An SMEs simple guide to… Google+

Each month social media expert Richard Chapman, founder of Richard Chapman Studio, takes a look at a different social media platform and examines how you can get the best out of it for your business. This month he looks at the behemoth search engine’s challenger to the Facebook throne, Google+.

google plus

I remember when Google+ was launched, well into the all-encompassing supremacy of Facebook, and wondering why on earth Google was bothering. It felt like such a huge, rather pointless exercise; the creation of an internet white elephant. Why does the world need a duplicate social network when so many people were embedded elsewhere? I’m still not sure there’s a good answer to that question, but to their credit, Google have pursued the endeavor with their significant corporate heft behind it, with Head of Social David Besbris saying recently, ‘we’re in social – like we’re in everything at Google – for the long haul.’ With this continued effort, a number of interesting results have played out.

One of its most interesting features is design: remarkably distinctive, it just looks much better than Facebook. The look is uncluttered, ad-free, less anxious to compromise in its need to please everyone. It has become a standard-bearer for the consistent, spare design that Google has permeated through all their services, most notably their mobile operating system, as well as mighty internet behemoths YouTube and Google Maps. This consistency of style and language means that when you come to use Google+ it feels familiar, second nature.

But, why on earth would you use it? Why spend time on the also-ran social network? Because, and here comes a bombshell, Google+ is arguably the most important social media you could possibly deploy for your business. I’d go further and say that I would recommend that small businesses sign up for this one ahead of all the others. The reason is simple – because Google gives increased emphasis in its search rankings to businesses that register and regularly use the network, and most importantly, have a great customer-satisfaction score in its testimonials.

Where did Google+ come from?

After a series of false-starts with social media, Google launched the service in September 2011. Google+ grew exponentially in its first few months, with Google boasting of users in the hundreds of millions, but there was a sense of ongoing engagement ‘tapering off’, and lingering questions remain about who is actually using it, and how often. In February 2014, it was disparagingly referred to in the New York Times as a ‘ghost town’ and the paper went on to infer it was a somewhat cynical way for Google to know more about people; a service devoid of altruism. But perhaps expecting such things from a free service offered by a search engine is asking a little much.

It’s clearly far from perfect, but there’s a sense that Google has achieved some really successful services (particularly photo sharing and group communications) within Google+, and that perhaps they’re focusing on those within the overall sphere of a broader service. Indeed, to go further, if Facebook is for your friends, Google+ is ideally suited for your colleagues or professional interests. From a user experience perspective it beats LinkedIn hands down, as well as having the edge of their ‘Hangouts’ service to schedule a meeting for staff or clients in different locations. It’s these points of difference from other media, as well as being central to Google’s ecosystem that make Google+ a worthwhile topic of conversation and debate.

What sort of business is it useful for and how should I use it?

Even if you’re a casual Facebook user, Google+ is the ideal testing ground for different ideas as you start out in social media on behalf of your business. Whether you’re sharing images of your products and services, blog posts, or simply playing around with how to make a successful online profile for your business, this is an ideal way for a small or mid-sized company to establish a presence, tinker and perfect it. Then, when you’re ready, you can replicate the approach successfully on other social media – perhaps on Twitter or LinkedIn.

If you’re familiar with Facebook, the principle is the same, with a number of useful twists. Because Google have placed so much emphasis on business search, that message has been heard loud and clear, meaning (for me, anyway) the corporate community is far more vibrant than the everyday social one. In this way, Google+ is beginning to steal a march on Facebook, which has lately noticeably downplayed corporate status updates and related advertising, which was turning off users.

Given their shared ownership, there’s an enhanced link between Google+ and YouTube, meaning businesses uploading regular video content are featured prominently on Google+. This link is an ideal way in which businesses that have plentiful video can be even more visible across the network. I’d go so far as to say that a canny business owner could utilise this link to their benefit by going out of their way to create video, especially if it’s not a standard marketing media in your industry.

Finally, as any business owner knows, the benefits of word-of-mouth recommendations can never be over-stated. Business leaders rely on good advice from those they trust like everybody else, possibly more so. This principle has been taken to its logical conclusion on Google+. Aggregated online as part of your profile, this feedback and star rating form an aura of positivity around your business, all of which appear in a standard Google search.

Even if you’re unsure what the point of Google+ is, asking your clients and suppliers to supply testimonials on the service is the best piece of advice I can offer you. Quite simply, it advances your listing up the rankings and means there’s one more reason a new client will hire your company.

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