Do you remember that day back in the spring of 2011? Eagerly awaiting a Google Plus invite from your tech savvy friend. Finally you’ve made it onto the next big social site, come to find, well not much except consistent posts of “Who’s using this thing?” or “Now what?” Nearly two years later Google Plus transformed into one of Google’s prominent social layers. While the debate continues whether or not this platform has been a success, constantly in the shadow of Facebook, the fact remains in was never Google’s intent to directly compete with Facebook. Google Plus is one step in Google’s evolution to create a better version of itself and improve value for all users.
Getting Acquainted with Google Plus
For those novice users looking to become more actively engaged with Google Plus, below is a basic overview of some of the main features, in addition to some helpful tools to control content and see how effectively content is spreading through circles.
Navigation for Google Plus can be found on the left side of the page. Navigation for Circles resides on the top. Default Circles include All (feed from all circles), Friends, Family, and Acquaintances. Clicking on More shows the rest of your Circles. With each post you have the ability to include: photos, videos, an event, or link. You can also control who can see the content you post. The default standard is Public (anyone who has added you to one of their circles can see your post, in addition to it being displayed on your profile and searchable in Google). You also can share with only specific circles or individual people just by typing their name into the search window. Another option available, Extended Circles, allows your post to be seen by someone in who might not be in your circles, but exists in a circle of someone you have connected with).
Another nice feature is that you can create posts out of your Gmail account without having to open the Google Plus window. On the top right section of Gmail reside Google Plus notifications and the Share function. New notifications will pop up as red number listing the amount of new notifications. If you do wish to fully open the Google Plus window, click on +(Your Name) found on the top left of the screen.
Circles are a way to organize the people you are connected to, similar to a distribution list. To create a new circle, simply drag a contact from the list into a blank circle. Once you’ve added all desired contacts, click on Create circle. A pop up window opens where you can name the circle. You can add the same contact to different circles. Each contact record displays all the circles in which the contact belongs to.
Filters control how much content is viewable in your home feed. These settings can be accessed within individual circles. A slider can be found on the top right section of the screen for each circle. Filters are by default set to the middle of the slider, where most posts are shown. You can increase this to include every post from the circle and to subscribe to notifications for each new post. Decreasing the slider will show some or no posts.
Filters are a bit tricky because there is no concrete method to measure how potential reach is affected by each setting. While there is no official EdgeRank system in place for Google Plus, filters seem to impose an EdgeRank like system on how content appears in a feed. One can’t equate a specific percentage to each filter level, however you could formulate an assumption that the default filter settings could limit posts by 50%. This is a grey area and worth more exploration and discussion as Google Plus continues to grow.
Ripples provide insight into how individual posts are shared. Only posts that have been publically shared will have Ripples metrics, so private activity is not included in these metrics. You can see a post’s Ripples by clicking on the down arrow next to any post, and then selecting Ripples. Ripples shows the originating post and who it was shared with. Circle size indicates sharing frequency. A graph over time models the spread of the post. Other metrics include top influencers, chain length, shares per hour, and languages of those who shared the post. You can also see Ripples for any URL that has been publicly shared. While Ripples don’t provide a full account of a post’s activity, it does give a good indication of how well a post is shared publicly and which individuals that actively share your content.
Hashtags and Tagging
Similar to Twitter, hashtags can be utilized on Google Plus for trending content. On the Home Page, the Trending on Google+ section outlines the current trending hashtags. In order to call out a specific person, you can add the + sign in front of a person’s name in a post. This is exactly the same as using the @ symbol on Twitter.
Recently launched in December 2012, Communities has quickly become a widely adopted feature of the Google Plus user base. There are Communities for nearly anything you can think of. How do you find what kinds of Communities are available? Simply click on the Community tab and several top ranking Communities are listed for you under Discover Communities. You can also search based on your interest. Say you were looking for Portland based Communities. Search for Portland and all groups related to the search are returned. Groups are ranked by number of members. Be sure to take into account the number of posts and members a group has as a good indication of how active the group is. Some communities are public and some are private, which only means the moderator has to approve your request to join.
Great industry based communities have been formed focusing on social media, digital marketing, and analytics. Below are a few recommendations of highly active communities generating amazing content and discussions.
Social Media Professionals
To date this has been the most beneficial community I’ve been a part of. The moderators do a great job of removing spammed/promotional posts and keeping content on topic. I’ve come across some valuable social measurement tools that I’m able to incorporate into my daily work. If you want to know latest industry trends, ask questions about strategy, and dialogue with knowledgeable social media professionals then this is the perfect community for you.
Social Media Strategy
This community is similar to Social Media Professionals, however has more members and a bit more diversity in content. The content segments focusing on individual social channels have been most useful, especially if you are looking to follow posts on something specific such as Google+ or LinkedIn. A commonality between both groups is that members are not merely posting links to articles without commentary. In fact it’s encouraged in community policy to provide comments on anything that is contributed to each community.
Google + Discuss
If you are just getting started out with Google Plus or Communities, this is a useful first stop in your journey. While the other groups are more strictly monitored, you can find useful links on how to get the most out of Google Plus. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the Help and Education section as members are happy to work through any challenges you may be having.
Content, Search, Visibility
Many people still question why they should be on Google Plus and if it will provide value to an end user or small business? It’s important to consider who is playing on Google Plus; highly skilled early adopters who are experts in their given fields. These power users are sharing their personal expertise and providing amazing content in which you might not easily find on other platforms.
Don’t forget about SEO and local search. Users and small businesses have a great potential to improve search ranking and visibility through Google Plus. One area often overlooked is consumer engagement. In the Portland Community, many members are talking about local business or asking about recommendations for products and services. Here lies a great opportunity for brand monitoring and to connect with current and future customers.
Google Plus isn’t about replicating Facebook. It’s about interacting with diverse groups, sharing knowledge, and learning from others. In no other network have I come across such a high level of content, discussion, and users committed to maintaining quality standards in social exchange. A community is only as strong as what you’re willing to contribute. So far Google Plus is an excellent place to be.