I have to admit I am a skeptical Google+ user. Coming at it from my easy, breezy Twitter perspective, I find Google+ clunky and cumbersome, particularly because I don't like staying logged into my Google account all day unless I'm using it.
So one day when I found myself in a Twitter conversation with a colleague (who I met through LinkedIn, mind you) debating the merits of Google+, I got to thinking that -- if nothing else -- I ought to see if there are other devotees out there, and why they adore the platform. (I don't think Google's own Google+ Learn More site does it much justice.) I posted a Google+ query on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and the website Help A Reporter Out. I discovered that I have a lot to learn when it comes to Google+, and thought you'd be interested in my findings too.
'G+ Force' is out there.
I received more than 30 responses to my query, "Seeking passionate Google+ business users," in 72 hours. Because it's Google, I expected responses from SEOers and online or social media marketers (which was the case) but I also heard from a surprisingly diverse collection of other types of business users, all with stories of their own. I then posed a series of questions to these users (which I posted on my own Google+ page to help facilitate responses), and culled their answers for this article.
Facebook is the past; Google+ is the present and future.
When I asked, "Do you value Google+ above other social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn and -- if so -- why?" I got many responses like this one, from food industry social media strategist Michele Martin: "Facebook is my past; Google+ is my present and future." Comparing social networks, respondents view Facebook as mingling with people you knew in high school, whereas Google+ is where you find people who have similar interests today.
Like Twitter, Google+ has open and transparent attributes, but users like it better because you can write more than 140 characters and posts have longer shelf-life and nested comments. Power users find the "quality of conversations more thoughtful and engaging on Google+," so says space and astronomy news publisher, Fraser Cain.
Favorite (and least favorite) Google+ features.
"I believe Google+ is the best collaborative environment on the Internet," claims former brick-and-mortar retailer turned 100% e-commerce business owner, Bob Shirilla. "It has all the features that I want."
Google+ fans rave about all its features, particularly Circles (Google+'s way of letting you organize and segregate people), Hangouts (Skype-like private video conferencing), and Hangouts On Air (live streaming broadcasts for all the world to see). Digital marketer Corey Vandenberg also gives a big thumbs-up to Google+ Local, through which local businesses can share consumer reviews to help grow their businesses.
A few users also mentioned the use of hashtags, since they were already accustomed to using them on Twitter, and Authorship, which allows you to link your Google+ profile to the other content you create. Several respondents also commented that they liked the lack of tolerance for spammers, a subtler alert and notification system, and no interference by advertising.
Sean Grace of CoupSmart focused on other finer details like: the ability to edit font faces to "bold or italic type, hyperlinks in the About section, ability to edit posts whenever I want to, integration with other Google Apps and products."
As for least favorite features, techie types complain that they're still waiting for Google to make its API available so they can build out applications upon it. Some folks also complain about the poor integration with other outside social networks and tools makes it more difficult to use (which should be remedied once the API becomes available). Still others wish for little things like vanity URLs.
What's your Google+ strategy?
Mostly I got the feeling that Google+ users were motivated to build Google+ into their social media strategy because they want to ensure the health of their own search rankings since social sharing has become an ever more important criteria in search algorithms.
Other Google+ strategies ranged from nothing more than building networks by adding people to circles and "+1'ing" (Google's version of the "Like" button) content and comments, to distributing company news and information, intelligence gathering, and "creative experimentation," as attorney Michael Cavendish explained. "The core of the Google+ community is a thoughtful one, but one that has deep experience with the Web," he says. "As content consumers, they want offerings of substance, but they also appreciate being surprised, or following a new way of presenting something."
Michele Martin provided these helpful resources to find and connect with new users on G+:
How is Google+ better or worse than other social networks?
Google+ wins points for its internal search engine (particularly compared to Facebook's), big photos, its mobile app, Pages for business, and the responsiveness of the Google+ team. Several of my respondents like Dotty Scott noted the audience on Google+ skews "older and more professional."
As to Google+'s weaknesses, I heard repeated squawking about Google+'s comparatively small audience. That said, most devotees seem to have the patience to wait. Many of these same folks like being the early adopters in this space.
Chad Wiebesick, director of social media and interactive marketing at Pure Michigan, points out that, "Google+ could do a better job with helping business pages run social media contests and promotions ... but with its recent acquisition of social media promotion company Wildfire, this will likely change."
Google+ advice for business owners and entrepreneurs.
Overwhelmingly, most of my respondents encouraged Inc. readers to just dive in and get going. Several reminded that you get out of any social media platform what you put into it so don't expect Google+ to work wonders for you if you're not really utilizing it.
And Alan K'necht of Digital Always Media has some other sage advice: "For what it costs [nothing], setting up a Google+ business Page, you need to claim your real estate now before someone else does. Don't assume there isn't another company with your name somewhere else in the world ... especially if you're a small business."
To read the full transcript of all the responses I collected, download the PDF.
The original "Google Plus: The Most Under-Appreciated Must-Use Social Media Tool" article can be seen here.