Google+ isn't just a Facebook clone aimed at techies; many companies are actively using it for various marketing and collaborative strategies.
Google+ was launched on June 28, 2011 as a new effort to get Google into the social networking scene (prior efforts, such as Google Buzz, were not long for this world). It started out as invite-only - which I personally feel is a horrible way to promote a product - but then became publicly accessible to all. Google+ has been slow to catch on and occasionally derided as a ghost town, but it has been reported as scoring higher in customer satisfaction than Facebook. Google offers many different unique products and is linking them together via Google+, whereas Facebook is just Facebook.
I believe many potential users have been reluctant to try Google+ since they considered it a duplicate of Facebook that offers no truly compelling reasons to switch. This may be a thing of the past, however: Google+ currently has 100 million active users and 400 million registered users, according to Venturebeat.com (which, to be fair, has reported that the "active user" count for Google+ has fluctuated; last July it was clocked at 150 million users). Granted, Facebook now hosts over a billion users, but Google+ isn't trying to be Facebook, but instead rather its own entity.
It's been interesting for me to see fellow IT guys who saw Facebook as pointless suddenly flock to Google+ for the same idea-and-update sharing that social networking has popularized. I think it's because Google+ has a more professional atmosphere free of suspicious apps and annoying ads.
I've also been fascinated with the ways companies have started to leverage Google+ to their advantage. Many of these companies have a presence on Facebook, where clicking "Like" on their page will populate your news feed with their updates and announcements. However, some more innovative developments have been brewed up over on Google+, where instead of using "likes" people can follow individuals and companies to connect them to Circles.
So what can Google+ do for me?
First and foremost, your organization can create a Google+ business page, which promotes your products or services. For example, here is TechRepublic's page:
Note the "About" link next to "Posts", which provides a tagline, introduction, and numerous links for our site:
However, simply creating the page isn't enough; just the same way planting a seed won't achieve anything unless you also provide water and sunlight. The key is to put something in to get something out; this will reach throughout the Google+ community. Here are five ways to nurture your business through Google+.
1. Use a Google+ badge on your site
A Google+ badge is a widget for your website which will let viewers follow your Google+ page and recommend or share your material. The badge appears as follows:
Note the counter (+60252) which lets visitors see who else has connected with you.
This means people don't need to search for and follow your organization on Google+ - you can encourage them to do so directly. According to Google, "Top publishers have seen an average follower increase of 38% after adding the Google+ badge to their sites." For the full rundown on how to set this up, click here.
2. Engage in Search Engine Optimization
When people search for your company, if you have a Google+ page, you have the advantage because your company is moved to the top of the results pile. It's like pre-boarding an airline with small children (I can state from experience that it is like being royalty; I had three kids so I could stretch this out for many years). Speaking of airlines, in the example shown I've searched for Delta Airlines:
Not only does the search engine then allow me to click "Follow" to add Delta to one of my circles, but I can see who else is following this business and get a preview of their most recent post.
This article on seomoz.org gives some more great advice on the topic and I highly recommend reading it.
3. Start using Hangouts
Now that you've got people following your Google+ page, you can let them know what your company is doing (or plans to do) by using posts. This is helpful to spread the word, but sometimes some face-to-face time is even more meaningful. Google+ Hangouts were made for this purpose. To start a Hangout or access other Hangouts (including past events), click the Hangouts link in the vertical toolbar in Google+:
You'll need to download the Hangout plugin first.
In an effort to integrate Hangouts among their other services, Google lets people join Hangouts from Gmail, to work with Google Docs in Hangouts, and schedule Hangouts as calendar events.
Up to 10 people or locations can participate in a Hangout, which may not sound like much (this can be great for internal company or client video conferences), but you can also use "Hangouts on Air" to post the video to the web from your Google+ page or Youtube channel. This is perfect for presenting content to a large mass of customers, subscribers or affiliates. Of course, the material can also be archived for on-demand perusal.
President Obama participated in a Google+ Hangout earlier this year. While it might be hard to argue that this effort won him re-election, it certainly helped establish him as being part of the tech-savvy community as well as provided an opportunity to interface with fellow citizens.
Geekazine.com offers some tips titled "10 Ways to Make Google Hangout a Better Experience for All."
4. Leverage product reviews in Google Shopping
This means that if people search for products which have been reviewed by those in their Google+ Circles, these reviews will be available for them to read (this is similar to Google+ Local which I'll discuss next). People can even post the reviews to their Google+ page.
This feature allows you to increase visibility for your products insofar as your customers are using Google+, and are either writing reviews or connected to people doing so. Encouraging honest feedback via these product reviews is a good way to start using this feature to your advantage. However, for the record I do not condone in any way the lowbrow tactic of padding a site with bogus reviews.
5. Get Local
Google+ Local is a feature which allows customers to find and read reviews about businesses (as opposed to products in the last example). It's possible to search by business name or just put in your location and see what's recommended nearby.
For instance, if I type Boston MA into the location field I get the following:
A company's Google+ Local page generally displays the business hours, directions, and other relevant details. Zagat summaries and reviews by people in Google+ Circles can be a big help to potential customers. If I click the "China Pearl Restaurant" link at the top I can then see their business page, complete with a link to the menu, pictures of the exterior/interior and a map.
Note a "Local" page isn't the same as the standard Google+ page, but you can set it up easily enough. Click here for details.
Bonus: Benefit from social extensions (for Google AdWords customers)
If your business uses Google AdWords, you can deploy social extensions to allow you to link your Google+ page to your ads.
Google states: "Google can show more endorsements for your business from your customers and supporters. This can raise the social awareness of your business and increase its relevance."
By default, AdWords ads that appear on Google or the Google Display Network all have a +1 button. A web user +1'ing your ad endorses your specific landing page, and vice versa. With social extensions, a +1 on your ad applies to your Google+ Page. All +1's from your Google+ Page are also applied to your AdWords ads.
This creates a larger social web presence for both your ads and your Google+ Page, making it more likely that someone who sees them will see an annotation. Since annotations make your ads more relevant, they may also increase your overall ad performance."
Here is an overview of AdWords in case you're considering signing up.
According to Google, "Search ads using Google+ average 5 to 10 percent more clicks."
Sounds great, but how can I see how I'm doing?
Google provides some methods to measure how Google+ is working out for you.
Google+ Ripples is a service which offers handy visuals to let you see which of your public posts/links has been shared. You can also check what's being said about it.
Social reports in Google Analytics
Google Analytics provides reports to let you see how you're doing in the social media arena (even outside of Google+). It can show you how people are getting from social networks to your site, or how your content is being shared or interacted with outside your site. This can help you decide your next step or prepare goals for the future.
It isn't just companies selling goods that can use Google+; individuals or groups offering services can benefit from it as well. I recently came across a great article for writers outlining How to Use Google+ as an Author Platform. You may not be an author, but the article presents some amazing strategies which could easily apply to other disciplines and careers.
Google offers a page for businesses outlining how they can profit from Google+. This provides a great amount of content including concrete examples and case studies.