Is Google+ effective for marketing

Social media for companies: use Google+ effectively

Even if Google+ is far from being a “Facebook killer”, there are still enough reasons and useful features to use it for business. This post explains the most important functions and how you can use them to make your company and your products better known.

Every social network in our main topic “Social Media for Companies” can easily be described in one sentence. Facebook is about friendships, relationships and life itself. Twitter is all about the quick exchange of ideas and information. Instagram is for what we think is worth watching right now. And Pinterest is used as a visual and modern form of the pin board. These brief classifications are perhaps not one hundred percent accurate in their simplification. But, by and large, many will agree.

And then there is Google+.

It doesn't want to be a social network, but that's how it is perceived. It is intended as a profile page in the Google universe, but is still patchy or poorly linked to Google services. It combines features under one roof that could easily be and should be, in my own opinion, on their own. In short: Google+ has an identity crisis. Nobody really knows what it should be.

The old story of the “ghost town Google+” is nonetheless nonsense. If you are clever, you can achieve a high range here, as I can report from my own experience. Of course it will depend on the topic, but that is also the case elsewhere. If you look at numbers, Google+ is seen every now and then at eye level with Twitter and would at least jostle for second place in the social network ranking. A Forrester study also showed that “engagement” on Google+ is on par with Facebook and far ahead of Twitter: This means the number of interactions achieved compared to the number of followers / fans.

Certainly there is no need to emphasize how overpowering Facebook seems in many measured values. The number of users or the length of stay is way ahead of any competitor. On the other hand, the reach on Facebook, especially for corporate content, is not as much higher as it might seem. The reason is simple: The world's largest social network is struggling to keep its users happy. Accordingly, we are constantly experimenting with what users see on their home page. A lot of space for advertising is also needed. At the same time, practically everyone wants to be heard on Facebook with their content. Result: The visibility of fan page content falls and falls.

In this respect, there are definitely good arguments to deal with social networks beyond Facebook. And this is where Google+ plays an important role - albeit an often unloved one.

A tip to better understand Google+: It should be understood more as a collection of features that Google offers. As a company, you can use this in a variety of ways to put yourself and your products in the limelight and to make yourself better known or to optimize your presentation in Google search. In this respect, I will treat Google+ for this post as if this page was not a unit, but as if it were several separate offers. In my opinion, that's the case anyway. The features are only combined under this roof for partly arbitrary reasons, while other Google offers remain to themselves.

So it's not about “being on Google+”, but rather knowing and effectively using the features that Google offers under this label. In this respect, it is of secondary importance how exactly the future of the overall Google+ construct looks like.

But enough of the preface.

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General tips

The rule of thumb not only applies to Google+: the more specifically you adapt your content to the specifics of the respective platform, the higher the chances of success.

Some general notes:

  • Google+ is very photo heavy. This is a trend that is also known from Facebook and Twitter. At the same time, Google+ currently has a design reminiscent of Pinterest. Occasionally, photos are even displayed as wide as a page. In the mobile app, the images also dominate. In short: you can win a lot with a beautiful, interesting and attention-grabbing photo.
  • Google+ was able to display GIFs from the start. Some users hate them like the plague, but generally speaking they attract a lot of attention.
  • Videos are also featured prominently. You can even upload them directly to Google+, but videos from YouTube and Vimeo are displayed just as large.
  • Texts can be structured by highlighting them. At the same time, longer posts are possible and, in my experience, can be found more often than elsewhere. However, you should be aware that users usually only see the first few lines at first. So these should be meaningful. In addition, you should know that Google also uses the beginning of the text as the page title, which you see, for example, in Google's web search - where postings from Google+ naturally appear. In this respect, it has become common practice among many users to provide longer and more important postings with a heading that is converted into bold text with * asterisks in front and behind *.
  • Generally speaking, one can say: Google+ posts with a short text tend to increase the click rate, while longer texts tend to lead to discussions and shares. For example, if you want to refer to a longer article on your blog, it can be a good idea to summarize the essential points and findings in the Google+ post. In this way you increase the value of the Google+ post and thus the likelihood that it will be passed on.
  • If you post a link, a preview is automatically generated, similar to Facebook. If you have more than one link, you have to include them in the text, so you cannot link a word or part of a sentence like on a website, for example. Many users make do by treating multiple links like footnotes.
  • Google+ users sometimes have an allergic reaction if you come to them with Facebook terms and want, for example, a “Like”, although there is no such thing here. Such small mistakes make a very bad impression. Google+ users like their social network, are often here out of conviction and do not want to be treated as second-class social media users. This is a similar faux pas to simply publishing your RSS feed automatically on Twitter.

The principle of "circles"

Google+ is in some ways a mixture of Twitter and Facebook. Google has made the follower principle of Twitter the basis of Google+. Relationships are here by default one-sided, you can "follow" others, but you do not have to be "friends".

A central sales argument at the beginning was also the “circles” into which the people can be classified. They have a double function: On the one hand, you can use them to control whose content you want to watch. On the other hand, you can determine who gets to see your own post. This dual function can be confusing at first and unfortunately the model of the circles has not yet been further developed. For example, from my point of view it would be a sensible idea if the followers of a person or a company could determine for themselves which content they are actually interested in. But such a feature is neither available nor announced.

Nevertheless, the circles are well suited to get a better overview and to address content directly to suitable people.

"Popular posts"

A special feature and an exciting opportunity for professional users are the “trendy posts” on Google+. Behind this are posts that are shown to all users via an algorithm, even if they do not follow the person in question. Obviously, it is not only the number of reactions that counts, but also how much the commitment to this post is increasing. In this way, people and sites can also get into the spotlight that do not have that many followers.

If that happens to your own contribution, the number of interactions can explode. With a little experience, you can tell immediately as soon as a post has landed here - for example, the number and character of the comments change.

Hashtags

Google also copied the hashtag model from Twitter. You can tag your posts by adding a preceding hash sign ("#") to terms. These terms are then automatically linked to the corresponding search. In addition, Google's algorithm adds hashtags to its own posts in a surprisingly intelligent way.

As with Twitter, hashtags can be a useful means of grouping content on a topic or to show up with its content in the corresponding searches. Since you have a lot more space on Google+ than on Twitter, you shouldn't add a hashtag to words in the text itself, for example, just add them at the end of the text.

But as always: Please don't overdo it. Two to five hashtags are generally considered a good value.

The Google+ profile page

The content posted directly on Google+ appears prominently on the private profile page. Via the (in my view unsuccessful) link to YouTube, comments from there can also appear here as posts. Based on the “circles” presented above, you can determine at any time which content is visible to which person. It is only important to keep in mind: If you never post anything publicly, viewed from the outside, you have an empty profile page. While that is logical in itself, it is quickly forgotten.

In addition to the posts, additional content can be displayed:

  • General information on the person such as place of residence, employer, links to blogs, etc. So there is space here to introduce yourself and to refer to important projects. This tab is the only mandatory tab besides the posts tab. All others can be hidden as desired and required.
  • Photos uploaded to Google+. As mentioned at the beginning, Google puts a lot of emphasis on this topic. There are various ways to edit images. In addition, there are a number of automatisms that independently improve pictures and videos, combine several photos into a GIF or create a kind of picture album with the “stories”. Google calls this “auto effects”.
  • YouTube: Strangely enough, this tab only shows which videos you have uploaded to YouTube or directly to Google+. Comments and likes on YouTube, however, cannot be seen.
  • Another tab shows which content has been given a +1 on the net. However, you cannot see here which content has been given a +1 on Google+.
  • And last but not least, there is a tab for reviews that have been written about locations.

With the help of the tabs you can see quite well why Google+ has an identity crisis from my point of view: It is not understandable which content can be found here and which cannot. The Google+ profile page is far from becoming the central collection point for all activities related to Google. Not even the activities on Google+ like assigning +1 for posts and comments can be found here.

In order to maintain the profile page, it seems important to me that you only display those tabs in which something can actually be found. You should also take the time to fill out the "About" page.

The Google+ Page

The Google+ page is the equivalent of the Facebook fan page and at the same time very similar to the Google+ profile page. The tabs are also congruent with one exception: You cannot assign a page +1 in the network, so this point is missing.

If you are the manager of at least one page, you can switch to this identity. A new browser tab opens for this purpose. So you can stay logged in as a private person at the same time, which I personally find very practical. Other users can be added as managers. It turned out to be very useful for my practice that these managers also have access to the linked YouTube channel. Here is a description of how to connect Google+ and YouTube. There you can also switch between identities without having to log out and log in again. Last but not least, the links between Google+ Page and YouTube allow Hangouts on Air to be started (see below), which then automatically end up in the correct channel.

Under the item “My Business” you will find a central page on which you can get information about the Google+ page, but also about other Google services. It emerged from the previous “Google+ Dashboard”. Google has also presented a suitable app for this.

As a Google+ page, you can also set up communities and use the events function. Later more.

Under the name “Google Insights”, there has recently been a simple statistic with essential information on the development of the Google+ page. Here you can find information such as the number of views, which posts there were interactions and some information about the followers. That is still far from a comprehensive overview, but at least this data is now available and one can hope that Google will expand this area or perhaps even link it with Google Analytics.

Auto-posting is currently only possible with two tools: HootSuite and Buffer. Only these also make it possible to publish content with a delay.

On the go, you can manage your pages using the normal Google+ app. So there is no separate app like on Facebook. Switching between identities works as easily and smoothly as in the browser.

Hangout

Hangouts are a simple form of video conference with up to ten participants. You can either do a hangout with explicitly invited people, with certain circles or as a public video chat. Hangouts are therefore an alternative to a Skype video conference and similar tools. The quality is fine for simple needs. You can also share your own screen content with others.

All in all, Hangouts can be used as an internal communication tool, for example.

Hangout on Air

A Hangout on Air is a live streamed video conference that is also automatically posted on the linked YouTube channel afterwards. A hangout on air is always public. At the same time, the people and groups who are allowed to join must be explicitly determined. So it is not possible, for example, to start a Hangout on Air and give everyone the freedom to join in. At the same time, it is not possible to make the live stream of a Hangout on Air accessible only to a limited group of people.

If your own internet connection is sufficient, HD streams with 720p are possible. You can also select external cameras and microphones that are connected to the computer. In this way, live broadcasts can be implemented on a small scale free of charge.

Such a hangout on air lends itself to many occasions. You can hold virtual press conferences in this way, bring together a panel of experts on a topic or go on air as an individual. In addition, there is now a module that viewers can use to ask questions in writing, so that a kind of question-and-answer format is possible.

All in all, from my point of view, the Hangouts on Air are an amazingly powerful tool that Google makes available for free.

It should also be noted that, in case of doubt, you should inquire with the responsible authorities whether such live broadcasts are considered broadcast. In Germany, the state media authorities of the federal states are responsible for this and they have not yet found a common position on this question.

Communities

The communities are another example of an extensive and useful offer within Google+. They are comparable to the Facebook groups, so they are intended as a kind of discussion forum. You can start a community both as a person and as a page.

You can determine whether the community should be public or private. In addition, you can also specify whether everyone can join or whether this is only possible by invitation. If you want, you can hide your private community from searching.

In this way, a community can even be used for internal purposes, for example. Optionally, you can be informed about any new content. This can help you not to miss a thing. Personally, however, I made the experience on Google+ that these notifications are not always reliable.

Another possibility is, of course, to create a public community that is thematically related to one's own subject area. Or you start right away with your own company and your own products.

In addition, you can join communities both as a person and as a page. They are a perfect place within Google+ to attract positive attention. And that means: Don't just post adverts, but get involved in discussions, provide useful answers, etc.

For posts in a community you have the same options as elsewhere: text, image, video, links are possible. In addition, you have the option of creating categories in order to further break down the main topic of the community and, ideally, to increase the clarity.

Photo functions

As mentioned earlier, Google+ has a huge focus on photography. Images can be edited in a variety of ways in the browser. They are often shown particularly prominently. And of course you can, for example, fill your Google+ page or a community with photos. Anyone with a visual and image-heavy theme is in good hands here.

Images can of course also be sorted into albums and then posted collectively. These albums can be found appropriately in the "Photos" tab of your own profile page or Google+ page. Users can comment on individual photos as well as entire albums and continue to share them.

More features

I will only briefly outline a few other options here:

  • Events: Google has created an extensive offer to invite you to events and to accompany them directly on the site.
  • Local: Google's version of offers like Foursquare and Yelp has been on Google+ for some time. Anyone who has a shop, restaurant, hotel or similar business should be active here, because the information is often included in the search results.
  • Ripples: Via the context menu of a posting you can see some numbers about the retrieval of the post. Here you can also see which people or pages had the greatest influence on the distribution.
  • Google+ can be used as a comment system, similar to what we know from Facebook. It is standard with Google's in-house blogger service. There are suitable plugins for WordPress, for example.
  • Conversely, you can also embed Google+ posts in your own blog.

Links to Google search

One argument in favor of engagement on Google+ is of course the hope of being better present in Google's search results in this way. Google continues to deny that Google+ has a direct impact on ranking, but that is not necessary. Ultimately, each user receives individually adapted search results pages, even when they are logged out. If you are logged in to your account, posts from contacts on Google+ are displayed more prominently. Regardless of this, the entries and ratings of Google+ Local can be found in the search results as well as links to a company's Google+ page.

So: Even if the ranking itself does not improve, the display in the search results will definitely improve and that can noticeably increase the click rate. In addition, one should assume that Google is pursuing the goal of increasingly including signals from Google+ when evaluating search hits in the future. And that already includes customizing the results today.

Last but not least, you should be clear: Facebook posts can only be seen there, while posts on Google+ are also displayed in Google's web search.

If you run a blog, you should also deal with “Google Authorship”. Above this, a photo of the author appears in the search result as well as an indication of how many Google+ circles this person is in. You can find out more about this directly from Google here.

Place AdWords for Google+ content

In order to advertise individual postings (and thus at the same time your presence on Google+), you can place AdWords ads. However, these do not appear on Google+, but in the company's content advertising network. In other words: These ads are then on other websites in the network that use Google AdSense. Here, Google presents these "+ Post ads" in more detail. By the way, you can use it to advertise not only a post, but also, for example, a hangout on air. As is usual with AdWords, it is possible to narrow down the websites on which this advertisement should be shown. Small catch: You need an unspecified minimum number of followers to be able to use this form of advertising.

Google+ itself is still ad-free and Google has little reason to change it. This is of course very nice for users, but as a company it has the disadvantage that there are only a few ways to draw attention to its content.

Private Profile vs Page

In general, the action options of a Google+ page are more limited than those of a private person. That makes perfect sense: Google wants to use it to limit spam. In this respect, however, it makes a lot of sense to be active on Google+ in both identities. As a company you post the content, as a private person you distribute it. Here, of course, as everywhere else, you shouldn't overdo it.

With Google+, for example, you have the option of explicitly referring users to your own content. This means that these users get their own notification that someone has shared a piece of content with them. However, this feature should only be used extremely sparingly if it is really important and the content is of urgent interest to the people addressed. To counter this, such “spammy” users can otherwise be muted or blocked and reported to Google. This is then a clear case of a shot that backfires.

Conclusion

There is no shortcut to success on Google+ either. Those who actively use the site, get involved in communities and post interesting content themselves can build up a significant following. But that takes time here as well as elsewhere. Since Google+ is not used that much in the German-speaking world, there are also many opportunities to distinguish yourself. And since there are still enough users and the reach of the posts is not restricted as much as with Facebook, you can achieve an interesting reach in the end.

Last but not least, your own appearance in Google's search results can be positively influenced in many places on Google+. Be it Google+ Local, the author's picture or the link to the Google+ page.

With the Communities, Hangouts and Hangouts on Air, Google also offers free features that can be used for many purposes.

In this respect, the profile of Google+ as a social network remains fuzzy. But there are still enough arguments and features that make it interesting for business use.

Tips to read on

The following contributions served as sources and are useful if you want to learn more about some aspects:


This article belongs to: UPLOAD Magazine 11

The first issue with a thematic focus: Five articles are about Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram - each from the perspective of a company.

Jan "jati" Tißler has over 20 years of professional experience as an online journalist and digital publicist. In 2006 he launched the UPLOAD magazine. Since 2015 he has been helping companies to inspire the right customers with content. Together with Falk Hedemann, he offers UPLOAD Publishing services along the entire content marketing process chain. Born in Hamburg, he lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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