The new Google + social media platform is getting a lot of attention, and deservedly so. It is an extension of one of the world’s largest technology brands and in about a month the site has already gained about 25 million users. Observers in the marketing industry are already speculating about the potential value Google + holds for marketers and advertisers, even more so because of Google’s missteps in social leading up to the introduction of Google +.

To put it briefly, when it comes down to what Facebook can offer brands versus what Google+ can, it’s not really a contest. Facebook has 750 million active users and millions of brands currently engaging those users in meaningful, valuable ways through mechanisms like brand pages and applications.

As impressive as 25 million users in a month is, it is too early to know how sticky Google + really is, and there has not been enough time to give a good indication as to where its long-term engagement levels will be. Google+ also doesn’t have brand pages yet (a major misstep on Google’s part, at least from a marketer’s perspective). While this is something the marketplace is watching with great anticipation, you can bet that when they do arrive you will see the next wave of analysis on the brand experience, along with the contrasting and comparing with Facebook. And while Google+ has experienced impressive growth, something we all must remember, and a huge success factor when it comes to social networks, is user time spent and, as previously mentioned, engagement. Are people just flocking to Google+ so they can get a sneak peak and be an “early adopter?” Twitter is a great example of this – lots of users, but only 36% of them use it on a daily basis, while 41% use it rarely or not at all, according to a December 2010 survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Facebook – The Advantages

Facebook’s enormous user base and unique data provided by its users has made the social network the number one seller of display advertising. The depth and breadth of Facebook’s reach is a powerful force and creates a massive hurdle for Google+. People’s lives are engrained in Facebook; there are barriers that do not allow those lives to be easily ported to Google+, making overall switching costs high. The same is true for brands. Facebook’s brilliant move to create Facebook Connect, an extension of the Facebook platform for sites, parallels Google’s creation of Adsense, which in Q1 accounted for 28% of Google’s revenue.  Facebook went beyond being a site and has become the social layer for the entire internet, a layer that would be incredibly difficult to peel away.

In order to leverage the massive user base, Facebook’s ad platform, in a very short time, has become an amazing demand creation engine and engagement vehicle. Facebook not only offers targeting based on all profile properties including demographics and interests, it offers fully integrated advertising and engagement through ad types such as sponsored stories.

The intersection of engagement and advertising allows ads to boost and even tailor conversations to certain audiences. This looks like just a first step in integrating ads into user conversations, engagements and activities. For many brands, their Facebook page is now a fully functioning extension or even replacement of their home page.

Facebook will undoubtedly continue to bridge the gap between engagement and advertising in efforts to keep relevancy and user experience at the forefront of their products. Facebook’s unique engagement vehicles allow brands to communicate with consumers in more robust and targeted ways than we’ve ever seen. This should only continue to strengthen over time as social becomes more integrated with other channels, making it an even more holistic experience

Google+ — The Potential Advantages

So we know that currently, Google + offers no quantitative advantages over Facebook as an advertising platform. However, given the enormous muscle and credibility behind Google+, it is far too early to say the network will not develop advantages over time. Beyond the intent to develop brand pages, there are several other factors to consider.

Most significantly Google has an estimated 1 billion users, every single one of which is a potential Google+ user. Nobody knows how many of these will actually make the jump to Google+, but presumably the number will be much higher than 20 million, especially considering how easy it is for Google to target its own users with promotions.

Theoretically, Google should be able to follow the user all the way through each buying life cycle. Google has a vast amount of intent data that, if combined with profile and social engagement data, makes Google’s ad system extremely powerful. Full funnel value attribution could be made possible in an increased number of situations, allowing advertisers to better maximize volume and efficiency. In an environment where value attribution is one of the biggest hurdles brands face when determining the benefit of their social media efforts, Google could put enough pieces of the puzzle together to make value more transparent to an increased number of brands.

In addition, social data gathered from Google+ could provide an added layer to the targeting for Google’s AdSense service, which lets online publishers display targeted Google ads to their users and their other ad exchange and display products that utilize data appends for segmentation and optimization. This would further enhance the marketing value of Google+ beyond simply serving as a new direct platform for marketing and advertising.

Of course, any potential advantage hinges on Google’s ability to create enough of a critical mass.

Do Consumers Need another Social Network?

Social networking is undeniably a hugely popular trend that is not going away anytime soon. Nielsen data indicates social networking is now the most popular online activity. However, while consumers clearly are willing to devote large amounts of time and energy to social networking, it is less clear whether they want to devote that time and energy to an increasing number of social networks.

Facebook already offers consumers all the basic social networking functionality they need, in terms of connecting with friends, communicating through methods such as wall postings, email and chat, posting photos and videos, and discovering and tracking brands and products.  In addition, Twitter offers a well-established “in the moment” option for social networkers who are looking for more of a real-time live feed on daily events than Facebook offers, and who may want to know what Ashton Kutcher is doing every minute of the day (but I digress).

While Google+ does offer some unique features that provide the user with real value, such as the ability to divide friends into different circles, “hangouts” that make bringing groups together for real-time online communication easy, and the superior Google chat, there is no guarantee these will be enough to drive long-term growth and engagement or overcome the cost of switching. Plus, it would not be too difficult for Facebook to copy any Google+ feature it felt was seriously driving traffic away from Facebook to Google+.

Facebook – The Proven Marketing Vehicle

So, Google has clearly proven itself to be the kind of company you never count out of any competition it chooses to enter (anyone remember HotBot? I didn’t think so). Google+ certainly holds plenty of potential to become a major player in the world of social networking but not without some close scrutiny and some added pieces to the puzzle.

Facebook has already proven its vast marketing potential, and is constantly adding to it. By virtue of its size, established brand name and market presence, convenience, and expanding stores of voluntarily contributed consumer data, Facebook today is one of the best vehicles for online marketing. Furthermore, Facebook offers significant ease of entry for brands looking to quickly enter the social networking arena via pages and other features like Facebook Connect, and have immediate access to a plugged-in audience of hundreds of millions of people. Facebook is the social layer that sits on top of the Web, while Google is currently an expert in demand fulfillment, not demand creation.

These facts are not likely to change tomorrow, or the next day. Even if Google+ grows into a legitimate online marketing presence, it most likely will serve as a complement to Facebook, rather than as a replacement.