It seems that Google launches a new service or upgrade to its infrastructure every week! The latest addition to its services, Google+, has left many scratching their heads wondering what it’s all about - especially seeing as most people can't access it yet. That's why we have put together this brief guide to Google+ and what it means to businesses looking to market themselves on the social media networks...
What is Google+?
Google+ is the latest attempt by the search engine giants to create a social network designed to rival Facebook. Launched on June 28, 2011 as a private Beta, the project was led by Vic Gundotra, Google’s SVP of social media.
Google+ could have many possibilities especially for social media marketing. The network is a series of social products including:
- Stream – A newsfeed service
- Sparks – A recommendation engine
- Hangouts – A video chat service
- Huddle – A group newsfeed
- Circles – Friend management service
- Photos – Photo albums and photo sharing
Many more features such as Games and Questions are expected in the very near future.
So, why the name Google+? Google want Google+ to be an extension of the main Google search engine. It’s actually designed to be an enhancement of Google which may explain by they opted to alter the Google navbar to incorporate a link to a user’s Google+ profile. You can also see a new icon displaying the Google+ notifications the user has received. This is very much designed to emulate the Facebook notification service.
Social media marketing is big news on Facebook and Twitter, with many companies building branded pages and online communities in a bid to win more business and increase online exposure. Google+ looks set to be the next in line to get attention from big business and it could work out to be very lucrative for the search engine moguls.
Why Use Google+?
Okay, so Google have launched a social network. You may be wondering why you should use it. After all, you’ve got the Facebook and Twitter accounts. Why move to or use yet another social network?
The only way to find out how good a service is rated, is to ask the users themselves. When questioned why somebody should use Google+, users answered that Google is a much cleaner way to share data with friends, Google integrates well with Google’s cloud products such as Docs and Calendar, and the whole interface and sharing processes seem to work faster. Users also described Google+ as being a more grown up alternative to Facebook and Twitter allowing for more control and a more organic experience. Because each component is broken up into separate areas, this reduces the distracting features that you get with Facebook for instance. After all, does everybody want to know how many virtual sheep you just bought for your virtual farm?!
How to Start Using Google+
Right now, you need to be invited by a friend to join Google+. This restriction will be lifted soon and it’s best to have your invite sent to your Gmail account so that you can use this account to sign in to your Google+ area. Once you accept the invite, you will be asked to create your Google+ profile, entering personal information such as your name and date of birth. Setup is very straightforward and once you are set up you can start inviting your friends to Google+ too. You may choose to use Google+ to sort the wheat from the chaff – so to speak – building a network of your closest friends or work colleagues.
Google+ Circles – Categorising Your Friends
Understanding what Circles is all about is one of the most essential parts of mastering Google+. Instead of finding friends or following people, Google+ allows you more control over who can see your content.
You can choose to drag and drop friends into groups, for example, a family group, or a group for close friends. You can also create a Business circle and plonk your boss and colleagues in there for easy sorting and sharing. Once you have created your circles, you can get more granular controls by clicking on each circle and setting its individual settings. Circles allows you to share different things with different people and also gives those in your circle a better experience, as they don’t need to filter through so much content in order to see what they want.
Google+ Stream – Sharing Data
Google+ Stream is very easy to get the hang of especially if you’re already a Facebook user. It’s really just a newsfeed that you share with your circles. You can choose to share anything from a status update to a video or photo.
The differences between Google+ Stream and Facebook are few. The main difference is that instead of a ‘like’ button you can choose to ‘+1’ a post or photo. Status updates are also very similar to the Facebook updates.
If you are stuck as to what to share on Google+ first then Sparks will lend a hand! This content recommendation engine finds the most interesting and relevant articles and videos across a wide range of subjects and genres. If you can find it online then Spark can reference it and find the latest information on your chosen topic.
Google provides an automated list of subjects, but you can customise this as you wish, ensuring that Sparks only retrieves the data that you want to see. Spark content can also be shared with your Circles.
If Google+ is to have one killer feature then Hangouts may just be it. This interesting twist on the conventional group video chat feature has received a very positive response from the current Google+ community.
You click on the ‘Start a hangout’ button and invite friends to ‘hangout’ with you online and to join a live video stream. Other friends will also see your open hangout and choose to join in if they wish. It’s a great way for up to ten people to chat via video link and because it’s not available on Facebook, this could be the one feature that attracts the masses to Google+.
Google+ also includes a fully-fledged feature for photos and photo albums. Powered by Google’s Picasa (as you would expect), Photos allows you to display photos uploaded by friends, share your photos, and to organise them into albums. You can also view photos in slideshow format and tag yourself or a friend in any photos you can both access. You can also drill down to other information such as what type of camera was used to take the snap.
Google+ and social media marketing
With its clean interface and sharing features, Google+ is great news for those wishing to promote their business through social media marketing. Google+ keeps some of the best features of Facebook, but also allows users to filter out unwanted information and to tailor news feeds to their exact needs. This means information overload is a thing of the past and that companies can design their Google+ pages and campaigns to drive clear messages to those interested in specific services and products.
But before you start to build your company’s Google+ page it’s worth knowing that Google is going to release a dedicated Google+ platform for businesses. This will take some time to build, but is set to have some interesting and useful features. This feature is expected to be released in Beta format in the next few weeks.
As with any social media platform, the social media marketing opportunities are many and it’s only a matter of time before companies large and small start to make use of Google’s new communication and sharing medium. Once the communities start to grow and the service gains momentum, there’s no telling how big Google+ may become. But one thing’s for sure, with the Google name attached, it’s sure to be a threat to Facebook and Twitter.