If Google+ is ever going to compete with Facebook, it’s clear that Google will need to attract brands and celebrities to its social network.

After all, brands and celebrities have become a fixture on Facebook, with some racking up millions of fans.

Perhaps wisely, Google launched Google+ with a focus on individuals. The logic seems sensible: to build a social network in which individuals can connect with brands and celebrities, you need individuals.

Those individuals, of course, aren’t interested exclusively in liking Coca-Cola or posting messages on Lady Gaga’s wall; they primarily want to interact with real people.

But now that the paint has dried on Google+, Google has finally decided that the time is right to let brands in and yesterday, the search giant announced Pages for brands.

Here’s what you need to know…

Two ways to interact.

There are two primary ways individuals can interact with Google+ Pages: the +1 button and Circles. The +1 button is analogous to Facebook’s ‘Like‘ button, and allows Google+ users to indicate that they support or recommend a particular brand.

Circles, on the other hand, give fans the ability to take a more Twitter-like approach by following a favorite brand.

Which method of interaction will prove to be most popular? FC Barcelona’s Page, for instance, has ~1,700 +1s and ~10,500 followers as I write this, while Good Morning America’s Page has ~100 +1s and ~7,500 followers.

An evaluation of other Pages shows similar differences between brands. While it’s not clear what, if anything, a disparity between +1s and followers could mean for a brand, these two metrics will be interesting to watch and analyze.

If Facebook Pages are like furnished flats, Google+ Pages are unfurnished offices.

In my opinion, there can be little doubt that Google+’s designers were ‘inspired‘ by Facebook. Google+ Pages look an awful lot like Facebook Pages. But they aren’t identical twins.

If there’s one global difference, it’s this: Google+ Pages are sparse (if not bland) compared to their Facebook counterparts. That’s because the more mature service (Facebook) has a lot more features and a platform that Page operators can (and increasingly do) build on.

Advantage or disadvantage for Google? While some Facebook refugees may welcome Pages that are uncluttered, it’s likely that Google will roll out new features for Page operators in the near future, leading to Google+ Pages that look fully ‘furnished.

Google+ Pages and search.

If Google+ is going to compete effectively with Facebook, it must find a way to use its search position. And it’s trying to do that. With the launch of Pages, Google also announced the launch of Direct Connect:

Maybe you’re watching a movie trailer, or you just heard that your favorite band is coming to town. In both cases you want to connect with them right now, and Direct Connect makes it easy—even automatic. Just go to Google and search for [+], followed by the page you’re interested in (like +Angry Birds). We’ll take you to their Google+ page, and if you want, we’ll add them to your circles.

Currently, Direct Connect is enabled for a limited number of high-profile Pages, but don’t be surprised if it expands this functionality in an effort to reward brands that take the time to invest in Google+.

Pages will serve as a litmus test for brands, and for Google.

Now that the brand cat is out of the bag, we’ll learn a lot about how social media-savvy prominent brands are, and how viable Google+ is long-term. Among the questions that we’ll soon be able to answer are:

  • Which brands will use Google+ in creative ways, and which will simply cross-post content from Facebook and Twitter?
  • How many brands will make the mistake of adopting Google+, only to abandon it (directly or indirectly) later if it doesn’t meet their expectations?
  • How many ‘fans‘ will Google+ Pages be able to deliver to brands?
  • Will Google be able to turn Google+ Pages into a useful, effective platform for brands to connect and communicate with consumers in interesting ways, or will it prove to be little more than a half-baked clone of Facebook Pages?