Automaker races to test Google's answer to Facebook.
Never the social media wallflower, Ford is already busy testing Google's answer to Facebook.
And almost as soon as they blinked into existence, the two profiles began generating posts. On Friday, Ford Europe ran an image caption contest, promising a copy of PC and console game DiRT3 to the Google+ user with the most popular comment. Meanwhile, the Ford Motor Company account is preparing to test a Google+ group chat feature tomorrow with some of the brand's followers.
Scott Monty, Ford's head of social media, said the Ford-initiated "Huddle" on Google+ could allow up to 10 people to chat with some Ford executives about future initiatives. He described Huddle as one of the site's most promising early features for brands.
"The Huddle chat capability has potential for webinars, analyst calls, even customer service [uses] for people to have a face-to-face experience of the brand," he told ClickZ.
Not surprisingly, Ford's Google+ audience is still tiny. As of Monday afternoon, the Ford Motor Company account had added just 10 people to its "Circles," and 150 people had added the brand to their own Circles. Ford Europe's numbers are slightly smaller. But its community is certain to grow considering the site only entered a limited trial one week ago and the Ford accounts have been live for fewer than four days.
According to the Google+ Statistics counter, even the largest Google+ accounts, those of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google's top management, have under 30,000 followers each. Only six users currently have more than 10,000 followers.
Ford's Monty notes Google+ was designed to serve individuals, not corporations - at least not yet. "They haven't made profiles such that they're brand friendly," he said. "It's a human-centered platform. We've adopted a persona if you will. Our expectation is that the platform will evolve to support brands."
Google has confirmed brand profiles are in the offing, at least for small to mid-sized businesses. In a comment posted to the blog of Mike Blumenthal, a marketing and technology consultant, Google Commerce and Local Jeff Huber wrote, "Yes, we will have (smb) business profile pages on Google+. I can’t announce a launch date yet, but we want to make them *great*, and we’re coding as fast as we can."
It's anybody's guess whether Google+ brand profiles will ultimately support the core features available to individual users - features such as Circles, which lets people sort contacts into categories such as friends, family, and colleagues and communicate only with those they choose. For marketers, Circles could support audience segmentation and message customization.
Monty said Google+ has significant potential not only because of its features but because of its integration with Google's other products.
"It's a priority for us to understand what's on the cutting edge and where influencers are going and look at the technology shaping the way people are communicating," he said. "Normally we try to go where the mainstream are. In certain circumstances we'll be an early adopter because we see the potential."
Ford is not the very first brand to create a presence on Google+, but most of the others appear to be media brands. On the list are ABC News, The Next Web, and Mashable. Its rabid pursuit of new social platforms is consistent with Ford's reputation as a social media maven. It has launched initiatives for a range of vehicles, including last year's Ford Fiesta Movement that engaged 100 social media evangelists. Ford's enthusiasm is reflected in its Google+ tagline: "Founded by Henry Ford in 1903, we make automobiles. And we like social media."
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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