February 8, 2013, 2:03 PM

Google spurs retailers to use Google+

The search giant features brands’ posts to search results.

Lead Photo

While Google Inc.’s social network Google+ opened up to brands in November 2011, the platform has largely failed to gain traction. Only 128 retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide feature the +1 button, while 473 display the similar Facebook Like button.
But Google last year aimed to breathe life into the social network by adding brands’ Google+ posts to search results—and it doesn’t charge for the added exposure. That means that when a shopper searches for “ThinkGeek” he sees the brand’s latest posts, “Today in Geek History: Dun dun…dun dun...dundun dundun dundun! Composer John Williams was born in 1932” and “We'll just leave this here. You can thank us later” in a column on the right side of the search results page. Each post includes a time stamp, how many consumers follow the brand and a Follow button that enables a shopper to follow the brand on Google+.

Adding brands' posts aims to improve Google users' experience, says a Google spokeswoman. Some analysts are skeptical whether anything Google does at this point will invigorate it. “Google+ is such a non-player, any changes to it are pretty irrelevant, at least at this time,” says Sucharita Mulpuru, vice president and principal analyst for e-business at Forrester Research Inc. Far more consumers use Facebook than Google+. For instance, Facebook says it had 1.06 billion active users as of Dec. 31. Google says it has 235 million active users of Google products who have Google+ accounts as of Dec. 31, of those, 135 million had used the social network in December. 

Since Google+’s launch, Google has sought to leverage the weight of its search engine to drive both consumers and brands to use the social network. Google last June, for example, launched a service called Google+ Local, which automatically extends businesses’ Google+ profile pages to its local business listings. That enabled a retailer like Macy’s Inc., which has about 840 stores in 45 states, to have 840 separate Google+ pages, each featuring an area map and details about the store. And Google in January 2012 rolled out a tool called “Search, plus your World,” that enables consumers signed into Google to click a button near the top of the search results page to call forth content from the Google + social network.

Despite those efforts, many large retailers that post several times a day on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest hardly ever engage with consumers on Google+. Recreational Equipment Inc., for instance, posted a note on Google+ on Wednesday highlighting President Barack Obama’s nomination of Sally Jewell, REI’s CEO and president, to take over as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. But before that, its last post was in December. In the meantime, it posted multiple times nearly every day on both Facebook and Twitter.

ThinkGeek is No. 175 in the Top 500 Guide, Macy’s is No. 14 and REI is No. 64.

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