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I am well aware that though I call this a social media blog, more often than not I write about Facebook, Facebook and more Facebook, while neglecting every other social platform in the world. Google+ is one such platform I have written very little about, perhaps because I haven’t really seen it become a major force just yet. Still, with the roll-out of Google+ brand pages last year and the recent changes to simple Google search functionality (not to mention a request through my Facebook Page), I really can’t continue to ignore this growing social network any longer. As a result, I’m dedicating this week to Google+ and will be publishing no less than three articles about it. (YES, THREE!!!) This one will talk about Google+ for business, another will go specifically into Google+ Brand Pages and how to create them and the last one will talk about the recent changes to search.

Feel free to ask any other questions relating to Google+ or demand I revert to Facebook articles immediately :)

What is Google+

Most of you would probably be aware of Google+ now, if not already have your own personal Google+ account. (if so, don’t forget to add me to your circles!) Basically it is a social network that is powered by the world’s search juggernaut, Google (as the name suggests). Recent reports have indicated that there are now over 90 million users of Google+, which shows that despite only having just over 10% of the users that Facebook enjoys, it is still a platform we should all be aware of.

Google+ operates in a fairly similar fashion to Facebook, with a few notable differences. First of all instead of ‘friends’ you have ‘circles’ – these are groups of people that you can share content with. Take for example some of my circles (you can create whatever circles you like) – friends, colleagues, associates, digital people. This makes the network a lot broader because you are more likely to connect with people you work with and have never met (but share similar interests) as well as your family and friends because you have more power to share select content with select circles. If my explanation is crap or you want to learn more, you can visit https://plus.google.com/up/start/.

There are a few other differences to Facebook, including the logo and the +1 button instead of ‘like’, but pretty much it’s the same other than the circles thing. Well, close enough…

Using Google+ for business

When Google+ first launched last year it allowed the creation of  personal pages only and as a result gave a much-needed reprieve to businesses who were then able to focus on getting their facebook, twitter and youtube channels up to scratch. Then in November 2011 this lovely reprieve came to an abrupt end when Google announced the launch of Google+ Brand Pages and even showed a few examples of snazzy Pages by Pepsi, Toyota and more.

All of a sudden the pressure was on for businesses big and small to create their own Brand Pages. Except the pressure wasn’t really very strong because very few seem to have done so. Why? Probably because most people don’t seem to be using Google+ very much. So the question must be asked, is Google+ important for businesses?

To try and get to the bottom of it I have listed a number of pros and cons below.

The pros of using Google+ for business

  • Google product integration: Chances are you are using (or have used) some of the Google suite of products outside search – gmail, apps, docs, calendar, analytics and the billion others. And then there’s YouTube too. The good thing about using all of these things is that Google finds a way to try and integrate everything – or at least make it all very accessible by just logging in with one account. Other social networks like Facebook aren’t connected with anything outside the actual social network. Google trumps them in this respect – you can read more about this here.
  • SEO benefits: Google have just released their new “Search Plus Your World” algorithm (also referred to as Search+), which prioritises data collected from Google+ users – in particular those who are in your circles. I’m going to write an entire article dedicated to this, which I’ll publish this week (subscribe here if you don’t want to miss out), but for now suffice it to say that by encouraging people to connect with your brand page and +1 your branded content, you could be helping your search engine optimisation
  • Split your audience into categories (circles): This is the best feature in my opinion. Not only can you have circles for your personal Google+ account, but also for Brand Pages. This makes it much easier to share content with just your customers, staff members, partners, suppliers etc. Facebook allows this through personal profiles (in a roundabout way), but not in any format for brand pages (except via geographic location and/or language). It opens up a new world of possibilities for internal communications too. You can post content that only your employees can see – what a brilliant way to engage your staff! Not to mention making it easier to reach your customers, suppliers, partners etc.
  • Early adopter: Sometimes there’s a lot to be said for those who get in early rather than waiting for things to become mainstream before getting involved. Google+ may pick up and become a must-have and you’re going to look good if you were one of the first to be there.
  • Video chat/hangouts: There are a lot of customer service and/or internal communications opportunities with the ability to utilise video chat (aka hangouts) through Google+. As yet this isn’t available through other networks like Facebook (for business purposes).

The cons of using Google+ for business

  • Not much activity happening yet: Google+ may have 90 million people who have signed up (or does it?) but if you are one of them you have probably noticed there’s not a heap going on. Similarly if you’ve added the +1 button to your site (as I have), you might notice that very few people are actually using it. Hopefully (or not?) things will pick up soon, but just be prepared for slow going at the beginning.
  • Much harder to grow your network: As a result of the point above, it might be a lot harder to grow your Google+ community compared to other networks. This is particularly the case because you cannot add anyone to your circles unless they have added or mentioned you first.
  • Time-consuming: Creating a Google+ Brand Page and encouraging people to +1 your content doesn’t cost any money, but it does take time. Time that you might not have a lot of, after you spend so much on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, other business stuff and your general life.

So is Google+ crucial in your business? At this stage, no. But if you don’t have the time to create your own Google+ Brand Page at the very least you should integrate +1 into your site to allow ability for users to +1 your site and/or content. Just don’t expect this to take off straight away.

There’s really no way to know if Google+ profiles will become as popular as Facebook, though anecdotal evidence this far seems to suggest it may be a high reach (I still have something posted by a friend last December as a top post on my Google+ feed) but if you feel like you’d like you don’t want to miss the early adoption boat and create a Google+ brand page, here’s how.

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