Read the Original Article at http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=240007253
Your business probably has a Facebook presence, and there's a good chance you're active on Twitter, as well. But what about Google+? You might be suffering from social media exhaustion, but keep in mind that a comprehensive social strategy embraces all platforms, and Google+ is a vibrant, active online community. In short, it's one platform you shouldn't ignore.
OK, reality check. We're not going to pretend that Google+ is running neck to neck with Facebook, nor that it will anytime soon.
Google announced in July that its year-old social network had 250 million users, which certainly looks impressive on paper. More than a few analysts, however, have questioned Google's rosy growth numbers. In May, for instance, RJMetrics pulled publicly available data for a random selection of 40,000 Google+ users, and found that engagement was pretty tepid. For instance, 30% of users who made a public post never made a second one. And the average post had fewer than one +1 (similar to a Facebook "Like"), fewer than one reply, and fewer than one re-share.
Engagement might have improved since them, but it's clear that Google+ is no Facebook. McDonald's Facebook page, for instance, has 22 million "likes." Its Google+ page? Just under 16,300 +1's. It's obvious who's lovin' it more.
Then again, Google+ is a platform with a lot of business marketing and cost-savings potential. Google continues to enhance the social service's business features, including video conferencing and collaborative work tools that are particularly useful to enterprises that run Google Apps.
How can followers and fans on social sites help your bottom line? Well, they're much more like to buy your products or services. Consumer electronics chain Best Buy, for instance, benefits enormously from its Facebook presence, according to Forrester research.
"Being a Facebook fan of Best Buy increases the odds that a customer will purchase by 5.3 times; the next closest influence factor is having researched consumer electronics, which only increases the odds of purchase by 1.4 times," analyst Josh Bernoff writes in an April 2012 blog post.
Interestingly, this pattern is the same for every behavior and brand. "For example, having a Walmart nearby doubles the odds that you'll consider buying there, but being a Facebook fan of Walmart increases those odds by more than a factor of four," Bernoff writes.
The same sort of dynamics, combined with the power of Google search, should pay off for organizations that establish a presence on Google+ and grow with it. Has your business set up shop on Google+? Click through the slideshow below to see the 10 best business tools for Google's social platform.
Don't have expensive video conferencing gear? Hangouts, Google's online collaboration tool, lets you hold a video meeting with up to 10 participants. It's handy for running slideshows with clients, customers, and anyone else outside of your organization. And because you can add a Google Docs file to your meeting, Hangouts is handy for collaborative editing sessions with colleagues. With the Google+ app, iPhone and iPad users can join the conversation; naturally, there's a version for Android users, too.
Hangouts is more than just a video conferencing tool. It also offers a global soapbox via its Hangsouts On Air feature, which lets you stream live Hangout feeds to people who follow your Google+ profile, YouTube channel, or website. Naturally, Hangouts On Air is a boon to musicians and other live entertainers, but it's useful to businesses too, including those that want to demo a new product or service.
What if nobody watches your live stream? That's a real concern, of course, but because Hangout On Air events are automatically recorded and uploaded to your YouTube account, your Google+ followers can catch them later.
Some social media posts are meant only for your colleagues, not for the public at large. Google Apps users have sharing controls that let them limit Google+ posts and comments to people within their organization. Even if you choose to share a post externally, it will be visible only to people you've shared it with. Similarly, you can restrict Hangouts to your organization by default. Google+ premium features, including sharing and collaboration settings for Google Apps for Business, Education, and Government, are free through the end of 2013, Google says.
Are your Google+ posts effective? Are social media influencers sharing and re-sharing your content, or are your brilliant missives largely being ignored? Google's Ripples feature is a visualization tool that makes it easy to find out. It creates an interactive graphic of the public shares of a post or URL on Google+. When you hover over a Ripples' circle, a pop-up window displays more information about the person who shared your post.
Ripples uses only publicly shared posts, which means you might not see all of the activity that's taken place. Still, Ripples' visualizations are a powerful demonstration of the reach of Google+--and whether your posts are having the impact you want.
What impact is social media having on your business? Google Analytics' social reports measure not only the role of Google+ in your online marketing efforts, but also the impact of other social networks.
For instance, Google Analytics shows which articles on your site are shared the most, and which social buttons your visitors click to share them. The Conversions report shows conversion rates and their monetary value, a boon for businesses hoping to determine the return on their social media investment. And the Social Sources report shows which social networks are sending you the most traffic--handy for refining your social media strategy.
It's fair to say that Google+ hasn't exactly caught fire in the consumer world, but its tight integration with Google Apps might boost its popularity among organizations that also use Google's cloud-based productivity suite. In July, for instance, Google made it possible for Gmail users to invite up to nine people to a Google+ hangout video conference. And in late August, Google Apps users gained the ability to add a hangout to a Calendar event. Attendees can join the session directly from the invitation or Calendar post.
People like knowing what their friends "like" online, so it's good business to help them find out. For businesses on Google+, this means helping users see their friends' +1 recommendations by linking +1's for your site with +1's on your Google+ page and ads. (If you're not familiar with Google Plus, +1 buttons are essentially Google's version of Facebook's Likes: shout outs from people in your social circles that tell you if they endorse the online content you're viewing at the moment.) Google explains how to add a small bit of code to your website to enable this feature, and how your advertisers can enable social extensions in AdWords. When you link your Google+ page to ads, Google can show more customer endorsements for your business, and that should boost your buzz factor.
Businesses can use Google+'s Circles feature in the same way that end users do: As a way to organize followers into separate "circles," or groups based on specific interests. A small business, for instance, could group customers by location, or perhaps create separate circles for customers and employees. The benefit to you is the ability to send messages tailored to meet the unique needs of your followers. Example: Employees care that it's Staff Appreciation Day, but your customers probably don't.
Third-party tools can help you manage your Google+ business page. Many organizations use media management agencies to run their social media operations across several services, including Facebook and others. In November 2011, Google announced it would allow six companies, including Buddy Media, Context Optional, Hearsay Social, HootSuite, Involver, and Vitrue, to use their management tools in Google+. And in July 2012, Google said it was opening up a new set of management APIs to hundreds of tool providers. For businesses and brands, this means more ways to tailor Google+ pages to meet their specific needs.
Google+, like Facebook, offers custom URLs that make it easier for customers and fans to find a business's page. For instance, http://google.com/+toyota takes you directly to Toyota's Google+ page. Google began rolling out custom URLs last month, but the vanity addresses are available only to a limited number of users at this time. Still, the feature is good news for organizations planning to establish a presence on Google.