Another Social Network?

As a marketer, you may have read articles dismissing Google+. You may have heard it is a “ghost town” or “a niche site for techies.”

The people saying these things are incorrect. According to eMarketer, as of May 2013, 26 percent of worldwide Internet users used Google+ in the past month, making it the second most popular social network after Facebook (51 percent).* We believe that number will grow.

Google+ is the evolution of Google’s search and products, and a layer that joins them together.

The actions people take while logged into Google are now connected via Google+. This affects what they and others see in search. It affects what their friends will see in Google products going forward.

Think about all the millions of Gmail users, Android phone users and YouTube users. Google+ now connects them. This affects the way that marketers do business.

Google+ is a set of social networking features, communications features and tie-ins to other services, including the all-powerful Google search algorithm. It is clearly Google’s strategy for moving forward.

“It’s a safe bet to say, ‘Invest now and it will pay off later.’ ”
– Marvin Chow, Google+ Global Marketing Director

Google+ isn’t just limited to social network interaction. People are writing reviews about businesses using Google+ as their “identity” or login. A review by “Jane Schultz from Iowa City via her Android Phone” is going to have more credibility than one from “Foodluvr24.”

We also know that check-ins, ratings and other actions on Google+ influence Google’s search engine. As people adopt Google+ in greater numbers, their recommendations will affect what your prospects and customers see when they search.

The company attempts to explain it this way: “Google+ is like a ‘social spine’ or ‘identity spine’ across Google,” says Marvin Chow, Google+ global marketing director. “Having a Google+ page will be the foundation of a lot of things on Google. It’s a safe bet to say, ‘Invest now and it will pay off later.

This is the time to get in on the ground floor.

Part 1: Get Started, Step-by-Step

Here are the key features of Google+ you need to know:

Circles

Having a Google+ profile means you can create “Circles” of contacts with whom you can share information. If you’ve created lists in Gmail, these same lists can be used as Circles in Google+.

Recommendations

Once you start connecting with friends on Google+, their recommendations (things they give “+1,” similar to Facebook’s Like) will show in your Google search results, on Google Maps or in Google’s Play store for apps, music and books.

Images

Your Google+ profile includes a tight integration with Google’s photo service “Picasa.” Your profile has substantial photo and video storage, and media can be shared with specific Circles, with clear parameters for privacy.

Chat

Google+ also includes instant messaging chat and video, called “Hangouts.” You can hang out with as many as nine other people in high quality video. “Hangouts On Air” can be broadcast via YouTube to an audience internet-wide. Hangouts, as you’ll see, can be an effective tool for engaging customers.

Communities

“Communities” offer an opportunity for discussion groups, which can be public or private and moderated. Communities offer another place where industry groups and even customer groups are forming. Similar to LinkedIn groups, these Communities can be places for engagement with customers. As a current point of differentiation for now, there are no ads in the Google+ stream.

Step Two: Create Your Business Profile and Page


 

Creating a Google+ business page is pretty simple. “If you’ve already created a Google Places listing for your business, you should move it over. It will create your Google+ page for you,”1 said Lynette Young, CEO of Purple Stripe, and author of “Google+ for Small Business”.2

“If you don’t already have a Google Places listing, companies that do not conduct business on-site or generally encourage ‘check-ins’ will find no benefit in being listed in Google+ Local (which is where the Google Places profiles are being migrated to by Google),” said Young.

If you’re not a local business, create your page as one of the other types of listings. To create the page, go to your personal profile, pull down the “Home” menu on the left side and click on the “Pages” item.3 You’ll be asked to create a page in a particular category.

Step Three: Manage Your Page via Dashboard

Once you’ve set up the profile, you are the “owner” of the page.



Go to your page, click the left side menu and choose Dashboard. Then click the “managers” tab. You can add a manager via the blue button on the right. You need to know that person’s email address used for Google+.

Set up your page via the Dashboard as well. Add your photo or logo as your icon – an image that is 500px by 500px is the standard size. In the “Overview” area, click “edit your page” to then add a cover. The cover photo is a huge 2120 × 1192 pixels, a 16×9 aspect ratio. Smaller photos will be scaled but won’t look as good.

In addition to a cover photo, companies (not local businesses) will want a “Tagline” – a one-sentence description of your business – and an “Introduction” of your company (a few paragraphs). Add your contact information, including a phone number, email address, links to your website and any other links or information. Enter your address and other information exactly as it appears on your website. The Google algorithm can look for such things.

For more information and details on setting up your page, Google’s “Getting Started for Business” page can help. It includes a downloadable guide.4 Dashboard was announced in June, and you can find out more about the features on this post.5

Organize customers into different circles (Active, Occasional) to quickly sort through the content they’re creating. You can look at the active or engaged customers circle daily and build your connections with them.

Step Four: Verification and Direct Connect

There are two kinds of verification for your Google+ page.

First, you’re verifying that you own a business.

“To verify a ‘brick and mortar’ location, Google will send you a postcard in the mail (so please notify the mailroom not to toss it out!),” said Lynette Young. (It truly looks like an ad, so be on the lookout for it.) “A non-local page is verified via Google’s Webmaster Tools or by putting code in your website.”6

Additionally, once you create your Google+ page and listing, ensure that your Google+ page is linked on your website. Adding a Google+ badge for your page to your website7 acts as another signal confirming your business’ identity to Google. Additionally, the badge allows customers to endorse you by clicking the “+1”, or to add you to one of their Circles on their Google+ profile. Once you have that badge on the page, you also become eligible for two additional perks:

If you’re using your page regularly, it may become eligible for “Direct Connect.” If customers type “+YourBrandName” into Google (try it with +Copyblogger for example), they will go directly to your page.

They’ll also be able to add your company to their circles. Google+ users can choose to automatically add brands they search for with the “+” in front of the search into a circle. As users learn this trick, having a well-connected Google+ page will put you right into their Circles (and by extension, their feeds).

If you already have a Google+ page with a “meaningful” number of followers, you can request verification with a Google badge icon.8 Verified companies (and celebrities) get an icon next to their company name in their page, showing customers that your Google+ page is managed by you and not a fake.

Some Best Practices for Your Google+ Page

Google+ pages have different functionality than Facebook Pages, but from a content and engagement standpoint, they can be similar.

According to Copyblogger’s Brian Clark, “When using any social network, you typically point people towards your own site; your own home base with your content. However, when trying to get that G+ interaction, it may not hurt putting native-only content directly there. This is a place where you can ‘violate the digital sharecropper rule’9 by providing some original content, or longer excerpts only for Google+.

“You’re looking for something to get better ‘signals’ and interactions going at the Google+ level, but of course what you’re really trying to do, going forward, is get comments, and get people to come back. Some people will comment on your G+ page, some will comment on your own site… You have your indicators of +1 and sharing on the network itself, and I encourage people to add those buttons to their own content.”

Clark notes that there are two levels of interaction: people find the content on the social network and share it, or they are directed to your site and re-share the content onto whatever network they prefer. He also reminds us (see graphic) that people find their own ways into your funnel. Great content can lead directly to a sale, even without social sharing or search.

If your product lends itself to visuals, Lynette Young suggests creating photo albums and following the ‘best practices’ of using keyword-rich album titles and file names.

“This will help your content get found fast not only in Google+ but across the web,” she says. “Since Google+ is multi-media friendly, high-resolution photos and graphics will increase your ‘share-ability’ across the network as the users appreciate quality content.”

Pro tip: put a business URL on the bottom of your photos, so people can find their way back to you.

Case Study: Think Geek

One company that does a very good job using visuals is Think Geek.10

The company bills itself as selling “Stuff for Smart Masses.” Their catalog is filled with “geeky” products, from chairs that look like Star Wars characters to slippers that look like Lego blocks. Think Geek’s page is filled with content, much of it pictures of the things they sell. These items create an interesting environment for potential customers, who then discover that Think Geek’s content is interesting in its own right.

For example, more than 486 people clicked “+1” on their “Lego Slippers” post, 114 people shared the slippers and 25 made comments. This is on a specific catalog item that links right to the sales page! A photo of Star Wars cookies was re-shared 255 times, and got more than 780 +1 ratings.

If you use your Google+ page as a way to do pure content marketing, and you find your audience, people will share your stuff and connect with your products.

Part Two: How to Find, Attract and Interact with Customers

Congratulations: your page is set up! Let’s look at all the ways to find and attract customers.

Grow Your Circles

Business pages on Google+ can follow users (and users can follow businesses) by putting them into Circles.

Circling is not a two-way street. You can add someone and they don’t have to add you back. Customers can add you to their circles, but you don’t have to add them all back.

Circles help you organize what you see and what you share.

Use the Search built into Google+ to find people interested in topics relevant to your business. Google+ uses hashtags, so searching for people using hashtagged industry keywords is a good start.

Google+ power user, author and consultant to Motorola (a Google company) Guy Kawasaki suggests circling lots of people.

“Don’t think too much. Just circle people who post interesting things and who share your sensibilities. If they are not consistently good, uncircle them. It’s no big deal to add or subtract people. There is no pressure to circle people who have circled you – this isn’t junior high school anymore.”

Over 4.6 million people have Guy in one of their circles.

“My circle strategy is to initially place people your Page follows in a general Circle,” said Lynette Young. “As they promote themselves to active contributors, move them into other circles where you can keep a closer eye on them by viewing content from ONLY that circle.”

You may wish to create a circle for your Team Members or employees, one for customers and one for followers (people following you whom you wish to follow back.) Note: Don’t name your circles things like “competition” or “bad customers.” Circle names are private, but someone might see them via a screenshot, or at your location.

Authorship

If you’re using a website or blog to create content, claim authorship of that content via Google+.

The benefit is that your Google+ headshot will appear next to content you write online, helping it stand out in search results. Authorship is currently connected to a person, not a business, so this is done via your personal profile. Claim authorship by verifying your email address at the page provided by Google,11 or by customizing a little bit of script on your website (available in that same page).

“The most important thing in Google+ is this concept of authorship,” states Copyblogger Media’s Brian Clark. “Being able to identify through your profile the content you publish on the open web, and saying ‘This is the same author (on Google+) who did this content over on the web that was shared and well received’ is important.

“It ties into something which no one can tell if it is reality yet: Google’s ‘Author Rank.’ That’s where Google’s decision on who you are factors into the algorithm, where you have a demonstrated expertise, and you’re expressing it in content.”

In other words, if you write a lot about your industry, and your ID is tied to that content online, and the content has good links and sharing, your content will be favored in searches on that topic and elsewhere that your authorship is verified.

Clark says that it is crucial to develop subject matter authority. Don’t just share and curate any old content; share things relevant to your business. Google will notice, in theory.

According to Chow, Google is still working on how to handle “authorship for business” and how it will be related to verified business entities. They are considering the appropriate verification methods and how to handle different levels of verification and authorship.

Engage Effectively on Google+

1. Content

Google+ engagement revolves around relevant and interesting content that benefits your page visitors.

Many content experts follow an 80-20 rule, where more than 80 percent of the content is something that can engage your customers, teach them something or make them happy. 20 percent is about you and your business.

Crazy Egg, a marketing software provider, fills its page with relevant posts on marketing, some created in-house and some shared from other sources. One recent post talks about the reasons users leave your website quickly. It is filled with great information and very relevant to all web marketers.

They will occasionally talk about their own software on their Google+ page, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. Many of their articles bring you to their blog, which is just one click from their site (and a sale). Their Google+ presence delivers enough revenue per year to cover an employee.

As Brian Clark mentioned, think about content as something that directs people back to your own site. You can measure via analytics specifically how much traffic is coming from Google+ versus other social networks like Twitter.

It’s difficult to constantly think of engaging content. However, not all the content has to be yours.

“The best way [to keep people engaged] is to post interesting ‘shiitake,'” says Kawasaki. “You should stand out as an excellent curator: an arbiter of good or intelligent taste. People should think: Thanks for pointing out this story, video or picture. Pick a few topics and always be curating (ABC) stories that help people interested in those topics. You can use my website to help you, for example, science.alltop.com or socialmedia.alltop.com.”

Tagging (typing a + sign then typing out the name or Page of a person you’d like to tag) people within content is a surefire way to get someone’s attention,” says Young. “That’s because +Mentions generally create direct emails of the content to that person or Page’s inbox. Using multimedia content (either directly uploaded to Google+ or via YouTube) can also grab the attention of Google+ users.”

2. Hangouts and Hangouts On Air

Hangouts are the video equivalent of a chat room or a meeting.

A hangout can have as many as 10 (15 if you are a Google Apps customer) people all connected via a laptop, tablet or mobile device’s video camera. Hangouts let you “hand the mic” to any participant, who can also share their screen instead of their image.

Hangouts are now built into Gmail, so anyone using Gmail or Google Apps (where the administrator has enabled Hangouts) can start a hangout with an instant message and change over to video or screen sharing as needed.

Hangouts On Air are a connection between Google+’s regular hangouts and YouTube. The Hangout is the same format, with up to 10 people talking and collaborating, livestreamed to YouTube as a broadcast. Anyone with the page address can watch the Hangout live. The Hangout is then recorded and saved on YouTube, so you can add it to your Google+ page or a website.

Companies use Hangouts On Air to share information, and even to capture celebrity appearances for their brand.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan promoted his book launch via a Hangout On Air with Hollywood.com.12 UK grocery retailer Ocado used top chefs to cook during Hangouts On Air, with multiple customers participating and the rest watching via YouTube.

“Ocado promoted the hangouts via True View ads on YouTube, which resulted in 167k engaged views,” says a Google+ case study. “Their YouTube channel views went from 50k to 230k in the space of a week thanks to the hangout, without including the people livestreaming, which was consistently about 60 people at any time.”13

3. Communities

Communities are areas where Google+ users can talk about topics of interest.

Like other places online, customers don’t always flock to a company-branded discussion board to interact.

Author Lynette Young suggests, “Rather than create (and manage) a Community based around your company and appearing blatantly self-serving, it is
a better tactic to find and participate in Communities that have begun via fans or power users… it is a great way to get a solid sense of sentiment about your company, brand, business or even a lateral industry. It’s also a great place to ‘fish’ for active influencers.”

Copyblogger founder Clark is drawn to the “Author Rank and Google Authorship” community,14 as it is something he’s directly interested in.

He notes that it is well moderated, with a high level of signal and low “noise.” Looking through the community, there are a lot of content-rich articles from reputable publications, with comments or +1s on many submissions. This is the kind of thing people look for in joining a community – a “bright, well-lit place” where they can learn something. This community is a good example of how to run one.

4. Offers

Google+ has started to roll out Offers: deals and discounts from businesses which users Circle.15 The specific offers are related to the Google Offers product,16 a deal site similar to Groupon. Offers on Google+ launched in May with Zagat, Art.com, Hello Kitty, Nook and Adafruit, and the Google+ team will be making this available to more merchants in the future. When a user clicks an offer, they can redeem it via an email notification, or in-store via the Google Offers app on Android or IOS.

Part 3: How to Measure Engagement

Google gives you a few tools to measure interaction with your audience. Additionally, you can use Google Analytics’ social reports dashboard17 to see traffic from Google+ to your website. Let’s explore what we can learn.

1. Activity

When you publish content on your page, people who share the post generate activity and ripples. Clicking on “View Post Activity” will show you the names of people who have re-shared or “plus-ed” your post (or any public post).

While it would be nice to have a list of all your posts and see the activity by post right from Google+, similar to Facebook Insights, that’s not yet possible. “We’re looking at different analytics tools for Google+. There’s not an easy way to look at +1s and shares, and we’re trying to make it more robust,” says Chow.

Guy Kawasaki says that it should be clear what kind of content your audience prefers. “By far, the best way is to see how many people re-share your post. A +1 is like tipping someone a $1 for bringing your car around. A re-share is saying, ‘I am willing to risk my reputation by telling you to read this.'”

Google’s Chow told us that when looking at their web analytics, Epicurious.com found that Google+ is a top 10 referrer in their stream. Visitors from Google+ spend 12 percent longer than from many other sources, with higher quality engagement.

2. Ripples

Ripples are a very visual way of analyzing content flow. In this picture, Google’s official business page has shared some content. You can see how it is shared, and re-shared again.

The slider on the left lets users zoom in to see which members of this network shared the information, and who in their network passed it along or responded. On the ripple page, you can also see a running list of the activity such as comments from users. You can dive into those posts and shares and comment directly on the content to your fans or critics. While they take a little getting used to, ripples are a powerful way to track popular posts.

 

3. Google+ and Google Analytics

Finally, you can track your Google+ activity to an extent via Google Analytics,18 under “Traffic Sources.”

Analytics can give you more data about Google+ and other networks, which integrate into its Analytics Social Data Hub program. This program, used by Digg, Google+, Reddit and other networks, gives you even deeper insights into how people are engaging with your content on those networks, right in your Google Analytics dashboard.

There’s more to do with the Social Reports in Analytics beyond the scope of this paper.

Case Study: Crazy Egg

Crazy Egg software sells a “heatmap” product that tracks what customers look at and what they click on for websites. It is a visual representation of “what’s hot and what’s not.”

Crazy Egg co-founder Neil Patel told me his site is getting about 4.3k visitors a month from Google+, which is lower than Facebook or Twitter, but he’s happy to have them. The visitors from Google+ convert at about the same rate as his customers from the other social networks, giving him about a $60K lift per year in revenue with very little extra effort.

“What’s working for us on Google+ is sharing general information that appeals to our audience of marketers,” says Neil. “For example, we share articles like ‘3 Ways Live Chat Can Improve Conversion.'” We’ve found that the content we’re sharing builds our audience, so when we do share something about our own products or company, it helps us to build more traffic.”

Crazy Egg puts similar content on Facebook and Google+, so there’s not a huge additional cost, but he’s “almost paying for another employee” with the extra revenue. Patel is positive about authorship in Google+. “If you have multiple authors, and they have Google+ profiles, you’re reaching their base as well.”

He knows that the content sharing and authorship is giving positive signals to the Google search algorithm, although he hasn’t seen a specific uptick in the company’s SEO rankings that he can track to Google+. “If you want to do well here, just publish great content. And engage your readers. Reach out to the ones who are commenting. It’s about interaction and content.”

Part 4: Going Forward

Google+ is a growing network and set of tools. The network is currently ad-free, so the only way for businesses to reach customers is to have great content, which gets shared and passed along.

We’ve seen Crazy Egg and Ocado create compelling content offerings, which bring people from Google+ to their sales funnel.

But Google+ isn’t just about creating sales.

Google’s authorship drives connections between good content and your authority. If you’re not a great writer, photos are a large part of Google+ and can drive sales, as they do for Think Geek. Hangouts and Hangouts On Air are another tool for creating great content and customer connections.

Google+ is an evolving platform and the technology is rapidly changing.

Marvin Chow’s Google+ marketing team told us, “The Google+ business page or our Google+ page are great places for businesses to keep up with the latest features and news for pages. You can also get technical updates on our Google Developers page. And you can see all Google+ updates via the #googleplusupdate hashtag.” You can also find the Google+ Playbook for Business on the resources page.

As a rule, be active and keep your customers engaged and sharing your content. This can change the way that Google’s search algorithm looks at your website and content for the better. This is a goal all digital marketers should work to achieve.



Special Thanks to

Brian Clark, founder, Copyblogger Media

Marvin Chow, Google+ global marketing director

Guy Kawasaki, author and consultant at Motorola

Neal Patel, co-founder, Crazy Egg

Lynette Young, CEO, Purple Stripe Productions and author, “Google+ for Small Business

About the Author

Howard Greenstein is a marketing technology strategist and president of the Harbrooke Group, which helps companies communicate with their customers using the latest Web technologies.

He has worked with clients from the Fortune 500, Cable Networks and Wall Street, as well as major advocacy groups. He teaches social media at the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at NYU SCPS, and is a regular contributor to Inc.com.


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