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Google+: Ghost town or essential tool?

Based on a number of shrewd moves in building Google+, the search giant is surging in the field seeking your social attention.

By Blane Warrene

Mar 3, 2014 @ 12:01 am (Updated 8:55 am) EST

social networks, social media, google, facebook, linkedin, twitter, google plus

Depending upon whom you speak with, Google+ can be a ghost town or a key step in the evolution of social media. However, based on a number of shrewd moves in building Google+, the search giant is surging in the field seeking your social attention.

It is the relationship to search that makes Google+ an important consideration in your social media strategy. Likewise, it offers tools that enable the progression from social engagement to directly connecting with others via its Hangouts app that spans instant messaging, phone and video calling to group presentations.

Google's advantage lies in having considerable influence outside the walls of its social network app itself. The Google +1 and sharing mechanisms extend onto the Google Play Store and across its search engine. Like its peers in the space (i.e., Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter) the +1 and Google share buttons also extend across innumerable web sites as well.

Taking a longer view, this integration of search dominance with social media could be the most compelling feature. Jay Palter, a new media expert and chief executive at the company of his own namesake, suggests it might be the “public relations utility” of social.

“In its ongoing mission to connect people with the information they are looking for, Google search is relying more on social signals. Networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn provide some of the social data, but it stands to reason that Google would look to its own social network, Google+, to find out what's popular and who's influential,” he said.

There are some key considerations that argue for the versatility and usefulness of Google+. It starts with the framework Google has built. Google+ feels like a communications platform more than just a social content destination. One could argue Google considered the approaches to posting, chatting and segmenting followers used by Facebook and LinkedIn to fine-tune their offering.

As Mr. Palter notes, "I enjoy the rich user experience (UX) of Google+ in comparison to most of the other online social networks. Since Google arrived later to the game, they've built Google+ as the antidote to some of the UX limitations of the other popular networks."

CIRCLES

What strikes most when they first join Google+ is the flexibility of the Circles. Circles are how one adds followers while organizing them into logical categories. It is one of the easiest features to see as a significant improvement over Twitter lists or managing Facebook friends.

The Circles also enable a simpler content sharing process, where content can be easily published with specific Circles, or publicly. You see all of your sharing in the Google+ stream. However, your followers will only see content shared to the Circle they are in (unless you've set a post to public). Google goes one additional step and reminds those you've shared to of the limitations of your post if they desire to re-share.

If you use Gmail (personal or for business) you'll see Google+ Circle functionality extended there as well.

THE STREAM AND ITS REACH

Google's approach to posting content and engaging with others is, while subjective, an improvement over other social networks. If you've used Gmail to compose messages, the content posting mechanism will feel very familiar. While it handles links and photos much like its social network competitors — the convenient integration to YouTube, also a Google property, is valuable not only for content publishing, but for Hangouts, as we'll see shortly. Incidentally, comments on YouTube are now authenticated via a Google+ profile.

Considering those active user numbers, the Google+ stream and the extension to the web of +1s boosts your content and profile beyond the walls of the social network. As Mr. Palter noted before, the signals you send will appear in search results; and you can extend this to your web site by way of your own +1 button.

For example, if you've recently written an article on Employee Retirement Income Security Act changes and shared it on Google+, those in your Circles may see this when searching Google for keywords relevant to your article. Those readers can then +1 or share the article from Google or direct from your web site.

The stream also extends to Communities — Google's answer to LinkedIn's Groups. Open and closed Communities can be launched with moderation capabilities. This is also an area where you can control, if managing a closed community (which this author does), content from extending to public search results.

GOOGLE AUTHORSHIP

With Google's shift to focus on the quality of content as a part of determining search rankings, Authorship is the antidote for content creators. Using a Google+ profile, you can claim your content across the web, both on Google+ to Google's search results. If you're using Google's Webmaster Tools — they've added author stats to enable tracking the analytics of Authorship.

"Google Authorship is a fundamental building block for anyone building a personal brand online. If you write and publish online, you're missing a great opportunity if you don't have a Google+ account properly set up,” Mr. Palter advised.

Once you have a Google+ profile, follow the simple steps Google outlines to claim your content.

HANGOUTS

Hangouts take the best parts of Google Talk, Google Voice and YouTube and provide an on-demand communications tool built right into your Google+ Circles.

Beyond just the convenience of chat, or for Android users, text messaging; Hangouts offers fully functional phone and video calling along with group meeting formats. This allows for integration with Google Drive — which might give financial advisers an incentive to consider it for client meetings — where a live video discussion can include viewing or collaborating on documents.

I've also used Hangouts on Air for marketing activities. A Hangout on Air extends the Hangout session to live viewers (watching while not participating directly in the Hangout) and also records it directly to your YouTube channel for later sharing and replay. A powerful marketing tool without infrastructure costs.

Considering that the Gmail account, one topic accessible regardless of anyone's level of tech savvy, is the crux of what establishes a Google+ profile, this social network is a bit more approachable perhaps than others. Similarly, the format in which posts are designed feels a lot like e-mail messaging. Again, this lowers the discomfort factor for newcomers to social-media activity. Finally, with the tool kit assembled that empowers a financial adviser to take control of their digital identity across search as well as social media, this “ghost town” with millions of participants may become an important factor in your online presence.

Blane Warrene speaks and writes frequently on technology and the intersection of marketing and compliance in financial services. He co-founded Arkovi and QuonWarrene, and produces the Digital Well podcast. He is focused on helping financial advisers and institutions explore and define what being a digital business means to them.

What do you think? Are you using Google+? Share how it's working for you below.