Inside Google Plus
What's its influence on social media marketing?
By John Boudreau
What does your daily social media marketing routine consist of? Do you log on to your agency Facebook page first, send out a tweet, or jump online and start typing out your next blog? There are a variety of social media platforms available today, each with its own features and networking capabilities. The question is—are some more important than others?
Facebook surpassed Google this year as the most trafficked site in the United States, and it is almost always the first social media platform a business will go with when launching its online marketing initiatives. But we all knew Google would not remain quiet in the social world for long. Shortly after coming out with the Google "+1" button, as an act to compete on sites with the Facebook "Like" option, Google announced the creation of its own social media network, Google Plus.
What are the features?
The Google-owned social network was created, as many will say, to compete with Facebook. Still in beta at the time of this writing, Google Plus allows you to add people to Circles, similar to adding Twitter followers, friends on Facebook or LinkedIn connections. Circles can easily be compared to Facebook groups, in which you group people based on a particular topic. Moving forward with Google Plus, you could develop one Circle consisting of friends, another of family, and so on.
Another feature of the new network is Hangouts. A Hangout is where your Circles, or a select group of friends, can video chat simultaneously on one screen. This poses an interesting way to incorporate video into a social media platform, different from Facebook's new video chat option.
Google Plus also offers further customization with the personalized Sparks feature. Sparks allows you to search for content on the Web, based on specific topics you are interested in. The dashboard allows you to click on images associated with specific categories, add selected categories to your interests and create links to each topic under your profile picture—literally allowing you to share what "sparks" your interest.
Creating Sparks categories also allows the user to home in on a particular topic at any given time. For example if you create a Spark for "insurance" and click that link, the feature will bring up relevant pieces of content, news, photos, etc., related to that topic. The Sparks search bar is also similar to Google in the sense that it will guess what your search is going to be as you begin to type it out. And when you're ready to share a piece of content with your connections on Google Plus, just click "Share."
Is it here to stay?
The number of Internet users who have signed up for Google Plus within the first few weeks of its launch has skyrocketed past the enrollment timeline of Facebook's user base. Many may remember Google Buzz and how it failed to become a mainstream site. However, Google Plus was immediately adopted by social media power users and industry professionals as the next big social network that should be implemented into organizations' marketing strategy. With site visitors reaching upwards of 20 million as of mid-July, the numbers don't lie; this is a social network that is here to stay.
If you are a true social media power user and define your agency as having a growing Internet marketing strategy, this is a network you should join. When clients ask us about the social networks that are a must for their marketing plan, our answer is usually Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It's safe to say that now Google Plus can be added to that list.
As of now, Google Plus doesn't have a "company page" account capability as there is on Facebook, but Google has announced the feature will be part of an upcoming release. For the time being signing up for a personal profile so that you can represent your agency as an insurance expert and community leader is a key marketing tactic all principals and social media engineers should consider implementing.
How does it compare to other social networks?
The first step is signing up. Creating and filling out a complete profile, as on any social network, is especially important. Think of Google Plus as a mix of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
It allows you to openly connect and network with friends, business contacts and potential customers, as many do on Twitter. It is like Facebook because you can write lengthier posts and comment in a real-time stream, and it is similar to LinkedIn as you can connect with business prospects, put them all in one Circle and target your message to that particular audience.
Google Plus allows you to openly network and have a conversation with connections in your Circles, a feature Facebook does not allow due to privacy settings. But Google Plus is not a privacy driven network. Yes, you decide who is in each of your Circles, but you can openly comment, give a +1, share a link, picture, or comment on someone else's post. The light-hearted, yet business side, of the network is going to allow people to really connect on the next level and further evolve social marketing strategies. Agents should create a profile and search for clients and prospects who are actively using the network. The search box allows you to search for anyone by first and last name.
Now, before this platform seems like a free-for-all, there are privacy settings. You can choose who will view your Circles, who can see your postings, etc. From my own research I have not seen many blocked profiles as many of the adopters of Google Plus have been networkers, business owners, and social media enthusiasts; the networking has been very open.
The best way to find people to follow is by looking at who is in your followers' Circles, who likes the same posts as you, and so on.
It will also be interesting to see how Google will design the company page. Will there be limited functionality, as there is on Facebook Fan Pages? Nonetheless, your agency's networking goals will be similar to those set for other social sites. You always want to position yourself at the forefront of the consumer's mind. Post relevant insurance tips for your area, community events, and marketing knowledge others may want to share. Content is not just king when blogging, it is also a key consideration in terms of social media marketing.
Using Google Plus effectively
Here are some suggestions on how an agent could effectively use Google Plus:
1) Create Circles by product or niche.
Circles allow you to organize groups. So why not organize your niches? Put prospects for personal lines coverage into one Circle, commercial into another. This will allow you to share the most relevant content with each group separately. The great feature of Google Plus is you can use your one profile page to target different audiences.
2) Create Hangouts for advice.
Hangouts are streaming video with a certain Circle. Here's an idea. Use video as "ask an agent," a "social media help session," or "talk to your agent live." If your Web site does not have these capabilities, the video feature on Google Plus will allow you to live chat with customers, or prospects who may have questions.
3) Mention other people using the + feature.
You can mention a person or business on Facebook, or mention an account on Twitter, so it wouldn't make sense if Google Plus did not also allow this. Instead of using the "@" symbol, it is of course the "+" symbol in front of a person's name. As on Facebook and Twitter it links to their profile in your post, and sends them a notification. A great way to connect.
4) Share your blog posts.
It has been said that Google ranks Blogger blogs higher in search results because they own the site. Could it be the same on Google Plus? No one can confirm, but it is another place for you to share your blog posts, or written articles, for others to read and share. Both to showcase your expertise and help with you agency's search engine optimization efforts.
5) Share photos, videos and relevant content.
The stream on Google Plus is a popular place for users to post informational and comical photos, videos, and animations. Whether it is something interesting you see and snap a photo of on your iPhone, or a picture with a client for who appears to be delighted that you just saved money on their policy, upload and share it!
6) Use different search tactics.
There are sites such as FindPeopleonPlus.com that act as Google Plus search directories. You can also search for people based on who the people in your Circle follow. Put up a link on your other social sites to your Google Plus page encouraging people to include you in their Circles.
As for the future of Google Plus, it is undetermined. Some users are still reporting bugs, as the platform is still in its beta phase. As with any other social network, only time will tell how it can be best utilized for businesses in general, and specifically for the insurance industry. One thing that we do know is Google will do its best to make sure this is a platform that is here to stay.