When Google+ opened up its service to Beta users in June 2011, 10 million users signed up within the first 2 weeks. Like me, the majority of these 10 million people probably thought to themselves, “Google are doing Social Media?! Cool!”. And like me, I bet most of them played around with the site for a while and thought it looked as good as they’d been hoping……..and then after a week they stopped logging in and forgot all about it. Fad.
I’m maybe exaggerating a little bit. I didn’t forget all about it entirely, but when my suggestions of establishing a Google+ presence were met with indifference, my own interest quickly faded too. I figured that nobody is using Google+ just now and that it would probably be a wasted effort trying to build a community of Followers.
I maintained that opinion until a chance conversation with a friend about what the boutique hotel booking specialist he worked for (Mr & Mrs Smith) were currently doing with Social Media. He told me they were thinking about ways to better engage with their Google+ Followers. At this point, Google+ was well and truly out of my mind – last time I’d checked, the large businesses in our sector had at most two or three hundred Followers. So when I checked Mr & Mrs Smith’s Google+ page and saw that over 400,000 people had them in their Circles, I was gobsmacked. I literally had to sit and think for a few minutes how this was possible. And berate myself for letting Google’s new venture slip off my radar so easily.
After the initial shock of seeing a company that much smaller than our own (no offence!) with so many Followers, I started thinking again about the benefits to businesses of being active on Google+. I’m going to discuss here three features I think make Google+ unique and worthwhile for businesses and brands to invest their time in: Circles, Hangouts, and what I’m calling ‘Search+Social’.
Circles is Google’s mechanism for helping you group the people and brands you’re Following on Google+. Default Circles include ones for Friends, Family, and Acquaintances. You’re not restricted to these though, and can make up your own custom Circles. For example, I’ve got ones for co-workers, my hockey team mates, and for businesses that I Follow. Having all your contacts grouped this way means you can easily choose to Post content visible only to specific Circles, and also choose which Circles you do or do not want to see appearing in your Google+ News Stream. It feels much more intuitive and easier to manage than anything Facebook have done to date.
For brands, this has great potential. Every time a customer contacts you, you can add them to a custom Circle. At a very basic level, you could add anyone who Posts on your Wall to a “Have contacted us” Circle. You could also add these people into Circles specific to what they’ve contacted you about. For instance, if a customer has purchased a TV from your website you could add them into an “Electronics” Circle. In future, you could target this Circle with news or promotions about your Electronics products, knowing that the people you’re targeting already have some level of interest in the subject; as opposed to just sending all updates to everyone. You can’t currently target a subsection of Followers like this on Facebook.
One company making good use of Google+ Circles is Intel. They invite their Followers to indicate what topics they are interested in receiving updates about by clicking on one of several photos shown on their Google+ homepage . People will be more likely to continue Following Intel’s Google+ page, as there is a level of control over what kind of Intel content is being broadcast to their News Feed.
The Google+ Hangouts feature allows you to have group video chats with your friends (or Followers). Having a user-friendly video chat function integrated into the site opens up some options to Brands that just don’t exist on other social networks. Some businesses arrange Facebook Q&A sessions where Fans can ask questions to experts from particular areas of the business. With Hangouts this could be done “face to face” over webcams, and would offer an enhanced interactive experience for your customers. You can also arrange Hangouts that customers can tune in to like a Webinar, or broadcast your own DIY chat show with a guest being interviewed!. And part of the appeal of Hangouts is how simple and inviting it is to use.
What I mean by ‘Search+Social’ is the integration of Google+ relationships with Google search results. An example of this Google+/Google Search integration can be seen in the photo below. Whilst logged in to my Google account I searched for Mr & Mrs Smith. As you can see below, their advert appeared at the top of my results. This in itself isn’t unusual, but included in the body of the advert is a “recommendation” from one of my friends who has +1’d them on Google+ (Clicking “+1” is Google’s equivalent of Liking someone on Facebook).
For any company advertising with Google, it would be wise to consider the benefits of having your company “Recommended by a friend” as part of your advert. Imagine searching for a company you’re considering spending your money with and straight away seeing that 20 of your friends have +1’d them. One of the better reasons for investing time in building your Google+ fan base.
Other considerations: Google+ content for Google+ Fans
Consider the gender demographics of the big social networks. Facebook is c.57% Female/c.43% Male. Twitter is c.59% Female/c.41% Male. Google+ demographics on the other hand show it to be a Male dominated social network: c.71% Male to c.29% Female. (Source: http://www.onlinemba.com/blog/social-media-demographics)
If your Facebook Fans are predominantly Female (some brands are significantly above the 57% average) then you might be looking for ways to engage more of your Male customers. One way to do this would be to start focusing some effort into your Google+ page. To do this effectively you should consider what content best fits this specific network, and not just see Google+ as a place to copy+paste your latest Facebook content. Unique content for a unique set of Fans.
So when publishing content on your Google+ page, think about your audience……your Male dominated audience. If you’re a Clothing website talking about a new range launch, trying leading your post with comments or offers on suits rather than sandals. And if you’re a supermarket think more about posting news about some behind the scenes tech innovations and “What are the first THREE items you’re buying when the Zombie Apocalypse kicks off?” updates, rather than “What would you stock up on for a night in watching The Notebook??”.
And one more cool thing about Google+: it’s like a searchable version of Facebook
In addition to the three features I discussed earlier, something that stood out to me the first time I used Google+ is that it’s basically a searchable version of Facebook. It merges some of the best aspects of Facebook and Twitter in to one package – or at least that’s how I see it from a business insight perspective. On Facebook there could be a large number of people talking about your brand to their friends, but unless they go out of their way to tell you their opinions you’ll never hear them. On Twitter you can easily search for people tweeting about your brand, but due to the nature of Twitter the comments will be brief. With Google+ there’s no 140 character limit, and you can search through all Public Google+ posts. Which would be like searching for your company’s name on Facebook, and being able to scroll through every Wall Post or Comment which mentions the word. It will be interesting to see if Google open up APIs that would allow Social Media CRM platforms to import all conversations about your brand. It could offer a useful insight on customer opinion beyond what your existing Followers are writing on your Google+ Wall.
I made a mistake in dismissing Google+ as being cool, but of little use. After giving it more consideration though, I now think that with it’s unique features and expanding userbase it’s a social network that can’t be ignored much longer.