Prior to our Demystifying Digital conferences, we survey our client delegates to measure interest in online platforms. Google+ always ranks in the top three results. Launched in June 2011, in the now familiar invite-only to build buzz mode, G+ opened up to everyone soon after. Brand pages were officially added in November 2011, although early adopter Ford famously got to keep their Page. Last month’s redesign and last week’s new mobile app, show the love and importance of G+ to Google overall. Admittedly a fan of the Circle concept, I think now is a good time to highlight some key points about the platform. Perhaps it was inevitable, but imho it was a major PR mistake to allow Google+ to be defined by the media as a competitor to Facebook. I believe it is something quite different.

1. Google+ is not ‘another Facebook’ — it is a social unifier for all Google products

Googler Paul Coffey, speaking at D2 Energy, officially described G+ as a layer, not another channel. Altimeter analyst and Twitterati Jeremiah Owyang agrees, “…all of google is one product.” Google’s recent move to reduce more than 60 privacy policies for their products (like YouTube, Gmail, and Search) down to one main policy is part of their stated intention to ‘treat you as a single user across all our products’. For brands, clearly this helps Google show more relevant search results and ads. And the social layer of G+ means I can look at a Search result page in ‘regular’ Google and see which products my connections have +1 or linked to. Another just announced integration is the ability to engage with G+ content (view, comment, +1, etc) through a Google+ notification email in Gmail. Destination sites are so old web. Google products with G+ functionality will be anywhere on the Internet a user is likely to want or need them.

2. The creative possibilities of Hangouts are ever expanding

Google just launched Hangouts On Air to Google+ users worldwide. This ability to broadcast a live Hangout to your YouTube channel or website means it can be seen by the entire (online) world. Or just your familyCelebritiessports stars, presidents and news outlets have been taking advantage of this already. I’m not sure why we haven’t seen swarms of brands doing Hangouts featuring their celebrity ambassadors and CEOs, but they should. Companies could also use the Hangout tool for everything from job interviews to focus group testing. And even the White House is using it for contests.

3. SEO, Social Search, and now, the Knowledge Graph

Google means Search. The launch of the Knowledge Graph deserves its own post, so for now I just want to note that of course Google has both the right and the reason to increase the overlap between their Search product and G+ (i.e., “Search Plus Your World” and “Latest Posts”).

Search is the ultimate user-centric tool of the Internet and social search will be too. My friend may like Ford on Facebook, but in my car-free life in London that just isn’t relevant to me. It’s a brand impression with no ROI. Until I move back to California and need to buy a new car. On a Google property, my search for Mustang Convertible would come back with my friend’s +1 or blog post link, suddenly making her love for Ford a useful recommendation to an in market buyer.

Brand Pages to watch on G+: As a start, you could do worse than follow Google’s own Pages. It is a great way to keep up with improvements and new features for all their products. Luxury brands like Ferrari and Armani are seeing successCadbury (now a Kraft brand) is getting lots of coverage for creative use of the platform and million+ followers. Retailer Topman is looking for VIPs among their G+ followers. With Facebook admitting that brand post only organically reach about 16% of their fans, and companies like GM deciding FBs ads aren’t effective, the so far ad free Google+ can be an attractive canvas for creative brand content. What brands do you see trying smart experiments on Google+?