitter offers the best chance of having them added to my social circle. Content included in my social results through Google Reader subscriptions is not covered in Google’s social circle snapshot so I can’t tie any numbers to that.

Of the 67 brands in my social circle only five are major news sites or magazines: The Huffington Post, Sports Illustrated, Real Simple, Business Insider and Hürriyet (a national newspaper in Turkey). I’m not sure why these five made the cut. At least to-date the only one that frequently pops up in my social results is Sports Illustrated but it is nearly always just a link to their SI_24Seven Twitter profile or one of their Twitter Lists, as seen in these results for “nba”:

Embedded Google Social Search results

(By the way: go Bulls!)

In a couple months of checking I’ve never had a SI.com article appear in my social results. I can get the other four news sites to surface for branded searches but I’ve yet to see them come up for any non-branded queries. That seems odd since all five produce content every single day and I’m often shown outdated or not fully relevant listings from other members of my social circle. But I think this is more related to Social Search still being an early beta product than content from brands being intentionally de-emphasized.

The bottom line: Google Social Search does offer opportunities for brands but it is still early days and the results are mixed at best. In addition, having a news site in your social circle via Twitter does not necessarily mean that actual editorial content from the site will be included in your social results. But as the overall quality of Social Search improves I expect this to get better. And hopefully Google will decide to offer Google profiles for companies in the future.

How often are you seeing content from brands in your Social Search results?

Comments

  1. Great post – I work with Tad Miller, and we’re all very interested to see what path Google takes with this. Here’s hoping Google rolls out official Buzz, Profile and Social Circle options for brands.

    I’d let you know how many brand connections I currently have, but when I went to check – I got a server error. Go figure.

  2. Thanks Renee

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