David Santy

David Santy Live Concert Producer and Audio Consultant
Madison, WI
David Santy

What Google+ Means for Businesses

June 13, 2012, by David Santy, category Small Business, Social Media

Facebook: The only social account for your business?

Experian Hitwise US Top 10 Visited Websites Jan 13 2013At this point, Facebook is a given. If a business is going to be active on one social media platform, it’s Facebook. The reasons seem obvious. Facebook is Planet Earth’s favorite social media platform with hundreds of millions of active users and over 1 billion accounts. It is so ubiquitous in modern culture that you might think more people in the US visit Facebook than any other website. That isn’t the case though. Facebook takes an admirable 2nd place in the US, but the site that wins the gold is…Google.

Social media isn’t a numbers game though, it’s about building relationships. If page and post views don’t translate into engagement, you’re not building relationships. This is why the sheer number of people using any given social media platform isn’t very important at all.

Though Google+ may not have the user base of Facebook, it has several advantages. Here’s why Google+ should be on the radar for every business.

Top Visited Websites World Map

Engagement, and how Google+ is Different

Google+ is a network that, whether you’re running a brand page or not, relies heavily on personal interaction. The more your organization embraces the platform and interacts with people as individuals yourselves, rather than as a company, the better. That being said, this post comes from a “people first” angle, not focusing strictly on the how and the what of running a brand page.

Quantity vs Value

While more is always better, but the number of followers or subscribers to your business page is a dumb figure. It can have little to do with how many people are transitioning from social connection to paying customer. This is why the number of active users on any given social media platform is a poor measure for which site your business should be active on. I’m not going to get into ROI measurement from social media here because that’s a different conversation, but what needs to be stressed is the importance of engagement over number of followers. The social customer is more likely to purchase your products if they are engaged.

While it’s important to be where your customers are, there are other more important factors to consider when choosing where to use your social media muscle than total number of active users. As a brand, you must be mindful of a few things:

  1. Why people join a social media platform
  2. How people use that platform
  3. What the culture is like
  4. Who their contacts are likely to be
  5. What kind of content you’ll be competing with for their attention

Where Facebook and Google+ diverge

Google+ is very different from Facebook, and a common piece of advice offered to those new to Google+ is to leave the Facebook mentality behind. G+ is not a place where “broadcasters”, those who advertise but don’t interact, can thrive. It is also not service that all of your friends, family, and professional contacts are using already, so when you want content and connections you have to go out and seek a bit. What you find may just be more rewarding than anything you’ve found in social media yet.

What you should know about Google+

No Advertisements

First, Google+ does not have any advertisements. No Pay-Per-Click ads. None. If you’re experienced with Facebook Ads you know that they operate based on things like age, maritial status, region, likes and so on. One thing they don’t do is serve advertisements when users are actually looking for something, which is the right way to do it. Google has this down with Adwords ads on their search engine results pages. They’re inobtrusive and topically relevant, which isn’t really the case with Facebook Ads (especially Sponsored Posts).

Disposing of the ads makes the Google+ interface more visually appealing and friendly.

Business Pages can’t Circle those who haven’t Circled them yet

On Twitter, where there is no difference between personal and brand profiles, following users in bulk can give you an initial bump in followers as they check out your profile.

With Google+ this isn’t allowed. When you first start posting, nobody will see your posts. It can be frustrating, but there is a very good reason for this policy.

It encourages companies to interact as people first. In fact, you can’t even create a business page without first building a personal profile.

Both of these things are actually great advantages. The “Sell, Sell, Sell” mindset doesn’t work in social media. People don’t go to Facebook or Google+ to be sold things, they go to interact with people and to find interesting content. It’s called social media for a reason. Unless you’re a sports team or a giant multinational corporation, people aren’t going to flock to you if you’re talking about your products all the time. Be social.

Facebook: The Personal Platform

People join Facebook to stay in touch with people they know personally. As such, a fairly large chunk of Facebook posts are of a personal nature. What people are doing that day, family photos etc. This type of content is going to dominate user’s streams, along with a healthy dose of news articles. Not only that, but Facebook users are far more likely to engage with that type of content than they are posts from a brand. This is one very good reason why you shouldn’t only be posting about your products.

A consequence of relying on existing personal connections is that Facebook can feel a bit limited geographically.

One of the common complaints heard from new Google+ users is that none of their friends use it. Once you start using Google+ for a while you’ll find that this is completely irrelevant. Part of the inherent silliness of Facebook is that you’re using a gigantic global social infrastructure to interact with people you already know personally. Google+ is the exact opposite. It’s about finding new people to converse and collaborate with. These are people you don’t know personally, but that doesn’t matter.

Google+: The Passion Platform

The culture within Google+ is very different than Facebook. It is an interest driven platform, a passion platform. The major difference though is that Google+ is search driven, whereas Facebook is driven initially by personal connections. With the latter, engagement is also mostly limited to personal connections. With Facebook you’re exposed to content your friends share with you, and vice versa. Google+ on the other hand focuses on the content, rather than the relationship with the user. This opens up your post to the entire world (without paid advertising) rather than just the friends of your fans.

Google+ is about building relationships based on content, whereas Facebook is about sharing content based on existing relationships. In that way, the scope of exposure on Facebook is much more limited. Google+ is built around giving people an opportunity to meet others who share their interests. This means that even if Facebook did make it easy to browse public posts (which they really don’t), Google+ still wins because the majority of users are more comfortable engaging with posts from people they don’t know. In addition, the crowd on Google+ is more open to delving into longer posts and having more in depth conversations.

But isn’t Google+ a Ghost Town?

You may have heard that “Google+ is a ghost town.” Guess what though? That is completely false.

Many Google+ users, myself included, prefer to share most everything publicly.

Top Ten Social Media Websites Experian Hitwise Many others though prefer to segregate their shares to various Circles, only sharing posts with people they know will be interested in the content. These non-public posts and their engagement are completely hidden from the eyes of companies that measure social media activity.

Still, according to Experian Hitwise (see right), Google+ is certainly no slouch. For the week ending June 23rd 2012, Google+ saw 23,171,605 total visits. Ninety plus million visits in a month. That’s more than LinkedIn and only slightly fewer visitors than Pinterest. Ghost town? I don’t think so.

Communication

One of the often overlooked strengths of social media is that it improves communication with your employees. Chances are your employees are already using a few social media services, likely while they’re at work. Why not use those social media services as a tool for sharing information with your employees? Social media picks up where email leaves off because it allows open discussion among anyone you’ve shared a post with.

What about sensitive corporate info?

Google Apps for Business administrators can restrict Google+ activity to within the organization only by default. In essence, you’ll have your own private social network. Apps also includes Gmail, Google Docs, Calendar and more collaborative tools.

Hangouts and Hangouts On Air

Google+ Hangouts

On the subject of communication, have you heard about Google+ Hangouts? It’s a live video group chat feature built-in to Google+ that allows you to connect with up to 9 other people, or 15 total for Google Apps customers. Hangouts are one of the most powerful collaborative tools available online today, and they’re only found on Google+ and Gmail.

Hangouts enable instant face-to-face communication with employees and clients all over the globe, for free, and with only the installation of a small, simple browser plugin.

Easy to install, easy to use, and no expensive proprietary hardware needed. Any old webcam will do. Hangouts also feature Google Docs integration, which allows team members in the Hangout to collaborate on a document in real time without having to open up another browser window.

Newscaster +Sarah Hill uses Hangouts live on the air in studio to chat with viewers and get their opinions on the day’s issues.
sarah hill hangouts

Hangouts can be leveraged to provide face-to-face customer/client support help or training sessions for telecommuting employees. You can let your fans in on a live product release party. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

In fact, Hangouts are the reason why I now don’t care for telephone meetings. When you’re afforded face-to-face communication with a group of people at the click of a button, everything else seems lacking.

Like posting on Google+, Google Apps customers can restrict Hangouts to the organization as well.

But it gets even better! You can also broadcast your Hangouts live to your Youtube channel.

Hangouts On Air…LIVE on Youtube

If you haven’t considered Hangouts On Air for your business, do so now. Hangouts On Air are like having your own TV station on Youtube.

Here’s a video from +Ronnie Bincer on how to join Google+, set up a profile, and use Hangouts:

Google+ users are taking advantage of Hangouts On Air in myriad ways, making a name for themselves by hosting weekly shows. News, cooking, science, astronomy, and good old pirate related fun abound.
Paul Platt on The Pirate's Pub

For visibility, choose Google+

To clarify, I wouldn’t recommend that any business pigeon-hole themselves into just one social media service. Chances are your customers, or potential customers, are active on more than one service. You should be where your customers are, which means having more than one social media account and posting regularly. That being said, I believe Google+ should be a part of the online presence of every business.

I know it seems counterintuitive, because Facebook has so many more users, but Google+ has advantages when it comes to visibility on top of the aforementioned Hangouts On Air.

Who is seeing your posts?

You’ve established your presence on a few social media services and earned a respectable number of followers. Great! But just because you have followers doesn’t mean that anyone is actually seeing your posts. If you’re just starting out though, these considerations are still very important.

Facebook EdgeRank

For any business to be successful on Facebook they have to combat a system called EdgeRank. EdgeRank is a sort of forced noise control for Facebook streams. Rather than having users control how much of a given type of post they’d like see, Facebook determines which posts make it to user’s streams with EdgeRank.

When you post on Facebook, only a portion of your fans will see your posts. About 10%, maybe more if you’re lucky. Even if all of your ‘Likes’ are logged in to Facebook at that moment (unlikely), you’re still only getting exposure to a fraction of your fan base.

A few factors are used to compute your page’s ranking. The major factors are freshness (how often you update) and engagement (how many people Like, Share, or comment on your posts). With Facebook, even if you time your posts strategically for when the highest number of fans are online, and provide great content, you still can’t be certain of how many people will actually see them.

Google+ Circles

Google+ takes a more democratic approach to stream management. Google+ Circles are collections of people and pages sorted into categories by topic. Whereas Facebook has Friends, Subscriptions, Likes, and Lists, Google lets the user determine the type of relationship. Everything goes into Circles which is much more simple in concept and use.

Google Plus Circles
Google+ uses Circles to determine who your posts are shared with as well. You can share posts as public, to everyone, or to certain Circles. Once you’ve created a business page on Google+, you can add all of your employees to a Circle, or add groups of employees to different Circles. You can then use Google+ to communicate with your team members.

With the “All” stream, which includes posts from all of a user’s Circles, the default is that most posts from a circle go to the “All” stream. Users can then choose increase (all posts from a Circle) or decrease (fewer or none) the ‘volume’ of a Circle from there.

Regardless of what the volume of a Circle is set to, a user can still see 100% of your public posts by choosing the stream for that individual Circle.
The 'Circle Bar', Choosing a stream to view.

You still have to provide stimulating content, engage with your fans, and be mindful of when you’re posting, but there is no invisible force keeping your posts from your fans. In fact, if you provide great value to your followers, they may even place your account in a Circle that notifies them every time you post.

Social Media and Search

Where does your traffic come from?

If you’re well established in social media, you’ll be getting a decent boost through social sharing. If you don’t have a lot of followers though, how are people supposed to find you?

Personally, I’m not a fan of Facebook’s search. Google on the other hand is a search engine first and every other service they have is built on that. Most people will go to Google to find businesses online. For many it’s even the preferred method of finding Facebook profiles. Google Search is an immensely important factor in how people find you online.

One of the reasons you should be adding Google+ to your online presence has to do with search results. If you Google the name of your business you’ll come up with a few of the usual suspects. Your website, social media profiles, Yelp reviews etc. If you’re a brick and mortar business, Google Maps info may appear there too. Being on Google+ is one more way to broaden your exposure, but it’s not simply because you would have one more profile out there. Google+ has one major advantage over other social networks.

Google+ and the Google Search Index

Google has “spiders” that crawl websites looking for links and snippets of text to build search results from. Google, of course, has full access to all Google+ posts so it can index them all. Google+ public posts will immediately be displayed in search results. Facebook on the other hand disallows Google’s indexing of your posts, so none of your Facebook posts will show up in Google search. None of the work you’ve put in posting quality content on Facebook will affect search results. Twitter is partially indexed, so a few public Tweets will show up here and there.

Social Search

Now, what about search results for Google+ users? Another major advantage for Google+ in search is called Search Plus Your World. Search Plus Your World is a feature in Google search that integrates social media sharing. Why is this important? Whenever a Google+ user performs a Google search, shares and posts by their Google+ contacts will display in search results in addition to regular content from the web. We know that the power of social media is in fans sharing your content and promoting your company to their friends, which is more effective than a review from a stranger. With Google+ this fan promotion also shows up in search results.

For example, while logged into Google+ I did a search for the word “business” with Google. It returned the following personalized search result:
Search Plus Your World
I shared a post from Harvard Business Review a few minutes prior. Google adds Google+ posts to the index the instant you post it. It doesn’t take a couple of days to show up in search results like some other web content can. Search Plus Your World results also display a user or page’s profile photo along with the post.

Google+ content is more prominent than that of other services in Google search, but the search capability within Google+ is also much better for exploring new users, pages, and posts than Facebook. This means that it’s easier to find your company with the social network’s built-in search than with Facebook.

Google Authorship

I’ve written a bit about the advantages of starting a company blog, and if you do Google has another great feature for you. It’s called Google Authorship. What is does is it ties your Google+ profile to your website and blog so that when your content comes up in search results (like with Search Plus Your World) it will also feature your profile photo and byline.
Google Authorship

The above image features a search result from my About page here on DavidSanty.com. Even though I wasn’t logged in to Google services when I did the search, the snippet still showed my portrait! Search results with a picture attached will grab the eye more than those without. See the link at the end of this post for information on how to enable Google Authorship on your website or blog.

Google+ Local – The artist formerly known as Google Places

Google MapsThe former Google Places was a great tool for optimizing your presence in local search results. It provided store hours, contact information, pictures, products/services, reviews, and coupons. It was a way to make sure that when a user searched for your business or your niche, your business name and location would display in Google Maps.

For a brick and mortar business, especially a new one, I can not stress the importance enough of being visible on Google Maps and in localized search results. The way it works is when a user searches for your business on Google maps they are presented with relevant info about your business from your Google Places profile. When you click the “More Info” link it would take the user to your Google Places page.

In spring/summer 2012 Google Places became Google+ Local and it came with a few exciting new features.

First, businesses may no longer be reviewed anonymously. Users must use their Google+ profile with their identity being public to post a review about a business. Without the ability to hide behind anonymity, your company just might be safer from snarky or downright slanderous reviews.

Google Plus LocalSecond, as you might have guessed from the name, the former Google Places is now integrated into Google+! This makes reviewing businesses and sharing good buzz about local companies all the more accessible.

Here’s an example of a Google+ Local entry:
Google Plus Local

UPDATE: As of Autumn 2012 it is possible to associate Google+ Pages with Google+ Local listings! You can now incorporate social features into your Google+ Local listing. More info here.

Currently, combining Google+ Local and Google+ Business Pages isn’t possible, but that may be on the horizon. For existing Google Places users this wasn’t a radical departure from what the service previously offered, but it added some great new features like the Google+ style image bar, Zagat scoring and reservations for restaurants through OpenTable. Google is cautiously taking it one step at a time with this one. While Google+ Local isn’t a complete replacement for a website, it offers some of the same features.

Communities

Business often cite Facebook Groups as one of Facebook’s best and most essential features. As of December 2012, Google+ has integrated their “Communities” feature which offers a centralized meeting place for discussions on certain topics. They’re very similar to message board systems in that you can choose different sub-categories for posts in your Community.

Communities can be private or public and can also be open or invite-only. Posts you make in public communities integrate with your regular stream. More on Google+ Communities here from +Martin Shervington.

Thanks for reading. Do you use Google+ for your business? What are your impressions? Any questions about using Google+ for business please share them in the comments.

Related Posts:
Why You Don’t Love Google+ (And Why You Should)
Why Facebook is Losing Photographers to Google+
Why Banning Social Media in the Workplace is a Bad Idea


Sources:
Inc: Google+ a Ghost Town? Hardly.
The Atlantic: It’s a Googly World: A Map of the Planet’s Most Visited Websites by Country
Google Authorship: Virante Orange Juice: How to Show Your Author Photo in Google Search Results
Infographic Source: Webempires – World Map Dominating Websites
Experian Hitwise:
Online Trends
Social Media Trends

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