GUEST BLOG: a beginner's guide to Google+

What is Google+?

In November 2011, Google allowed businesses to start setting up pages on its social networking platform Google+ and take advantage of the increasing popularity of this new kid on the social media block. Google hopes to tap into the millions of people who already use its search engine and email services to join Google+ and establish it as a competitor to Facebook and Twitter.

Google+ essentially works along the same lines as Facebook in that it allows users to create a network of their contacts and share information with these contacts through status updates. What is unique about Google+ is that it has circles, which means users can highlight groups within their social circles and label them from something even as basic and functional as "friends" or "work"  to even something as selective and defined as "taekwondo mates" or "university friends".

When people share status updates they can choose to share it with everyone or just a certain circle giving the user clearer and simpler controls over the information they are sharing and who they are sharing it with. It has a couple of other nifty features such as "+1", essentially the Facebook "like", which can be applied to anything on the web to highlight pages for your social group and has  Facebook-like huddles for text-based group chatting and hangouts for group video chats among friends.

How can Google+ help my business?

Google+ has a number of tricks up its sleeve that, if used correctly, can provide various benefits for small businesses. As with other social networks, it's a low-cost way for a business to interact with its customers and once a page has been set up, businesses can interact with their customers through simply updating their status. The circle feature allows a business to send different messages to each group of followers, so you can differentiate between suppliers and customers or even go as far as highlighting some influential voices among your customers to give exclusive content to.

It also allows customers to give their opinion about products through the "+1" button and the hangout and huddle features of Google+ can be used to have video conferences or text chats, another valuable and instant medium through which businesses can connect with their customers or clients. All these features are connected with other Google products, which means your Google+ page will even appear in search engine results and have a direct influence on your search engine rankings for "+'d" pages.

Getting your business started on Google+

Before you register for a page, it is important that you decide on a strategy for your Google+ account. Questions to start mulling over include what will be featured on your page, what circles will be set up, who will update the page and how often this will be done, as well as how this will link with the other social media outlets your business utilises such as Twitter, and finally how you will approach interacting with your customers.

Once you have made these decisions, it is a relatively easy process to set up your page. Firstly sign in to your Google+ account and select which category your business fits into, then you can add information about your business such as the website address, your tagline, and a business photo.

After this you'll probably want to get the ball rolling and get the word out there about the fact that your brand is now joining the Google+ revolution. This can be achieved in a number of different ways, one is to get involved in relevant communities that revolve around your industry and start adding people to your circles. For inspiration, you can even have a little gander at how other companies' Google+ pages within your industry are building their circles should you need it.

Risks to consider

There are a couple of drawbacks to Google+ pages that you will need to manage.

Users need to be very careful about switching between their personal and business Google accounts as it can be very damaging for the brand image if personal updates appear to come from the business.

Your business will also need to consider how to deal with any negative comments that are left on the page as people in your circle can comment on your status updates. You do not receive email notification of these comments, so the page will need to be monitored.

And that's pretty much it, hopefully you're feeling a little more confident about stepping in to Google's social playground and making it work for your small business but if you have any other tips and tricks you'd like to add I'd love to hear them.

Ed Beardsell is head blogger and content writer in the ever-changing world of business equipment and services, covering a broad range of topics including which photocopiers to buy to finding out how much vehicle tracking will cost your business. 

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