The Google + redesign has caught us by surprise. By all measures, Google has clearly made something to take note of. Although they still have to refine their new interface, their design leapfrogged Facebook Timeline (though they borrowed some of Facebook’s ideas) in both cosmetics and functionality.

What It Changes, What It Doesn’t for Online Marketing

In one sense, the redesign changes little for independent restaurant owners, as it doesn’t matter how great something is if few people use it.  The reality is that only a fraction of the social media activity happens on Google + at this point, so restaurants that are struggling to get a hold on Facebook should probably be conservative. You don’t need a Google + strategy, only to be aware that Google + may attract active users, and you should be ready to include Google + in your online marketing. The exception is if you can think of a way to harness Hangouts, a feature that really differentiates Google +, you may be able to draw people to in.

What is New with Google +

The main differences are that Google cut down on the white space and replaced it with a sleek, flexible, and easy-to-use layout. Be aware that the Profiles and Pages are so similar (maybe too similar) that nearly all of the changes apply to both and I won’t differentiate the two. Let’s take a tour of the layout. First, the left side has a grey customizable “navigation ribbon”. You choose between simple large buttons to put  the functions you want in a convenient place.

Next, with the picture arrangement, Google took the good things about Facebook Timeline and gave it a makeover. At top, you can choose between Facebook’s old layout (a row of pictures), or their new one (a long cover photo). Neither dominates the profile the way images do in Timeline, and your attention goes to two places, the latest post and the profile picture. The profile picture is moved to the right and is large.

Google + sets the profile basic info below the profile/page photo on the right. This rearrangement challenges the Facebook orientation, by giving the right side of the screen equal importance. I find this as a good idea because it gives a user a choice to focus on the visuals or go right to the posts on the wall. You don’t have to hopscotch over the photo (which you may be all to familiar with) to the post and content.

For restaurant Pages, you are able to have multiple managers, so it does not fall on one person’s shoulders. Overall, we would like the Page to have something distinctive so a user can quickly figure out if they are on a Page or Profile.

Will Google + Happen or Fade

We have a hobby around the office about throwing around ideas what Google + could do to challenge Facebook. Mostly, we talk about how Hangouts have so much business potential through classes, seminars and meetings. With enough educational Hangouts (both free and not free) , users will migrate over and so will energy and enthusiasm. Google has assured us that that is on the horizon and we recently participated in a demonstration Hangout that hints that Google + will have marketing dimensions absent from Facebook.

The billion dollar question is: can Google draw attention to the design upgrades (while they have an advantage) and can Google open social media to new types of content (Hangouts, etc.)? Until the end of the year, Google + will either sink or swim, as treading water will make them fair game for Facebook. Oddly, Google’s redesign is right at the time of Facebook’s weakness, and they should put on a full press.

Facebook Two-Column Mistake and Google +’s Opportunity

Timeline is vulnerable in a very fundamental way and since Facebook is on the defensive already, any major upheaval is out of the question in the immediate future.  Facebook Timeline’s biggest weakness, beyond people who just resent change, is the two-column wall. It is hard to scan. The information looks disorganized and uncontained. Facebook aggravates the issue by eating up real estate with big box listing the user’s friends (which is not why we are there).  It is one reason that pictures are starting to take over in terms of engagement with Pages. Customization and a more visual layout are fine but social media needs to be easy to use.

We will see. I am not aware of Google making a marketing push right now for Google +. The announcement did not come with much fanfare even though I doubt Facebook will ever again launch such a big change without thinking practically. Our honest opinion is that the next 6 months will decide if Google + will make an impact or become a footnote.