Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Simplifying Social Media: Google+

In June of 2011, Google launched its own social network called Google+. Since then, the "+1" share icon has taken over the web, often seen next to the Facebook and Twitter share icons.

Still, the reaction to Google+ has been mixed for several reasons. One, it added to the already overwhelming number of social media platforms. Thus some - at least for now - have chosen to ignore it. And, two, how it works and the benefits are often not easily understood. (Good thing this is the "Simplifying Social Media" series!)

Why the confusion? Well, there are two main aspects of Google+ that set it apart from other social platforms, and at first glance one might not realize the two are, in fact, related. In addition, each aspect is comprised of multiple features. It's no wonder, then, why there is confusion surrounding the platform. 

So what are the two aspects that differentiate Google+ from other platforms? First, Google+ is designed so that you can connect online like you do in real life. And, two, it is connected to the world's largest search engine, making it a very powerful marketing tool - especially when it comes to SEO.

We'll take a look at both of these aspects in detail, including how they can benefit your business.

Connect Online Like You Do in Real Life

What exactly does that mean? Let's look at a few Google+ features to explain:
  • Circles. In real life, you share different things with different people. There are things you would share with your best friend, for example, but not with your boss. Google+ allows you to organize your contacts into Circles (such as co-workers, clients, family, etc.). Thus, unlike Facebook, where all your contacts are lumped together, you can communicate certain things to certain people - just as you would in real life. Google+ also allows you to put a person in more than one circle if, say, your mom is also your best friend. (See the video below for a visual explanation.)
  • Search. We often go to our friends and colleagues for referrals, advice, or to share similar interests. The search feature in Google+ is directly linked to your profile. This means not only is it keyed into your interests, but also that of your Google+ contacts. So, for example, let's say that we were Google+ friends, and you did a search for "social media marketing." Because we are connected on Google+, the search would give my website more weight than the other results, because we have a connection through the platform. 
  • Hangouts. Hangouts is a video chat feature, allowing you to video chat with up to 9 other people at a time. 

How can these features benefit your business?

  • You can organize your contacts into different categories such as "potential clients" and "clients," or "website clients" and "social media clients," etc. You can create as many categories as you need, allowing you to supply clients with only the information they'd be interested in. In addition, if your business has employees, you can use Google+ as a communication vehicle for them as well. (Especially if you have employees in different regions or states.)
  • The search features allows you to maintain a closer connection with your contacts/clients. Your site, information, and interests will be ranked higher than those of non-Google+ contacts (and vice versa). This is beneficial for both marketing and networking purposes.
  • If you utilize video chat, then Hangout can be useful both internally and externally. Have a client  who is experiencing a crisis? Instantly set-up a video chat to address the issue. Need to collaborate with employees around the region? Hangout can handle that too!

Connected to the World's Largest Search Engine

One of the most powerful advantages to Google+ is the fact that it's a huge social network connected to the world's largest search engine. According to this article from Forbes magazine:
Facebook may be the most widely-used social network, but Google is still the number one visited website attracting over 1 billion visitors per month. So a social network directly tied to the most-widely used search engine on the planet is definitely something worth paying attention to. Since the launch of Google+ less than a year ago, the social network has grown to over 90 million users and is the fastest-growing social network ever.
Did you catch those numbers? Google receives 1 billion visitors a month, and Google+ - which is connected to Google's search engine - has over 90 million users. That's a mighty powerful tool. But wait, there's more:
Every Google service, like Mail, Reader and YouTube is integrated with Google+. For businesses, especially businesses selling goods online, the smartest and easiest step you can take is to implement the magic “+1” button everywhere on your site and every product listed on your site. 
Remember those "+1" share buttons we mentioned earlier? How they're appearing next to the Twitter and Facebook share buttons? Now you know why - the 1 billion reasons why! By placing those buttons on your website or blog, Google is granting you a higher place in the rankings over your competitor sites that do not. This doesn't replace all SEO strategy, but it is certainly can't hurt!

And at the same time, your content is finding a new audience within the Google+ network.

Action Step: Now that we've unraveled the mystery of Google+, consider how your business could benefit from it. Feel free to watch the video below and visit the Helpful Links provided to glean more information. Then, if you feel Google+ would be beneficial, place a checkmark next to the Google+ icon on your Social Media Strategy Guide.

What is Google + (Google Plus) and Do I Need It?

Helpful Links:

Google+ Official Overview (includes short videos)

Three Reasons Why You Should Use Google+ In Your Business

10 Tips for Using Google+ for Businesses

Helpful Books:

Google+ for Business: How Google's Social Network Changes Everything

Google+ For Dummies

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