Having surpassed one billion unique visitors this past May, Google has become a part of our daily online lives. Yet Google’s impact is expanding even further. Google+ has now grown to more than 40 million users.
Recently, the company introduced Google+ pages for businesses, designed to help brands connect with customers. While Google+ pages is in its infancy, the social network’s user base is growing, warranting brand attention and testing. Now is a good time to explore how Google+ works and what impact it can have upon the way your brand communicates with customers.
As with any social media channel, begin by asking yourself what your communities want and expect when interacting with your brand, and how this platform ties into your larger business goals. If Google+ makes sense for your brand, create your Google+ page and take a look at these recommendations to develop your Google+ page growth and engagement strategy.
Here are six steps to help jumpstart your brand presence on Google+, and what you should consider when communicating and engaging followers in the Google+ environment.
1. Drive Follower Growth
When Google+ users arrive at your page, they’ll see a big, red “Add to circles” button. After clicking this button, users follow your brand and receive its updates in their streams. But how do users get to your page in the first place?
- Place a Google+ Badge on your website that redirects users to your page.
- Drive viral growth by asking your employees and partners to share your page with their Circles. For businesses with multiple brands, create one Circle and share a portfolio of those brands with friends. Then, users can decide which ones they want to follow.
- Direct Connect is an interesting search tie-in that enables users to automatically add brands to their Circles by including a “+” before a brand name in their Google search queries. Similar to call-outs in advertising that ask consumers to “Like us on Facebook,” brands can say “Search for +Mashable on Google,” and the action will take users directly to the brand’s Google+ page.
- Leverage existing best practices for increasing likes on Facebook and follows on Twitter, then apply the same principles here. Just remember, a user must add your brand to a circle on his profile in order for you to publish content to him. The +1 action does not automatically create that connection.
- And of course, use advertising and media to drive traffic directly to your page.
2. Segment Followers with Circles
Once you have followers, you’ll want to consider how to segment those audiences so you can target the right followers with the right messages. Your Google+ page comes with the ability to create custom Circles as well as four default Circles: Following, Customers, VIPs and Team Members. Once users add you, they’ll show up under the “People Who’ve Added You” tab. You can then drag and drop certain users to your Circles to share content with them.
Because Google+ pages do not currently support geo-targeting, effective Circle management is crucial to properly connect with followers and drive engagement. You’re trying to build loyalty, and the quickest way to turn users off is by spamming them with irrelevant and untimely information. Approach Circle creation as you would audience segmentation in ad placements. Who would respond best to which message?
The great thing about Circles is you can get as nuanced as you want. For example, in addition to lumping all your customers into one Circle called “Customers,” you can segment them by product affinity, preferences, likeliness to influence others, or even history of engagement. The downside, at least currently, is that without location, demographic or preference data that allows for scalable segmentation, Circle management is a manual process. Be vigilant early on about adding followers to Circles daily, or you’ll wind up spending a lot of time sorting through user profiles.
3. Understand Your Google+ Audience
Because Google+ is only six months old, and its user base is changing daily, it’s important to gather insight on who your audience is and determine how best to capitalize on those connections to build an engaged following. You should not assume that your Facebook fans and your Google+ followers are the same people. Are your customers on Google+? Which of them actively use it? What type of content resonates with them and drives +1s or comments? And what content encourages shares that spread brand awareness and drive follower growth?
Google will soon launch data tools that give a brand insight into typical areas like user demographics and social engagement, as well as unique views into influencers and trends in your community. Tracking engagement metrics per Circle will give you perspective into how effective your publishing strategy is and how likely it is that certain groups will share your content. The Google+ Search tool can help identify trends based on keywords and the Ripples tool provides insight into viral shares and identifies influencers.
4. Differentiate Google+ Content
Once you take the time to analyze and understand your followers, you’ll likely find that interest and engagement differ from your Facebook and Twitter communities. Therefore, differentiate brand content among social platforms. Twitter content leans towards short, informative, witty posts that typically link away from Twitter to an article, blog post or website. Facebook thrives on a mix of informative posts, links, marketing campaigns (deals, coupons and initiatives) and easy questions designed to drive engagement. What type of brand content might flourish on Google+?
Google is an information powerhouse that hosts over 11 billion monthly searches. People are searching for relevant and timely content – like product and services information, local content, news, deals, how-to videos and behind-the-scenes photos, and other interesting stories they can consume and share. While Google+ is in its infancy, stick to Google’s roots and publish informative content about your brand that customers will find relevant and share with others. It never hurts to ask your community directly what type of content they want from you on this platform.
5. Take Advantage of Google+ Features to Engage
If you’ve been thoughtful about the last four steps, you should have a solid foundation for a Google+ publishing strategy that aims to engage the right followers with relevant content.
In addition to a text-based status update, each post can attach a photo, video, and URL link to make the post richer. Directly engage your followers by asking questions that start discussions and lead to +1s and Circle shares. The more users engage with a post, the greater the viral effect, and thus, brand awareness. This keeps your brand top-of-mind and drives interest in your offering. Here are other Google+ specific features you should consider.
- Google’s +1 button can be placed virtually anywhere, including your website, articles and even ads. Each time a user +1s your content, the action creates a personal recommendation for your brand that appears in the user’s stream and is shared with his Circles. By strategically placing +1 buttons on engaging content and connecting them to your page, you’ll create a targeted Google+ experience for your fans.
- Hangouts give brands a very cool opportunity to connect directly with customers in a video chat environment. Think about virtual wine tasting events, Q&A sessions, new product demos, webinars and customer service calls — all with a real, live person on the other side of the camera.
- Cross-product integration opportunities abound with Google products like YouTube, Picasa, Reader, Documents and Calendar. There is tremendous opportunity to effectively integrate those elements into Google+ to engage followers even more deeply.
6. Analyze and Adjust Your Google+ Strategy
Google has made a huge investment in Google+, and it’s here to stay for awhile. Because of this cross-product integration, brands may see some exciting effects from Google+ social activity, like increased lift in search results and traffic from +1 buttons embedded in display ads. Consider how to integrate Google+ into your overall Google strategy — from SEO and ads to mobile and video –and view it as the social layer that ties all Google-owned properties together.
Brands should stay focused on follower growth and improved engagement rates by analyzing Circle trends and user behavior. Regularly assess data to improve page performance and brand awareness. The more viral your content, the more engaged the audience and the greater the likelihood of new users following your brand.
Managing Presence on Google+ Pages
Navigating a new social platform can be challenging, especially for larger brands that have a global presence, multiple brands and millions of fans. Last week Google announced its relationships with a handful of third-party social media management software companies that will provide tools for brands to manage their presences on Google+, including the ability to manage Circles, publish to Google+ and access analytics. These tools will help streamline publishing to multiple Google+ pages and effectively manage Circles in a scalable manner, while enabling access to analytics across a brand’s Google+ presence.