For the final installment of our “Ultimate Guide to Using Social Media for Inbound Marketing” series, we’re going to cover Google+, the most elusive and controversial of our "big four" popular social platforms. In addition to demystifying G+, we'll lay down step-by-step instructions on how to build a solid inbound following there from scratch.
If you haven't done so already, though, you might want to go back and check out our tactical instructions on how to create an audience on the other three leading social media channels, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Google+ has been in the spotlight since its launch in the summer of 2011. In the last four years, it’s been touted as both a killer content marketing tool and the place where primarily engineers hang out. It's a paradox, at once a "ghost town," as some thought leaders will tell you, and the number two most active social channel, according to some counts. Is Google+ simply the third most powerful brand in the world's failed attempt to compete with Facebook, or is it a product nothing like Facebook – perhaps even not a social network at all?
Let's unwrap this enigma a bit and break it all down into actionable principles.
What Google+ Is Really For
When approaching Google+, the most important thing to remember is that it's not like the other social platforms. The interface might make you think it's some kind of hybrid between Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, but it isn't at all. It’s "the social layer" for the Google-verse of inbound marketing.
Since the Google Gods control search rankings, it just stands to reason that Google+ may be your best place to distribute content for maximum "social signals" impact on Google search rankings. It’s simply logical that Google scans its own resources for ranking purposes first and most thoroughly, right?
Don't forget – search is the space that Google is best known for dominating, but there are some other killer Google products (Hangouts, which just might emerge as a GoToWebinar killer, and YouTube, for example) that are likewise pivotal for inbound marketing and are likewise best administered via this "social layer" and its various integrations.
Profile Setup Tips
Diving into Google+ begins with selecting the right type of account. Be certain to create both a personal profile and a business page separately. Complete your “About” section and include your tagline, an introduction to your narrative, links to products and other social profiles, your blog, and the critical pieces of your website. Then, just like with any other social network, add your logo and an appropriately sized cover photo.
If you have a brick and mortar location, you will also want to create a Google My Business Locations page, as this will provide your customers with logistical information including your physical address, a Google map to help them find you, and all of your contact information. In addition, a "local" Google+ page will influence local search rankings, ultimately providing more qualified, real-time visibility for your business.
Keep in mind that Google purchased Zagat in September 2011 and began integrating local and Google Place reviews into Zagat and Google+ shortly thereafter. Therefore, if your business depends on its physical location to generate profit, Google My Business and its Google+ manifestations, are going to be key for you.
Getting Started with Google+ Connections
After you create your local Google+ page, immediately connect it to your Google+ business page. Why? Considering that 43% of Google search queries are local, and 74% of these local searches are conducted on mobile devices, your next prospects might be near your location, searching for you. You need to appear.
Now it’s time to connect to individuals and other businesses. Use the internal search tool, as it’s both intuitive and effective. Just make sure to remain skeptical of the "suggested users" lists, as everyone named there is likely a broadcaster, not an engager.
When looking for the right people with whom to connect, start by searching for particular keywords or phrases. Find the search box that says “Everything.” Clicking on the “everything” box will produce a number of options. To simply view posts, click “Google+ posts.” To find specific people, click “People and pages.” If an account has the keyword or phrase in their “About” section, it will show up. Then, click through to the profile to ensure that their content is relevant and that they are actually active before you elect to connect.
Using Circles as Spheres of Prospecting Influence
The way Google+ categorizes connections is by guiding you to place each new connection into a Circle. Circles empower you to segment your content and share it only with selected groups of people like close friends, your employees, or a set of people tied to a particular event like a recent conference you attended.
Not at all similar to Twitter lists, circles can be used as distribution lists and are therefore easily one of the best ways for connecting with the right people.
Keep in mind that when you post content, if you don’t indicate that it should be shared with a specific circle, your post will show as “Shared publicly” for all those who you are connected with to see. You can also tag others in your post, but use this tool sparingly, as too much “irrelevant” tagging will mark you as a spammer. Circles are therefore key for targeting messages.
Communities, Branded +1s and Authorship
The Google+ Communities feature allows groups to form around particular interests. What does this mean for your company? In contrast to a Facebook brand Page, which cannot join a Facebook group, your post on Communities (along with Google +1’s, which are the equivalent of Facebook “likes,” as well as all comment responses) will appear on your profile.
Although Google Authorship, which is likewise linked to one's Google+ presences, was once worth cultivating for short-term gains, it's now a long-term gamble. Thanks to the magic of schema markup and "rich snippets," Google search results that associated with Google+ authors used to see higher click-through rates than those without headshot thumbnails, but as of this past spring, Google has begun omitting Authorship data from search results snippets. However, this doesn't mean that the search giant is ignoring author authority as a social signal!
Yet another argument for Google+ having major potential as a game-changer for search.
An Inbound Win or a Risky Bet?
More and more over the last couple of years, and especially since founding Google+ honcho Vic Gundotra announced his resignation last April, the rumor mill has been in high gear over Google+, with the inbound marketing community wondering whether the platform may be on the chopping block. The aforementioned changes to Authorship, plus the killing of other once beloved G+ features like Shared Circles and Ripples, are enough to make more than one social media expert squirm.
While the product is surely a significant player due to all the innovative and integrated functionality we've looked at, the claim of having 540 million active users is more than a bit misleading, as almost half of the 540 million rarely visit their G+ newsfeeds, but rather frequent the superior products that integrate with it.
Ultimately, however, inbound marketing thought leaders generally agree that as long as Google+ is still breathing, it's probably worth maintaining at least a baseline of activity there. Although your social media strategy must focus solely on the channels which suit you best, Google+ may be a worthy exception. The promise of your G+ "social signals" one day boosting your search rankings may be enough to keep you going no matter what the short-term gains are.
If you're using a scheduling tool to post updates on more than one social network, then it probably only takes an extra few seconds per week to manage a "maintenance mode" G+ presence, so why not? If you measure your impact and notice that it's generating relevant traffic for you, then go on and juice it. If not, then you can either withdraw or keep going so you can wait and see.