Google+, the walking dead?

800px-Forest_in_CantabriaOriginally created in June 2011, Google+ was supposed to take Google to the next level. Combining all of Google’s services into one place, it was hailed as the next social media powerhouse, allowing you to network with friends, family, employers, employees, sharing everything under the sun. Its rise to 50 million users in three months exceeded the growth of Myspace, Twitter and Facebook in the same period, and led to speculation that Google+ could even replace Facebook as the most used Social Networking site. As nuts as that seems now, it wasn’t so nuts in 2013. Google was the only company in the world that had a popular mobile OS, namely Android, which could be merged with its own social network as well as the rest of its products. It showed a great deal of promise. When one considers the wide range of Google’s reach, from Picasa photo sharing, to Youtube, Jetpack, Blogger, etc., it seemed that everything might become Google. But then, it didn’t.

Right off the bat, Google+ was a hard sell. All the things people value about Facebook, privacy (ha ha), the ability to have tiered pages so only friends and family can see them, or even to post anonymously were surprisingly absent from Google+. Google+ required real names, identify verification, and putting all of your details in one place… this made it a hard sell. The social layer to all things Google was not a standalone product, but an embedding of everything into one place.

So, not only were most people uncomfortable with a more realistic book of their face, but few were going to move all of their information off of Facebook and put it on Google+. That was like, secretarial work, not fun social stuff! The momentum cooled quickly, and not too much has happened since.

In April of this year, Google+ developer, Vic Gundrota, resigned unexpectedly. In the aftermath of that everyone involved in Google+ was shifted to other departments. This sparked rumors that Google+ was on its way to death’s door and was to be discontinued, like other Google products. But speculation about Google+’s demise actually predates Gundrota’s resignation. Techwatcher Adam Metz, noted:

“Here’s why I think Google’s high-priority social network is failing, fast. After Amir Efrati’s February article in the Wall Street Journal revealed that, after sign up, Google+ users aren’t really doing anything much with the platform, a pretty stunning info-graphic really jumped out at readers – it was a diagram that showed the average minutes-per-user for all social networks in January 2012.” (Source)

If you click on the link, you’ll find according to Metz’s source, Google+ users spend all of 3 minutes a day on it. Hm. This is compared to the average of 40 minutes a day people spend on Facebook (source).

Yet it’s still there! At least, for the moment. Google has, however, downgraded Google Authorship, by removing profile pictures and Google+ circle counts from searches. This was one of the most notable features of Google+, and without it one wonders what’s next.

What was intended as a grandiose Google takeover of the worlds containing Facebook, Office Online, and even LinkedIn, Google+ is an epic fail. It still maintains over 500 million active users around the world, but many more than half of those account holders also have Facebook pages. Google+ can’t begin to compete with Facebook’s 1.2 billion users. Though Google+ has had a good success rate maintaining its number of account holders, it looks more than likely, to those of us that pay attention to such things, that as Google moves on to other projects, it will simply leave behind Google+ until it fades into irrelevance. And nary a tear was shed.

But wait! Stop the presses… Google+, like chivalry, is not dead! In a recent 2014 interview with David Besbris, Google’s new social media guru, Besbris said:

“We’re actually very happy with the progress of Google+, [CEO Larry Page] said this at the time that Vic transitioned that he’s going to continue working on building this stuff, that he’s very happy with it.” “The company is behind it. I have no idea where these rumors come from to be honest with you.”

The ace the company is holding up their sleeve is that Google+ is ad free and will remain so, unlike Facebook, who’s pro-ad pages are starting to get some serious flack in the Facebookosphere,

“They won’t convert well, they won’t be beneficial, and it kind of just pollutes the space. I think for a social place that tends to be very intimate where you’re having conversations with people, you’re sharing pictures, you’re exploring things you’re really into, you don’t want to be at that point bombarded with noise,” said Besbris.

He went to on to say that Google+ is just misunderstood, and will come into its own someday. And if, IF, they DO decide to put ads in there for our, erm, enjoyment, they will be unique in such a way as only Google can make an ad unique. Oh… joy.

The proper treatment for social media overload

When it comes to social media, the array of options is dizzying.  Facebook is the biggest, of course, with 1.2 billion users.  Twitter comes next, but then comes a glut of others, including — but certainly not limited to — Google+, Pinterest, Vine, Tumblr, and so on.  Then there are a boatload of other services that may have another primary purpose but still contain a social aspect to it, like LinkedIn, Instagram, and Flickr.  There are other players who are huge in their own industries but are trying to bust into the social sphere, like Netflix, Amazon, or YouTube.  There are also an increasing number of hardware manufacturers like Samsung or Sony that are integrating their own “apps” into hardware devices like Blu-ray players to try to play in this space.  As if the waters weren’t muddy enough, there is an increasing number of so-called “curators” like Pulse, Zite, or Flipboard, who simply gather content generated by other outlets and arrange them in simple and intuitive interfaces, integrating social media-like functionality as a secondary feature.  So what should you use to promote your business?

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The answer to that perplexing quandary is, without question…it depends.

It’s simply not realistic to avoid social media altogether, at least not if you’re intending to grow through the 21st century.  You could take the opposite approach and try to hit them all, but that would take a small herd of twenty-somethings, each armed with more smartphones than hands.  There has to be a middle ground somewhere.

The key is targeting.  Before you devise your social media strategy, you have to answer a few questions.  Who are you trying to reach?  Seventy percent of Pinterest users are women.  LinkedIn is known for its prowess in job searching and career-related content.  Google+ is where you need to be if you’re looking for or addressing a technically savvy crowd.  If you’re trying to reach mobile users in particular, social media consumes a whopping 30% of mobile users’ time all by itself, and 63% of year-on-year social media growth is via mobile apps and website usage, so social media is the way to get to your audience.  If you’re focusing on your business’ brand, Instagram is the place to be.  If you’re looking to find a niche and let the market itself grow the size of that niche, then Facebook and Twitter are out since they’re sitting at something like 0-4% adoption rate; on the other hand, Pinterest and Instagram are growing by leaps and bounds at a clip of about 25-35% per quarter.  Of course, for sheer magnitude of reach, you simply cannot beat Facebook or Twitter, each of which have more users than most of the other services combined.

Another key question is: how and what are you trying to communicate?  If you’re looking to send out a major chunk of text, don’t bother with Instagram or Pinterest – blogs are the ideal forum for you, with Facebook or Google+ a close second.  For high-quality still photos, though, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr are perfect.  YouTube is the undisputed champion of video, but Vine has picked up a huge following for quickie videos that are easy to share, too.  Neither of those are any good at text, though.  Twitter is terrific for witty banter or frequent updates on events or fast-moving real world developments, but long conversations simply aren’t possible.  Customer service functions are rapidly moving into Twitter because it is the only genuinely real-time communication in social media.  I have personally contacted companies via Twitter for fast help at least half a dozen times and gotten good response almost every time.

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The bottom line is that you first need to understand your own business, and how you want to portray yourself to the rest of the world.  It’s better to cherry pick two or three social media services that are a good fit for what you’re trying to do than to cram a round peg into a square hole simply for the sake of “getting out there.”  The Internet is clogged with enough useless digital vomit already, so don’t contribute even more!  Keep it focused, keep it relevant, and keep it coming regularly.  The key result you’re looking for is to get engagement from your followers and/or customers.  Getting likes or comments or shares is how you know you’ve found both a receptive audience and a good vehicle for reaching that audience.  And don’t think for a moment that no one will care about your business, no matter what it is.  Velveeta has over 7,000 followers on Twitter and over 150,000 likes on Facebook.  If processed cheese food can get that kind of a following, so can you.  You just need to know who you are, who you’re trying to reach, and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Six Google+ Tips for Business

As much as many of us have run kicking and screaming from Google+, it sure is here to stay. It’s been a very useful tool for many businesses. Check out how +HM and +CadburyUK have been using the platform successfully in these case studies.

There is a lot of power in Google+ from establishing your personal brand to corporate brand, as well as improving your company’s search engine result presence. Here are 6 ways to get started:

1.     Connect your personal page to your content with Authorship

Have you searched on Google lately and seen headshots next to seemingly random search results? This is a result of Google+ Authorship connection. By connecting your personal Google+ page with the content you create, your image can appear in the search results. This has been shown to improve click-through rate, as users love to click links with thumbnail images.

2.     Set up Direct Connect for your website

Direct connect lets you search through to a Google+ page and add it to your circles by adding the ‘+’ operator before the brand name. To make this connection for your Google+ business page, you have to be “special” in Google’s eyes, but there are a few tricks to speed along this process. To assist Google in understanding your website and Google+ page are connected, add the Google+ badge to your site or by adding a snippet of code to your site. Your website link on your Google+ page should also match your website exactly, meaning, check if your website includes ‘www’ or not.

3.     Use your Google+ Business Page to Connect & Engage

Businesses are so successful on social media when they connect and engage with their followers. Google+ still is evolving, but spend time adding people to your circles (create many different types of circles, too!), commenting on relevant posts, asking questions and sharing images. Share information you create and that others create that would be useful to your followers, always staying true to your brand image. Feel free to get a little goofy on Friday’s and use this platform to find out pressure points from potential customers!

4.     Host Google+ Hangouts

This is probably one of the coolest features of Google+ and a key differentiator (for the time being). Google+ Hangouts are live video chats you can have internally (maybe your company is all over the world) or with your customers. I recommend using these to connect with your key influencers – offer them an opportunity to chat with your CEO or offer input about your product. You can set up invites and send them out publically or privately to specific people or circles and are a great way to build brand loyalty. The ways you can use Google+ hangouts are limitless, so get creative – this is an affordable way to product content!

5.     Use Hashtags (like on Twitter)

A hashtag is a word or a phrase preceded by the # symbol — for example, #Emmys — that helps people find and join conversations about a particular topic. Clicking on a hashtag will show related content on Google+ (or Twitter…or Facebook). You use hashtags to group relevant information and can either use a current hashtag or create your own to represent your own idea or event. You can search these hashtags on Google+ to find relevant and recent posts. Just don’t start using hashtags out loud in conversation – see Late Night with Jimmy Fallon #hashtag skit.

Have you used these Google+ Business Tips? Share your experiences below in the comments; we’d love to hear from you!

The 5 ways social media affects your business

There are over 15 million businesses on Facebook. Twitter has over 200 million active users, and many of those users are Tweeting on behalf of a business. Instagram has 150 million users, and, increasingly, those users are companies looking for new ways to promote themselves. But skeptical small business owners might wonder whether all of this social media stuff really matters for their bottom line. Are these millions of users just wasting time online and procrastinating when there are more important things that could be done? What is the return on investment? Do all of those status updates, 140 character messages, and interesting pictures really bring in more customers? The answer is yes. We’ve got five good reasons why social media matters for your small business.

1.) Social Media Provides an Insider’s View to your Business

Spend some time on Instagram and you’ll feel like you’re getting personal photographic glimpses into people’s lives. It’s like paging through a friend’s photo album, except that you might not know that friend offline. Celebrities have taken to Instagram to get closer to their fans–singer Beyonce uses the social media outlet to post pictures of herself backstage and with friends. These peeks into Beyonce’s personal life are seen by 6.5 million followers. Instagram has, then, helped her boost her fan base. Businesses can do the same with Instagram. Think of your fan base as current and potential customers. You can use Instagram to show the behind-the-scenes elements of your company. Have a quirky Friday tradition in your office? Snap a picture of it for Instagram. Are you a restaurant owner? Post pictures of your food on Instagram to advertise new dishes. Are you a clothing designer? Use Instagram to show yourself in the creative process. No matter what kind of business you own, social media is a great tool to provide more transparency–and more trust–in your company.

2.) Social Media Helps you to Connect with Customers

There are over a billion people on Facebook, so if your business does not have a Facebook page, then you are, quite simply, missing out on connecting with a lot of people. Why is it important to post frequently to the social media giant? Because it is a perfect way to connect directly with your customers. Once people “like” your page, then they will see everything that you post and then they can interact with you online. Be sure to post every day to keep the name of your business on the minds of these page-viewers and also to develop relationships. Potential and current customers will use your page to ask you questions, to offer comments, and, yes, sometimes issue complaints. But if you respond to these customer posts in a timely and professional way, then you show that you’re a conscientious business owner who cares about your customers, whether they are happy or not. Facebook is also a fun way to connect with people–implement a weekly trivia contest, take pictures of your patrons and post them, ask your clientele to take pictures of themselves with your product and then post them to your page.

3.) Social Media Helps You Tap Into Industry Trends And Connect With Other Businesses

Platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn can help your small business tap into larger industry trends and join industry conversations. With Twitter you’ll want to follow lots of local people in order to build your customer base, but you’ll also want to follow other businesses that are similar to yours. By doing this you can see what social media methods have been successful for others and which methods have not worked. Twitte and LinkedIn also allow you to communicate directly with other businesses, industry publications, and social media gurus. By following the right people, you’ll have plenty of insightful industry-specific reading material at your fingertips. It’s like attending an industry conference every day without the hassle of traveling and spending excess money.

4.) Social Media Is The Best Kind Of Word-Of-Mouth Advertising

People are already talking about your business on social media–even if you’re not out there. But if you are present in the social media world, and you’re using the platforms correctly, then you’ll tap into the the best kind of advertising–viral, word-of-mouth marketing. This doesn’t mean that you need to use every single Facebook post to sell something, for instance. Personal, fun, and interesting posts are the ones that people share. And you want people to share your posts because then the name of your brand is not only seen by that one person who shared your post, but also by that Facebook users hundreds of friends.

5.) Social Media Allows You To Have Real Time Moments With Customers

Social media gives your business the chance to have “real time” moments with people online.  Let’s say that someone has a question about one of your company’s services. Instead of getting on the phone, they send you a tweet. If you respond quickly, then you have provided a direct, real time response to an issue that may have taken a lot longer to resolve if the customer had to place a call, perhaps be put on hold, and maybe even talk to several people before receiving the right answer. And by reacting quickly to tweets like this, you show the entire twitterverse that your company is on top of customer service.

Or maybe you see that someone has posted a picture of your product on Instagram. Simply by “liking” the post and posting a short comment you are showing that your business is run by actual people who care about connecting with customers. And, like on Twitter, that Instagram users followers will see this, too.