Google+: Love It or Hate It, You Ought to Be In It
Google+ may not be the hippest or most mainstream social network yet, but that shouldn't stop you from jumping in right now. The search giant is taking huge strides in bringing its own social community to the forefront, so like it or not, people are going to notice Google+.
This post will summarize some of the not-so-little things that Google is doing to promote its social network. Additionally, if your brand is already on Google+ and you're thinking of ways to increase your presence, check out the latter part of this post that provides a quick overview of the social network's most important features, together with some tips on using the site.
Google indexes G+ profiles like crazy
If you type in a person's name on Google, chances are their Google+ Profile (if they have one) along with their photo, will appear on the first page of search results. Displaying a photo in search results is a big plus (no pun intended) for the search giant because it lets users quickly identify who a person is. Why waste another click on the LinkedIn or Facebook profile of the wrong John Smith, when you can you can see the photo of the right one straight from the search results page?
This feature also works well for journalists, bloggers, and their readers because Google now attaches articles to writers' Google+ profiles. This, according to Google software engineer Eric Weigle, helps "readers understand the article's context and quality, see more articles by that person, and even interact directly with them."
Clearly, being on Google+ will increase your (or your brand's) visibility on SERPs. On top of this, it'll allow users to find information that is more tailor-fitted for them. Still unconvinced? Read on to the next item.
"Search plus Your World" just landed
Yesterday, Google unveiled "Search plus Your World," a new feature that takes your search results to a more personal level. With this update, you'll be able to find content specifically shared with you, along with normal search results. Say you're shopping for a new car and you decide to Google a specific vehicle model. When you hit search, you'll still be able to see normal web results (i.e. dealership sites, car reviews, etc.); but on top of that, Search plus Your World will also deliver personal search results. These items can include a post by someone from your Google+ Circles or a photo of your friend's car that's shared with you on the social network.
Google obviously wants to produce results that are specific to each user. Naturally, this has conjured up mixed reactions across the web. Some people find the new feature quite useful, while other entities including Twitter, are "concerned" that Google's changes will make it harder for everyone to find real-time results. Then there are those who see it as another one of the search company's ways to try to shove Google+ down people's throats.
Whether you belong to team Google or at the other side of the fence, it's evident that Google+ is in a position that can greatly impact how people find businesses online. With that said, it's best to look for ways on how this new feature can help your brand. If you're already on Google+, make it a point to interact more with members of your circles. Getting clients or customers to mention your business on the social network will give you a huge advantage because it will let your clients' friends easily find you on Google, if they happen to search for terms relating to your business.
Already on Google+? Here's what you can and can't do
Anyone who's familiar with Facebook should have no trouble navigating Google+. Still though, there are quite a few things worth noting.
Circling and Sharing: The best ways to connect
Brand pages on Google+ are allowed to circle other brand pages with no prerequisite. Pages can also add regular users to circles, but only if those users added the page first. Like Facebook, Google+ provides notifications whenever someone adds your page or interacts with your content. Google+ also has a Ripple diagram that illustrates how a post spreads across the social network. Aside from showing who shared and re-shared a post, this feature provides the exact time of the share. It's a great way to find people interested in your content, and it allows you to determine the most optimal times for posting on Google+. Be sure to connect with the individuals who shared and re-shared your posts, as this will increase the likelihood of receiving a mention from them. (To access Ripples, click the dropdown arrow beside a post and click View Ripples.)
Something that's unique to Google+ is Hangouts—a video chat service that lets users connect face-to-face. And the good thing is that brands can get on it to. If you wish to literally talk to your customers on the web, consider setting up a Hangout. Take a leaf out of Macy's book wherein the retailer had Fashion blogger Leah Chernikoff talk to other Google+ users online. Why not invite a local celebrity or a blogger in your industry to "Hangout" with you and your fans? Not only will it serve as a great experience for your clients, but it will surely provide a lot of exposure for your brand.
Unlike Facebook that gives page owners a glimpse of who their fans are with Insights, Google+ doesn't provide analytics to page owners, save for the above-mentioned notifications and Ripples.
Another thing that's missing from Google+? Contests. The social network's policies explicitly state that:
You may not run contests, sweepstakes, offers, coupons or other such promotions ("Promotion") directly on your Google+ Page. You may display a link on your Google+ Page to a separate site where your Promotion is hosted so long as you (and not Google) are solely responsible for your Promotion and for compliance with all applicable federal, state and local laws, rules and regulations in the jurisdiction(s) where your Promotion is offered or promoted.
Sorry to those planning to run a Google+ contest that incentivizes users to circle their page, but Google isn't allowing any sort of promotion on its turf.
Still though, this "no contest" policy shouldn't discourage you from growing your fan base on Google+. If anything, it should allow you to organically grow the number of people that circled your page. Posting great content is a great start, but don't forget to monitor the people who are interacting with your posts. Be sure to reach out and get them talking about your business. More people mentioning your brand will not only grow your presence within the social network, it could potentially put you in more search engine results pages as well.