One of the most difficult aspects of using social media to promote a business is the ever-changing landscape. Every week you’re likely to see news pieces and blog posts exclaiming that, “X is the new Facebook”.
If social media is part of your responsibility at work, or if you’re a small business owner that wants to use social media to help raise awareness of your company, then you do need to keep one eye on the latest developments in the digital world. The trick however, is to keep abreast of which platforms are receiving significant amounts of news articles or discussions without getting carried away by the hype cycle and rushing off to set up profiles on every one that pops up. It’s also important to take into consideration what available resource you have to maintain your profiles, since as we know, social media may not cost money but to get it right does require a commitment to investing some time into making it work effectively.
A newer platform that has generated endless news articles and discussions has been Google+. This post will explain how to get started with Google+, what some of the key features are and a few other considerations should you decide that it could be beneficial to your business.
Google+ launched just over 12 months ago and received, understandably given that it is Google, an incredible amount of attention. Initially it only allowed users to set up profiles as individuals but business pages were introduced six months later in November 2011.
If you’re looking to raise awareness of your business you have two options, you can set up a Google+ account as an individual and use it as a way to build your business profile, similar to the way in which you may use a platform like LinkedIn, or you can set up a business page. For a few reasons a Google+ profile is the most straightforward way to use Google+ but the downside is that it’s tied to a specific individual, so if an employee were to build up a good profile on Google+ and subsequently leave the business, they’d take that profile with them.
One of the benefits you may have heard about having a Google+ business page is that it is good for helping with a company’s SEO (search engine optimisation) and certainly this seemed to be the case. However, while there are still some SEO advantages to having a Google+ page, they have recently changed two key features that contributed most of the benefit, namely displaying the +1 button next to search results (if someone clicked on the +1 button by your page it helped SEO) and the including Google+ results in the search engine results pages. Both of these features they have now pulled, the latter after Facebook and Twitter complained that it was unfair of Google to give priority to results from their own social network, and consequently SEO has become less of a driver to set up a page.
There are a couple of other features to Google+ however that may make it particularly interesting for your business. Firstly, the way in which Google+ works means that you create circles (groups) of people and you can choose which updates you share with each group. So unlike a Facebook update or a tweet, you can be more targeted with which content you share with different groups. You may decide to set up different circles for ‘existing customers’ ‘journalists’ and so on.
In addition, Google+ has something called ‘Hangouts’, this is essentially video chat, where you can have a video conversation with up to nine other people, you can also share your screen, so it can be a really useful free tool to host virtual business meetings.
If you decide that you do want to set up a Google+ page, you need to go to plus.google.com/pages/create, where it guides you through the set-up process step-by-step. You have to have a Google mail account in order to set up a Google+ page and I’d recommend that you set up one specifically for the purposes of administering the Google+ page, rather than using a personal Google mail account, since that way more than one person will be able to log in to use the account.
Once the page is set up, you can share all sorts of different types of content, including photos, video, links and it’s good practice, as with all social networks, to ensure that you’re sharing a variety of content, not just marketing type updates but other pieces of information or content that you come across and think is relevant to your target customers. You should be aware that as a page, you’re not able to add anyone to a circle that hasn’t already either mentioned you or added you to their circles. This makes it even more important that you allocate time to engaging with your target audience, to encourage them to follow your page (it’s also another reason why a it’s a little easier to use a Google+ individual profile to find and communicate with your customers and potential customers).
If you have a business that is tied to a physical location Google+ Local has recently replaced what used to be called Google Places. You can add information, images and links to this page and customers can leave reviews. Have a search for ‘Teacup on Thomas Street’, based in Manchester, and you’ll see an example of this in action. For service type businesses, where customers will likely be leaving reviews, it’s important to make your Google+ profile as good as possible and to respond to any comments or negative reviews.
Whether your not you decide to take the plunge with Google+ for your business I’ll leave you with two key tips: firstly, remember that in order to build an audience and get benefit out of it for the business, you need to add value to the community, whether that’s by being useful, engaging, informative or whatever. Secondly, only commit to a page if you’re sure you can put the time in, it’s better to have one or two social media accounts that are updated regularly than to spread yourself too thinly and do none of them very well.