There was a time, only a few short years ago, when new social media launches were a big deal, guys. In the more enlightened and more cynical age of 2011, we know better; we’ve seen socnet come and go and seen things like Color and worse that make The Office’s social media parody WUPHF.com seem plausible and maybe even viable. Which is why, a few months in, it’s tough to get excited about Google+ – especially its prospects for businesses.
While Google is an undisputed killer at search and pretty good at a few dozen other things, social has traditionally been the space where they’ve struggled. Google Wave, in addition to being ahead of its time, was launched clumsily and then shuttered after it became first a laughingstock and then an afterthought. Last year’s Google Buzz debacle was even worse, though Buzz is still around, integrated into this summer’s Charlie Brown attempt to kick the football – Google+. At least Orkut, Google’s first social venture, is still popular in Brazil and India, though never became popular here in the U.S.
Consequently, it’s a little surprising that Google+ started off as strongly as it did. Only two weeks after launch, Google CEO Larry Page announced that Plus had hit 10 million users. It seemed like Google had finally got it right and the tech blogosphere lauded it as a viable Facebook competitor.
Three months later, it seems as if the bloom is off the proverbial rose.
Though the early adopter ‘neterati flocked to Google+ early on, the number of public posts on the site has decreased over 40% from its high-water mark. Though there isn’t any firm data about the number of private posts, anecdotally I’ve noticed a similar drop-off in post frequency. I have roughly as many people in my circles as I do friends on Facebook, including a few who have quit Facebook for the ‘simplicity’ of Google+. Again, this is only a personal observation of my own circles and other users might have cultivated very active private circles.
Still, starting on September 20, Google+ opened the floodgates wide and announced open signups – no more invitations needed to gain access. That move, along with a few other value-add features and one big no-brainer addition (search functionality), might serve to revivify a social network that seems to already be flagging in its first hundred days.
For store owners and marketers, Google+ adoption has been even more onerous. As part of its ‘common name’ policy, Google has vigorously policed Plus for nonhuman users (brand pages or business pages chief among them) and has shut a majority of those pages down. Google has advised businesses to wait. And we’re waiting still.
In early July, when we proposed a talk on Google+ for businesses for our semiannual Boot Camp, we didn’t think that we’d still be waiting on that functionality to be added right now on the cusp of meteorological autumn.
During the month of July, I posted a week’s worth of sardonic “Google+ Plusetization Tips” to my Google+ profile. Plusetization, of course, is the act of monetizing Google+. It was what everyone was asking about at the time, and what people are probably still wondering about when they get reminded that Google+ is a thing. They are either pointedly bad ideas or meaningless jargon, and are sometimes both. Some of those tips include:
• Randomly add 100 suggested users to a Huddle. Text them product URLs all day long.
• Use Sparks to find relevant content. Add the following Interests to your Sparks: Success, ROI, CTR and Conversions.
• Stream your Spark Circles into a Hangout via the mobile app [Note: this one, particularly, means absolutely nothing]
• When in doubt, Plus it.
The sad truth is that much of the good, actionable, reliable advice for using Plus effectively isn’t much better, though it may be a lot less tongue-in-cheek.
So, how should businesses approach Google+? If you are looking for another free, branded public presence, I would honestly recommend taking Google’s advice and waiting in most cases. The exception to this is businesses that have a readily identifiable public face. Do you have more Twitter followers than your brand does? Then maybe you’re a good candidate for marketing on Google+. That’s because you can establish a personal profile that you can use to act as an advocate for your brand.
If you aren’t comfortable with being a public face for your business, then Google+ is not the right place for your business right now. More traditional social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are a better fit for you.
Once you’re on Plus and ready to go, make yourself findable in conjunction with your business’s name. That sounds like a no-brainer, I know, but it’s a vital step that is easy to overlook.
• Make sure that the business you’re representing is prominently listed in your profile.
• Likewise, make sure that posts that are relevant to your business contain the name of the business.
• Make sure you are visible in search results. Seriously.
• Use the ‘Other Profiles’ and ‘Recommended Links’ section of the profile to link to your store and to other high-value social accounts related to your business.
If you have unique, attractive product photos or videos, be sure to share them on Google+. Photos and videos tend to elicit more interactions than plain text posts.
Locate users to follow by searching Google+ for keywords related to your brand. You are going to be adding these users to Circles instead of simply following their posts, so you can create Circles related to each of these keywords, too. If you sell a few different types of products, segment the users you follow in Circles based on which types of products best match their interests. Be sure to take a few minutes and evaluate whether a person is a good fit for you instead of just blindly following everybody. It takes more time and will leave you with fewer people to follow at first, but it will eventually pay off as you interact with other users.
Using Google+’s Sparks (a news discovery tool) is a good way to find relevant content from elsewhere on the web to share with your audience.
If you are announcing a new product or breaking similar news, consider doing it via a ‘Hangout’ or video chat. One of the new beta features allows Hangouts to be broadcast live to viewers who aren’t participants, and that can be a great way to connect with your customers instead of (or in addition to) a press release or a ‘Twitter party’, for instance.
Look outside of Google+ to gain new followers. Ask your Facebook fans and your Twitter followers to also join you on Google+. Send an email blast to your mailing list to let them know how to find you.
Then comes the hard work. Interacting well on Google+ is the same as being a good community member anywhere else on the Internet. Share interesting content, comment thoughtfully, promote what you think is worthwhile and be willing to respond to people. Like Facebook, Plus is home to lengthy conversations in comment threads, but like Twitter, the community can be more diverse than just the people that know you. Even if you’re on Google+ to market, make sure that at least 25% of your time is spent not aggressively marketing.
When posting to Google+, be sure to consider who is seeing your posts. Instead of making all of your posts public, you can choose to display them only to members of certain circles. This approach decreases the breadth of your reach but increases the depth of it.
Google+ can be a worthwhile tool for promoting your business, but it’s not exactly ready for primetime yet. The fledgling network has a lot of weight behind it in the form of the Google brand, but adoption seems to have plateaued quickly after its rapid start and its usage may be beginning to trend down already. However, there are still a few things that we don’t fully know about the service yet – how will it handle branded pages? What effect does Plus have on SEO (early signs point to sites with a high number of +1s having a slight edge in the SERPs, though not enough to supplant other vital ranking factors)? It may be some time before those questions are answered, so anybody looking for a quick SEO fix or a free online billboard for their eCommerce site is best advised to look elsewhere for now.