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GooglePlus_Body.jpgby Jennifer Shaheen.

 

Get ready—Google+, the little known social media platform, is likely going to play a much more important role in your marketing strategies in the future.

 

It’s all part of a plan Google vice president Bradley Horowitz first laid out in 2011.Google+ has a social networking component, but it is not meant to be solely a social network. Instead, Google+ is the integration of all the Google tools and applications, which gives the company the opportunity to roll out and integrate features that enhance the user’s experience. You can use Google+ to connect with your circle of friends, host online meetings through Hangouts, search for local businesses or protect ownership of your content through Google Authorship. "Google+ is Google itself. We're extending it across all that we do—search, ads, Chrome, Android, Maps, YouTube—so that each of those services contributes to our understanding of who you are," Horowitz said.

 

The reach of Google

On average, Google+ users are spending 12 minutes a month on the social network. That pales in comparison to the 8 hours a month users spend on Facebook. Given this disparity, why is Google+ relevant?

 

The answer’s simple. Guy Kawasaki said it best in his book, What the Plus! “Google owns one of the biggest rivers of Internet traffic.” As a result, if you’re a new user who wants to use any of Google’s most popular products or services—like creating a YouTube Channel or utilizing review sites like Zagat and Google Local—you now have to have a Google+ account. Creating a simple Gmail account, however, does not force you into using Google+ and individuals who already have a Google account haven’t been forced to register for Google+ either. But if you would like access to certain features, you will find yourself redirected to a sign-up page for Google+. (If you want to access any of Google’s services without being forced to sign up for Google+ Lifehacker tells you how.) The move requiring forced registration has ruffled a few feathers, but Google’s in the enviable position of being Disneyland in a world otherwise populated with cut-rate theme parks. To get on the best rides and have the most fun, you’ve got to pay the price of admission.

 

GooglePlus_PQ.jpgGoogle has been working steadily to integrate Google+ into sites it doesn’t actively control. Web publishers are lured by the promise that something as simple as adding Google’s “+1” button—which only requires cutting and pasting a few lines of code to the site—can exponentially boost site traffic. Five million people hit that “+1” button every single day, sharing articles, blog entries, photos, logos and iconography, a YouTube video, reviews, and more.

 

Ubiquity has its benefits

“The Google platform gives you enterprise quality tools for a small business price,” says Ivana Taylor, publisher of DIYMarketers.com. “Specifically, I like that they all integrate into the most powerful search tool on the planet. You can literally run an entire marketing system on one platform.”

 

For years, Google has been providing entrepreneurs with free tools they can use to market their business. Google Analytics, Google Webmaster, and Google Places—now Google Local—are critical components of many small business owners’ digital marketing arsenal. Google+ adds another layer of functionality to the tools they’re already using.

 

It’s important to be strategic and determine what role you want Google+ to play in your digital marketing strategy. To do this, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with what the features and capabilities of Google+ are.

 

“Get on it, and add your other profiles and websites/blogs to the About Page,” advises Joel Libava, The Franchise King. “Make sure to do the Google Author Markup along with it. It helps tie it all in for your Google search results.”

 

The importance of knowing your customer

“The psychology of getting someone to share your message is very different than the psychology of getting people to drive to your store and actually buy something,” says B.J. Bueno, managing partner at the Cult Branding Company. “The key thing to remember is that communication has a biological function. It’s vital to our survival. People tend to share things that give them value in their social circles.”

 

“The way to get the most out of your Google+ strategy is to put yourself in the shoes of your customer,” says Taylor.  “What will your customer "touch" first? Chances are that they will search first so it makes sense to do Google Local and Google Adwords and YouTube. You can see how powerful the integration is for getting found and ultimately getting chosen.”

 

Ramon Ray, of SmallBizTechnology.com, uses Google+ primarily for video chatting with clients and colleagues through the Google+ feature known as Hangouts. His key for engaging with customers via Google+? “Just like any other vehicle, you need to deliver great content, regularly,” he says.

 

Google+ as a customer service vehicle

Viewing Google+ solely as a social media platform for corporate communications is a mistake. You can also expand the utility of Google+ by using it as a customer service tool.

 

Says Bueno: “We use Google+ specifically for the Hangout feature for our business. It is quickly becoming our preferred way to interact in the virtual space because it's very easy and seems reliable thus far. As small businesses continue to operate in fragmented work/life space, services like Google+ can provide a vital way of keeping team members, vendors, and clients connected through sight, sound, and motion.”

 

For entrepreneurs who value flexibility, Google+ has distinct advantages as well. “With seamless access on iPads and other portable devices, you can now conduct meetings from virtually any location,” Bueno adds. “With integrated and other Google apps like Drive, Google+ has a lot to offer small businesses.”

 

As Google+ gains more and more of a foothold in our digital lives, being able to recognize and make best use of this powerful tool can help small business owners on a budget expand their brand presence efficiently and affordably.

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