Small companies in Britain have already woken up to the potential of social media, with some estimates suggesting that more than half of British SMEs already use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to boost their company’s marketing message.
But the new kid on the social media block, Google+ – commonly known as Google Plus – is giving the more established networks a run for their money, and attracting small business users in their droves. Forbes magazine has predicted that it will be one of the major social media trends of 2014.
This is a long way from its launch back in 2011, when critics were quick to dismiss Google Plus, saying that the last thing the world needed was another big brand social networking site. But Google’s offering soon had a large and fervent following, and since it unveiled its business-specific services, Google Places for Business and Google Plus Local, small firms have been quick to create a presence for themselves through the site.
Places for Business is where a company can control what information Google gives searchers about the business, such as what it does, and its opening hours. It also places the enterprise on Google Maps to let people know exactly where it is. Meanwhile, the Local aspect serves as the more conventional social media function, allowing businesses to interact with consumers. More than one in three business owners who are active on social media in Britain now use Google Plus, significantly ahead of those who engage with LinkedIn, according to one study by XLN Business Services. Only Facebook beats the new channel, attracting almost 45 per cent of tech-savvy users in the small business community, and Google Plus appears to be fast gaining ground on its bigger rival.
There are obvious reasons why this social media outlet has been so quick to establish itself. Google is the biggest search engine in the world, with around six billion searches every day. Put crudely, Google Plus is social media on steroids – it does many things that other networks can’t. Establishing a presence through Google Plus has the advantage of hugely improving a business’ search engine optimisation (SEO) through the parent search engine, as the new tool integrates with the entire Google stable. It works alongside the Google Authorship function, which acts like a digital signature on all the content that an individual author – or business publisher – posts. This typically provides a picture and byline for the author in Google’s search results, and evidence suggests that people are drawn to images over plain text, and are then more inclined to read this type of personally endorsed content. This could mean that a small firm gets more click-throughs on their posts through the main Google search engine – the Holy Grail for SME marketeers – and acquire more followers on Google Plus. Also, content posted on Google Plus is discovered by the search engine very quickly – adding to the SEO value that the platform provides.
Small firms are leading the way in adopting this new and potentially very powerful technology. Research in the US last year found that remarkably few of America’s largest companies are present on Google Plus, and only 3.5 per cent are actively using Google Authorship to maximise their impact through the social network. As is so often the case, it’s SMEs who are proving more innovative, agile, and quick to exploit these new ways of working, and the opportunity is there for small companies to steal a march on larger rivals by getting into this space first.
We’ve discussed the fundamental reasons for SMEs using the likes of Twitter and other social networks to promote their enterprise before, as well as the need for bosses to remain alert to the risks of engaging with social media strands. But many business owners would say that the benefits far outweigh any negative concerns, and, for many, once they’ve decided to use social channels for marketing there’s no looking back.
So, how can you get started with Google Plus?
- First of all, you need to sign up for a Google account, if you haven’t already got one, by visiting plus.google.com. New users will be asked for some basic information and invited to upload a headshot.
- Next, you’ll be directed to your new Gmail account, from where you can navigate your way to Google Plus. In Google Plus, you must create a presence as an individual, and then you can make a page for your company. When creating a page for your business, you can activate the Places for Business and Local functions.
- You can add or ‘Circle’ people or other businesses that you know or want to follow, much like on any other social network. Your ‘Circles’ of contacts can be organized for different purposes, and once someone is in a ‘Circle’ you can text chat or video chat with them through the ‘Hangouts’ box on your Google Plus home screen.
- Beyond your profile picture, you can also add a large cover photo, so this could be a chance to put up an image that colourfully depicts your business. Remember, part of Google Plus’s strength lies in the fact that it’s a very visual medium, so use this opportunity well.
- There is also the Communities section of the network where bigger conversations are taking place. If it’s appropriate and relevant to your business, this could be the place to get engaged in topics that will demonstrate your business’s expertise in a given area. The Events section is also a chance to advertise any activity that may be taking place in your enterprise – either virtually or in the material world.
- The important thing is to create new pieces of quality content – don’t just repeat what you’ve posted on Twitter or Facebook threads. Play to Google Plus’s strengths, such as the Communities or Hangouts functions. You want to show that you understand the medium, and have something distinctive to say.
- If you’d like to learn more about using the Google Plus social networking platform, expert Denis Labelle has curated multiple helpful resources including videos and other training materials in his Google+ Toolbox
Of course, Google Plus won’t be for every business. Many people feel uncomfortable with Google’s online dominance, and issues about privacy and use of information have been of particular concern to some. The requirement of users of YouTube, another of Google’s online channels, to sign up to Google Plus in order to be able to leave comments on the video platform, as reported recently in Time magazine, has brought accusations of strong arm tactics on the part of the parent company. But for business owners who are less worried about these issues there’s a great opportunity for a small firm to punch above its weight through Google Plus, to shout loudly, and to get its message across to a vast range of potential customers both locally and further afield. At the very least, it makes sense to understand what the medium can do. Because one thing’s for certain – you’ll be hearing a lot more about Google Plus in the months to come.
And if you do decide to join Google Plus or if you already have a profile, please stop by to say hello and Circle us at our Boost Capital Google Plus page.