Saturday, October 27, 2012

Google Plus. An Introduction

Note: This post was written in June 2012 when I was employed by Hearst Media Services and posted on my Hearst-provided website. I copied it here in late October with little revision:

Like most jokes, this one contains a kernel of truth: Many heavy users of Google+ are, if not actually Google employees, techies. But over time, that should change.

What is Google Plus? It is Google’s 4th attempt at Social Media and the first that has gained significant traction. Google Buzz and Google Friend Connect have come and gone. Orkut launched in 2004 and is now operated entirely by subsidiary Google Brazil. Google Plus was launched in June 28, 2011 as Google Circles. As of June 2012, it has a total of 250 million registered users. (Update: 400 million registered users, 100 million active as of September 2012.)

It is ignored by many businesses because while it has a  large number of registered users, the average number of hours per month that each user spends on it is small compared to Facebook.

The breadth and depth of Google Plus is too great to cover completely in a single blog post. I don’t claim to be a leading authority on the subject but I am an Internet marketer, a heavy user of all things Google and I am an especially heavy user of Google Plus. Here are some of its major components:

A Personal Profile: This is home base for the individual user, it contains a picture An About Tab, A place for photos, video and +1. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Google Plus does not currently offer an easy-to-remember static address so I created a subdomain of my main domain and forward my Google Plus page to it. Here is a link: It shows my profile picture, an “About” Tab, a place for pictures and videos and of course my posts and Check-ins. When I log in, as a user, I can see more:  1) There is an “Explore” section which shows currently popular – called trending - topics  2) There is a place to view my +1s. These are similar to Facebook likes. 3) There is an “Events” section. You can schedule events using Google Plus the same way you would with, say, Evite. 4) Circles – What Google Plus is known for. It is easy to arrange your contacts in Google Plus. Just drag icons representing your contacts into the appropriate Circle. I separate by Friends, Family, People I don’t know but “Follow” just as I would with Twitter, I have a Circle for Journalists I follow and I have a business circle.

 Google Plus Local : These are business pages: Google killed off Google Places and replaced them with Google Plus Local. When people find a business on the maps, they can get all the information the maps contained, and then some. Major changes in the review system. Users will no longer have a chance to create identities and write anonymous reviews. Older reviews are now attributed to “A Google User” and new reviews are under the real name of the person who is writing using their Google Account. A Google Plus Local Page is similar to a personal page or a Facebook Fan Page. You can post to it and your followers can keep current.

Zagat scoring system. Google Plus is now using the same scoring systems Zagat has been using to score restaurants for years. Instead of 1 to 5 stars, reviewers assign a score of 1 – 3. That is multiplied by 10 and averaged so that there is more gradation and reviews of 21-27 are common instead of it settling in around 3 as it usually did under the old system.

Google Plus Button on your webpage. I can’t explain this any better than Google has, so let me simply quote them: The +1 button lets people recommend content on the web, helping to improve the Google search and web browsing experience for their friends and contacts. It appears on Google search and ads across the Google Display Network. When people click the +1 button for a particular webpage or ad, their names and profile pictures will appear as part of annotations in their friends' and contacts' search results and within the content of participating web pages. The final landing page's URL can also appear on the Google profile of any person who +1's your ad or organic result and who chooses to share +1's on her profile. Whenever possible, the +1 button is associated with a site's final landing page. This means someone can recommend a webpage by clicking the +1 button on that page, or the +1 button next to a Google ad or search result associated with that page. For example, if someone +1's an organic search result with the same final landing page as your ad, the +1 count associated with both the organic search result and the search ad will increase.

Ripples: Whether you are posting from your personal Google Plus account or your Google Plus Local Page, you can take advantage of this very cool feature. To increase your influence, you would like people to link to and share your content, right? How would you know who linked and shared? Ripples lets you see in a very nifty graphical representation. Here are the Ripples from when Samsung USA posted about a new product. This is just a picture but in Google Ripples, you can click on the ripples to drill down and see each user if you want to.

Hangouts: Hangouts allow video conferencing with up to nine of your contacts at the same time.

Google Plus Mobile:   The Facebook Mobile App is Facebook’s Achilles Heel. It is just not that stable or easy to use. The Google Plus Mobile app for Android and iPhone is where Google Plus really shines. It’s features photos prominently, is intuitive, stable and fast. It makes it easy to shift the view from circle to circle so that you view what you want, when you want, instead of in a single stream, although it will do that too. Besides your circle views, it offers a view of “What’s Hot”, The Google Plus Stream of hot trending topics by people whether you follow them or not. It also allows you to see what people are posting “Nearby” using your GPS locator, unless you turn that off. Used in this way, Google Plus is like a hybrid between Twitter and Facebook. It allows us to follow people we don’t know and see what they post for public consumption, but hides what they post only for their own circles, and allows you to do the same. Unlike Twitter, it does not limit you to 140 characters. Adding pictures to your posts is easy. Hangouts works with your computer or your phone. With my phone app, I can locate a business, click on its Google Plus Local Page and read and write reviews.

Business Use:

You might ask yourself: Given the relative size of Google Plus to Facebook, why should I bother to incorporate Google Plus into my business strategy? Here’s my answer: Facebook is a stand alone Social Media Product. As you know, Google is the 800 pound gorilla of online search. How long do you think it will be before businesses utilizing Google Plus get such a distinct advantage in search results that all businesses without a Google Plus strategy are playing catch up? If you get in on the ground floor, and you are disappointed in the results, you haven’t cost yourself very much. If it does what I think it will, the benefits will be huge. Now, what happens if you don’t establish a Google Plus strategy, your competitors do and it works to their benefit? You will be the one playing catch up. If you didn’t get in on SEO or Adwords early, here’s your chance to get in on Google Plus early. Your call.  

The video below is a presentation I made on July 11, 2012 to the Greenville, SC Meetup at Ford's Oyster House Downtown, sponsored by Greenville Marketing Lab

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