But since then, the hype has started to wane—and has even soured in some circles. Mat Honan argued recently that Google “broke itself” with the new personalized search features tied to the social network.
What hasn’t changed is the enormous business potential for users of Google Plus. Both Google Plus profiles and business pages provide robust platforms for companies that want to grow their web presence and foster real conversations with prospects. The only question is, which brands will get there first?
Four Ways Google Plus is Different—and Maybe Better—for Business
First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Google. So many of us already use Google tools and platforms every day (from Gmail to Android OS and, of course, Google search) that using its social media network makes good sense. The integration of Google products is a bonus when it comes to two valued resources: your time and energy.
And Google Plus’ traffic is climbing fast. According to Experian Hitwise, Google Plus’ total monthly U.S. visits have grown 55 percent since November 2011. A total of 49 million visits were recorded in December, making it the biggest month for Google Plus to date. Even if Google Plus doesn’t have the membership numbers Facebook does just yet, it’s on track to reach 400 million users by the end of the year—at least according to one analyst. If that prediction holds true, then Google Plus is growing at a much faster rate than Facebook or Twitter.
But there’s more to it than volume, or whether Google Plus “kills” Facebook. Both networks serve a highly specific and valuable purpose for business owners, at least for now.
Below are four big ways Google Plus differentiates itself from the other social media networks—and the potential business impact of each:
1. Powerful “personal” search has major traffic implications
Having an active Google Plus presence for your business, brand or name has powerful implications for search engine optimization. Google is still the largest search engine in the world (not to mention the owner of YouTube), and now that the +1 button appears in search results for logged-in users, you—and millions of other Google Plus users—can easily share and curate web content with one click. And sharing content on Google Plus can bump up your traffic and search rankings significantly.
With Search plus Your World, logged-in users with the “personal results” toggled on will see photos, content shared by Google Plus users or pages you follow, profiles and related Google Plus users and pages in their search results. For striking evidence of the sizable impact this can have on your business’ search ranking, check out Kristi Hines’ post on how Search Plus Your World affected the ranking of her own websites. Users who follow her on Google Plus will find her portfolio on page one, position four of the Google SERPs using a competitive keyword. Impressive stuff.
IMG suggestion: Screencap of Google search results feat. relevant “personal” content (demarcated by blue icon) w/ arrows showing how to toggle personal results on/off
For businesses and consultants who produce a lot of content, the new author information in search results feature is another way Google Plus can be leveraged to skyrocket your reach.
2. Hangouts build relationships in real time.
Hangouts are real-time video chats that you set up on your Google Plus page or profile. Up to 10 people can be in a hangout at any time, they’re free, they can be private or public, and they’re relatively mobile. Better yet, unlike using a webinar platform, people can enter and leave without registering and there’s zero up-front cost.
You can host a hangout in advance and invite people, or start an impromptu session right on a conversation thread—just click “Hang out.” If you invite people, they’ll get a notification, whether they’re using a mobile app or, say, Google Chat. Users can even call in if they don’t have a webcam handy.
This two-way access to companies is extremely valuable. Hangouts are one way Google Plus could become indispensable; they provide a level of connection and support Facebook just doesn’t offer, setting your business and team up as a go-to source of information and value. (Google thinks so too—they’re advertising hangouts on TV.)
Wondering how to take advantage of hangouts? Here are some ways you can use them to add value:
- Fireside chats with your CEO or key team players
- Live QA sessions
- Product demos
- Customer service “office hours”
- Focus groups
- Free trainings
Tip: join a few other hangouts before starting your own—you’ll pick up some great pointers.
3. Circles are still Google Plus’ best idea.
Facebook keeps making strides in how we share content, but the circles feature on Google Plus is still more intuitive—in part because it’s integral to the service, and in part because it’s not about excluding groups (or rarely-used Facebook lists), but including them.
Use circles to drill down on micro-segments and get laser-focused on different client and prospect groups—for example, by sending messages or content geared toward prospects in specific geographic areas. Or use circles to “listen in” to select groups, much like a Twitter list or Facebook group. Need to drill down even more? You can also send status updates to just one individual.
Better yet, when a follower puts your business page in a circle, they will always see your posts. On Facebook, EdgeRank still determines whether your posts will be seen at all in a fans’ News Feed. Not so on Google Plus.
Unfortunately, when you’re using your business page, you can only add someone to a circle if that person adds you first. But Facebook doesn’t allow you to follow your fans at all—a major business advantage for Google Plus.
4. Conversation and content-sharing opportunities are everywhere.
On Google Plus, great content still matters. But starting a conversation is a little different—and maybe, a little better.
For one thing, off-topic posts tend to be major conversation starters. On Google Plus, you don’t have to just talk business; in fact, brands and people seem to do better when they keep it more personable.
IMG idea: Screenshot of a long thread from a prominent person. Guy Kawasaki and Chris Brogan are good examples of people who share personal things on G+ that get massive feedback.
Valuable, interesting, funny and entertaining content benefits from the clean interface and circle-based targeting. You can also curate your own favorite content around the web with the +1 button; the posts and pages you +1 will appear in your profile. And if you want jump-start engagement, you can format your status updates to highlight what’s important.
Finally, you can save Google Plus searches for topics related to your niche (or mentions of your name or product). That means you can stay on top of your industry easily. And every time you comment as your page, if people like what you’re saying, all they need to do is hover over your page name to add you to a circle. In other words, good conversation builds followers on Google Plus, more than anything else. As social media expert, Chris Brogan, has said, on Google Plus, “You get rewarded for starting and carrying on good conversations.”
It’s comparable to Twitter in this respect, except you’ve got a lot more space to interact, share and talk.
The Bottom Line
Google Plus wants to imitate real life. Facebook makes a similar claim. So far, it seems like Google has the potential to do a better job of this, at least in terms of “real” conversation and real-time, even face-to-face interaction. And the search implications are too big to ignore.
To date, one of the most significant ways Facebook Pages differ from Google Plus pages is branding. This is a clear win for Facebook—the events, third-party apps and branding opportunities on a Facebook Page are all excellent sales tools. But so are conversations and connections Google Plus offers.
And unlike Facebook, the early bird metaphor still applies to Google Plus—it’s new enough that you can start making an impact here long before your competition does.