Why you need to know about Google+

What is Google+?
On June 28, 2011 Google announced a new social platform named Google+ (also written as Google Plus or G+).  Most people I know and reviews I’ve read compare the platform to Facebook. The influence of Facebook is apparent from the stream (status updates) to connections (friends) to photo share.  But Google+ has some unique features and a few advantages that I think you’ll want to consider.Google rolled out Google+ initially by invitation only. Once someone was a registered user they were allowed to invite a limited number of friends to also participate.  This gave Google a controlled ramp-up of users where they could measure usage and make adjustments based on feedback.

Then on September 20 of this year Google loosened the enrollment restriction and made Google+ publicly available to anyone at least 18 years of age. That’s helped to expand the growth rate of the platform which now has over 43 million registered users. They have not given any date if and when the age restriction will be lowered. Facebook currently allows registration beginning at age 13.

I’ve been a registered user on Google+ since the first month and in general, I enjoy the using the platform. My problem is that it’s become another place to be “social”. What I’ve found over the past several years is that I have a different set of friends on different platforms. LinkedIn is for professional connections. Facebook is for personal connections. Twitter is for technology and industry connections.

So where has Google+ landed for me? Right now it’s a mix between between the big three (Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter) as I have shared information with early adopters spanning all three groups. But this is exactly what Google+ was designed to do. Google calls it real-life sharing because you share information with groups of people that fit a segment of your life.

Google+ primer for individuals.
Circles. Google uses this geometric shape as a metaphor to “circles of influence” and the building block for Google+. A Google+ circle is a group of people that share a common trait with you. You can name your own circles and put your connections (friends) in them. A single connection is not limited to a single circle, you can put the connection in as many circles as you like.

So the big idea is to organize your circles as you do your life.  For example, here are some of my circles thus far: family, coworkers, professional connections, digital and internet marketing, sports, and church.

As I share information such as photos, links, status updates, etc. I choose which circle(s) can see the information.  If I’m reading updates I can filter the information stream to only show updates from specific circles.

One other feature to know about is hangouts. A hangout allows you connect up to nine people in a multi-point video conference. It’s like a conference call with video and you can share information for everyone to see.

Google+ primer for businesses and groups.
When Facebook went main stream we all know that Marketers were anxious to get their brands onto the platform to connect with their target audiences. Facebook fan pages followed and it’s hard now not to find companies, organizations, and groups that are not linking to their customers, fans, and members on Facebook.

On November 7, Google announced Google+ Pages for businesses, groups, sports clubs, etc. I did a quick search on a few brands that I’ve connected with in the past and found them right-away: Starbucks and the Atlanta Braves. I expect Google+ pages to grow quickly over the next 6-9 months as organizations that already active with social media expand their reach for the Google+ audience.

Here’s why I’m big on organizations using Google+ Pages. Search. Search is the money engine for Google. You may use other Google products like gmail, google voice, or google apps for free, but you’ve probably seen ads displayed within the application. That’s their commerce engine. Companies pay to list ads on our screens based on content within the page.

Google+ indexes pages and posts and contains the ability to +1 a post. To see that Google indexes pages and posts type this in a google search “atlanta braves site:plus.google.com”. This tells google to look for the search keywords “atlanta braves” listed on the site plus.google.com. It limits the search results but shows you that the pages and posts are indexed.

You may have noticed the +1 button on some news sites, blogs, or search results. This is a way that Google devised for internet users to add a ranking of what content is important to them. I think of it as a vote. Google is using these votes to influence search result priority.  That’s something businesses are concerned about and a nice advantage for Google+.

So what do we do with Google+?
Can this platform gain wider scale adoption? 43 million registered users is a big start but will internet users abandon Facebook or use multiple social platforms concurrently? I think it’s a tough battle for Google but they are continuing to look for ways to keep their search results in front of consumers.

Most casual internet users will use the social platform where their friends are and may not want the challenge of managing multiple profiles. But some are concerned about new policies on Facebook, the ads, or a group of friends they don’t know how to manage.

For businesses using social media to make contact with their customers, I think they have to maintain a presence on both Google+ and Facebook. Use Google+ for some unique internet search advantages. Use them both to create opportunities for valuable conversations.

I plan to continue to use all four major social media platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+) for now. They each serve a purpose for communication right now and I need to stay educated on trends and happenings around the internet.