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Start Engaging with Google+ and You’ll Thank Me Later

Today’s blogger comes to us from MarketingChap.com, where you can find him and more of his blog posts on Marketing and Social Media.

I was delighted when the chaps  at Viralheat have asked me to say a few words on Google+. Or rather, how a chap should position G+ in his or her social media strategy. An intriguing topic I’m sure you will agree. What do you say chaps, shall we dive straight in?

If I may be frank, Google+ is not the platform of choice for most social media professionals. When it is included in any social media strategy at all it is usually on sufferance. Company pages are created for the reported SEO benefits, but without any passion or flair. Once established, as often as not, the G+ page lingers untouched in a sort of social media stasis – useful but uncared for. The purpose of this article is to ask: is this approach wrongheaded?

I wager that most of you are expecting me to say ‘YES!’ rather emphatically, and then to bamboozle you with a flurry of pro-Google+ facts. Am I right? This is the turn that the typical social media blogger would take at this juncture, but as you are no doubt discovering, I am not the typical social media blogger.

Indeed, ignoring Google+ except for its SEO benefits could be argued to be a somewhat rational choice. The platform has not been the immediate success for which the chaps from Mountain View no doubt hoped for, and as a social media professional one’s job is to engage customers where they are, not where Google wants them to be. Best to concentrate one’s efforts on Twitter and Facebook instead, then.

Job done then, eh? Shall we knock off here and celebrate? I could call the manservant to bring in a bottle of something bubbly.

By no means!

You see, the above argument is a mere diversion. While more or less true after a fashion, it is nevertheless an incomplete account. I will now reveal the true message of today’s post to much greater effect (Awfully sorry if you feel messed about, by the way. And don’t worry, we can return to the champers at the end of the post.).

I would not say that ignoring Google+, in the short term at least, is wrongheaded. I would say, however, that it is decidedly short-sighted. Best brace yourselves chaps, for the flurry of pro-Google+ facts is about to begin!

Getting social media right, as we all know, is dashed difficult. Google must know this better than most as they have launched three previous social media flops: Orkut, Google Wave and Google Buzz. These attempts were all short-lived and traction-less (barring in Brazil where Orkut continues to scrape along). In some ways, Google+ has hardly been much better. As of September 2012 there were supposedly 100 million active G+ users each month, but this is a small fraction of the numbers claimed by Facebook and Twitter. What’s more, getting any sort of personal network going on Google+ is an ordeal. The odd friend might be located from time to time, but as often as not their account is inactive. One could be forgiven for wondering if there was really any need for a third major social media network.

What must be remembered, however, is that Google+ is not a startup in the true sense of the word. Rather, it is the project belonging to the world’s most important and richest internet company. Unlike in previous efforts, Google appears ready to play a long game with G+. Even if you are a dedicated Google+ scoffer, the following should give you pause:

Google’s continued dominance in search (85% of the global market overall and 90% of the global smartphone and tablet search market) gives it a well-nigh impregnable position from which it can infiltrate virtually every corner of the internet. And, what’s more, it is piling up enormous stacks of cash in the process (a reported US$9.737 billion in profits in 2011 alone). No one, chaps, is in a better position to play the long game than Google.

Although it does make the odd improvement in the structure of G+ from time to time, it is through leveraging its internet dominance that Google will eventually make its social network a big player. The most obvious step in this direction was integrating G+ into search results. Keen on the SEO benefits, the Google+ ‘+1’ button quickly became de rigeur on websites shortly after launch. This has given G+ a visibility that far exceeds its relative weight in the social media scene. Even if one does not use Google+ regularly, one cannot help but be constantly reminded of its presence.

Even more effective, however, is the deft way that Google is weaving G+ into the fabric of its entire product suite as a ‘social layer.’ One does not create a new G+ account, but instead instantly ‘upgrades’ one’s Google account. After this short step is taken Google+ becomes the central access point for a growing list of Google products.

For those still holding out against creating a Google+ account, the noose is tightening. I wonder, chaps, did any of you notice last month when Picassa Web Albums was quietly folded into G+? New photos now appear in Google+ photo albums, not on a separate Picassa account. Imagine this step being repeated again and again across the entire Google spectrum. Although we could argue about its status as genuine social media engagement, anyone using Google products may soon be using G+ regularly, whether we intend to or not.

If you have spent the past few years building networks on Facebook and Twitter, this elbowing-in by Google+ probably seems unwanted, and possibly even threatening. There was no world-wide outcry for a third major social media platform.  Why does Google think it has the right to crash onto the scene?

However understandable this attitude may be, it is not one that should be adopted by professional social media advisors. Emotions must not cloud our thinking. Instead one must focus on the following truth: the day when Google+ is as important as any other social media platform may be months or even years away, but that day is definitely coming. It is as certain as the nose on the proverbial face. Don’t be caught napping, chaps! It just won’t do.

Suitably convinced by my argument, you are no doubt wondering what to do next. Have no fear!. I have sketched out the following ideas to help you on your way:

Ignoring G+ is a non-starter, but Google’s long-term approach means that there is time to build your G+ community with care. Start now so that you are not playing catch-up later. As you will be well-ahead of your competitors (hopefully) you will have time to experiment with different approaches and to settle on the best fit.

Starting out will be difficult. Consider jump-starting your community by referring your other networks to your Google+ page. A simple and effective way to do this is to place original content on G+ and then employ a reposting service like Friends+Me to relay it to Twitter and Facebook. Will your loyal fans, finding themselves referred to a Google+ page, cry foul and throw their hands up in disgust? Unlikely. And no doubt some will stick around and your budding G+ page will begin to grow.

The structure of Google+ lends itself to in-depth and genuine exchanges. Embrace this strength and you will by extension encourage avid Google+ users (they do exist) to engage with you.

Lastly, seek out and learn from those brave souls who are already turning Google+ into a success, even if on a small scale. My friend and chapette extraordinaire Irene Kimmel has developed an extensive following on G+ and now generates roughly half of her sales leads there. How does she do it? In much the same way one generates leads on any social media platform: listening, sharing, helping, and building a community. Google+ has less spam to wade through, and (when desired) allows Irene to target her messages to selected groups. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it chaps?

Well then, I don’t know about you, but I am feeling somewhat parched after this effort. Blogging is thirsty work, let me assure you, but if anything, guest blogging is doubly so. I shall ring the bell for the aforementioned champagne at once. Care to join me?

Pip pip!

Mark Etingchap is the CCO (Chief Chap Officer) of MarketingChap.com. He blogs extensively about the various members of his gentlemen’s club, his overbearing aunties, and occasionally about social media. To great consternation, he was named a Top 50 Social Media Blogger by Kred earlier this year. Between cups of tea he can be found on Twitter @Marketing_Chap, and, of course, Google+.

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