Any social network that can grow from a mere 25 million users to 540 million users in a little more than two years is not just a robust enterprise; it is a phenomenon that businesses will increasingly find to be a big plus.
Judging by its less-than-enthusiastic reception in the business community and some of the initial negative commentary in print media and the blogosphere, one would think that Google Plus has been lucky to experience a renaissance since its birth in the summer of 2011. But any social networking and identity service entity that can grow from a mere 25 million users to 540 million users a little more than two years later is not just a robust enterprise, it is a phenomenon that businesses will increasingly find to be a big plus.
The early birth pains surrounding the launch of Google Plus on June 28, 2011, included some problems — such as the decision by the People’s Republic of China to block it — that were beyond Google’s control. But there were other potentially participation-dampening issues, including the company’s insistence that users provide real names instead of pseudonyms, which repelled many would-be users intent upon maintaining their anonymity.
Among those people who actually did give Google Plus a trial run, many people were initially discouraged by user-friendliness issues. However, those concerns have been largely addressed. As an example, photographs, a major element of social networking, now rank as the most popular class of postings on Google Plus, with articles holding the No. 2 ranking.
Such a development suggests that increasing numbers of people have become more comfortable with the service. And recent statistics are available that support that conclusion, including the fact that Google Plus, as of October 2013, accounts for an impressive 32.9 percent of all social logins on websites. The foregoing figure hints at the following demographic component: as of January 2014, the percentage of monthly Google Plus visitors steadily rises as the age group cited gets younger.
Numerically speaking, 16 percent of older Baby Boomers are monthly visitors, with the figures steadily escalating through younger demographics; 28 percent of millennials (15-34 year olds) use Google Plus monthly.
Aside from the politically motivated, privacy-driven and functionality problems, Google Plus received negative reviews in the wake of its inception from stories and postings in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, which, respectively, dismissed the service as “a virtual ghost town,” and one with a poor design. These critiques may have given some businesses the impression that Google Plus is a social network that they can do without.
With respect to the first criticism, the context is a bit misleading because it uses the acknowledged social networking kingpin Facebook as a benchmark, a leading role that Google Plus may never assume — even as it becomes a valuable exemplar of social marketing. And the focus of the second critique is off the mark because Google Plus boasts fairly impressive web functionality, which is not really surprising. It was largely created by Macintosh design whiz Andy Hertzfeld.
With the few bumps in the road and tepid initial reviews in its rear-view mirror, Google Plus now offers several sound reasons why a business should integrate it into its marketing strategy. And at the core of all the key incentives for a business to seriously consider the use of Google Plus is the simple reason that the second largest social media network has Google itself in its corner, a fact that no other social site can claim. The value to Google Plus of having Google behind it cannot be overestimated. An association with the world’s largest search engine gives Google Plus a leg up on the competition because search engine optimization is largely about showcasing one’s product before the largest audience possible. Google provides this audience and that is a key asset no business-minded individual would want to forgo. But aside from the large number of potential customers Google delivers, its increasing integration with and promotion of its own social media platform — coupled with the beauty of algorithmic optimization — offers marketers an invaluable means of improving their rankings.
The link between Google’s search function and Google Plus enhances the visibility of businesses in a variety of ways, including:
1. The regular posting of blogs and other content with on-point, original information increases the chances that a user’s Google Plus page will rank higher in search results.
2. The use of keywords within the text of a posting or other tabs on a Google Plus page, such as the “about” and “video” sections, will optimize the value of regular postings.
3. Because each posting has a unique URL and can generate its own interaction, often content posted on Google Plus will rank highly even when a firm’s own website does not. That is an important reason why it is always advisable to link your firm’s Google Plus page back to your website in order to improve your website optimization.
4. As part of its drive to integrate social media and information, Google searches of a hashtag will point toward recent Google Plus posts with the same hashtag, which makes hashtags about as valuable as keywords in optimization.
5. The use of Authorship for your posts as well as for the content of your firm’s most frequent posters lifts those posts higher in search results, and results in an added benefit: a personal photo of the author. Few things are more eye-catching and trust-generating than a picture, which will help to induce potential customers to visit its associated content.
6. The regular posting of industry relevant, topical content on your firm’s Google Plus page will not only raise the posts’ rankings in Google searches but also provide the additional dividend of making it more likely that a search result will showcase your firm’s relevant Google Plus content in the high-profile upper right-hand section of the screen.
There are other ways that firms can maximize their Google Plus profiles and network activity. One of the most important involves the use of a core feature of the service known as Circles. Circles permits account holders to organize people by groups for the purpose of sharing content across an array of Google products and services.
Groups can be based on a variety of insightful Google Plus content categories, including newcomers to a firm’s Google Plus content, content commenters, content sharers and those people who have +1’d content (the Google Plus version of “like”).
What makes Circles such a valuable tool is that it can, through the intelligent grouping of users into Circles that are logically homogeneous, direct targeted, relevant content to specific Circles as well as post content that has been geared toward one or another aspect of the firm. It also permits firms to target members of a Circle with email notifications, which help to raise visibility, build relationships and encourage visitors to convert to new clients.
In a measure of how important Google deemed Circles to be, the company, prior to launching Google Plus, referred to the service as Google Circles, which was an allusion to its emphasis on the organization of friendship information.
The cultivation of friendships is a key component of Circles. The judicious addition of influential people and content to your Circles is important, but so is the encouragement of comments and +1s on content from Circle members. Start the process of generating of comments and +1s by commenting and conferring +1s first; the recipient of praise will often reciprocate. And a steady buzz of comments and +1s in turn boosts search result rankings.
The theme of circles in Google Plus extends beyond the feature Circles to another useful tool the service offers known as Ripples. Through Ripples, an interactive graph circle that shows who has publicly shared a specific post, a firm can find out if its posts have been shared and by whom. You can also see comments the reposter makes and gauge the importance of that reposter by the size of his or her Circle. Through Ripples, firms can target followers with additional, specific information and content.
A recent issue that caused blowback for Google centered on Google-owned YouTube’s mandate that users sign up for Google Plus prior to commenting on a video. The policy, which was announced in September 2013, triggered an outpouring of complaints, but in the same year YouTube became the world’s second largest search engine. And for firms with linked Google Plus and YouTube accounts, that relationship is an opportunity, as a firm’s videos are more prominent on Google Plus and vice versa.
The relationship between Google Plus and YouTube — or with other services such as Gmail — and the ways by which that relationship translates into opportunities for boosting a firm’s visibility is symptomatic of Google’s penchant for offering platforms that can be linked together, providing optimized use of all. That integrated approach is both logical and practical, and those traits are increasingly important in a world in which technology rapidly appears, evolves and sometimes goes into oblivion.
If your firm is intent on maximizing your visibility and attracting new clients, you should take advantage of Google Plus. The social network is part of a system of services with not only a broad reach but also staying power. With the pervasiveness and reliability of Google behind it and with the proper use of its marketing tools, Google Plus should be an essential component of any firm’s marketing strategy.
GOOGLE PLUS MUST-HAVES
CONSISTENCY: Post industry-relevant, topical content on your firm’s Google Plus page regularly.
AUTHORSHIP: Employ Authorship for your posts as well as for the content of your firm’s most frequent posters.
OPTIMIZATION: Optimize profiles through the use of keywords within post text and other tabs on a Google Plus page.
LINKS: Link your Google Plus page back to your firm’s website.
TARGETING: Set up strategically labeled Circles and target content to specific Circles.
ENGAGEMENT: Recommend and comment on others’ content.
MONITORING: Track the size of your Circles and the reach of your posts.
CONNECTION: Link your Google Plus and YouTube accounts.
VARIETY: Post videos and other interactive content in addition to articles and textual posts.