This month, Google+ passed 100 million users. And analyst Paul Allen (Google+ unofficial statistician) predicts that by the end of 2012 the number of Google+ users will exceed 400 million. Who are these people? Many of them are your customers, partners and media professionals. And now with Google+ Your Business, Google is attempting to make it easier for you to connect with them, for free.
So why should you try Google+ — especially if you are already using Facebook and Twitter for social media marketing? Following are nine ways Google+ can help your business.
1. Improves your search engine ranking. Which company do you think is going to get ranked higher on Google's search engine, the one using Google+ or the one just using Facebook? (That would be a rhetorical question.) "When you Google our company name — Brandignity — the Google+ profile appears right at the top of the search results, which really helps," says Maciej Fita, SEO Director, Brandignity, LLC, an SEO and social media marketing company. "Clients and potential clients will often search a company name before inquiring further, so this has helped us spread our digital voice that much more efficiently."
2. A plus for collaboration. "Google+ is a must for CIOs trying to encourage collaboration," states David Politis, founder, BetterCloud, which provides third-party products for Google Apps. "In a flat world, social tools like Google+ support fast and easy domestic and cross-border sharing [of documents, images and so on], enabling productivity at a fraction of the price of conventional meetings" or videoconferencing.
3. Video chat with customers, colleagues and media — for free. Speaking of collaboration, one of the most buzzed about features on Google+ is Google Hangouts, Google's video chat tool. "Google Hangouts works well for video conferencing with members in your circle," says Kenneth C. Wisnefski, founder and CEO of WebiMax, a search engine optimization (SEO) company, who has used Google+ to video chat with up to six people (the service can host up to 10 parties currently). "The 'screen share' feature works great," he notes. However, "ensure you have a secure and fast internet connection, otherwise the video can be low quality and lower resolution."
Google+ Hangouts is particularly useful for those organizations with workers in different offices. "I manage employees and freelancers in North America, Asia and Europe," explains Casey Armstrong, partner and COO, webbROI, an online marketing business. "Through Google+ Hangouts, we are able to collaborate in real-time through screen sharing, on Google Docs, and via video chat. In addition, even if I'm on the move, I can video chat through my iPhone on Google+. Talent is everywhere and Google+ removes the location barrier."
4. Get your message to the right audience with just a click. "Circles are invaluable," state Ross Kimbarovsky and Mike Samson, co-founders of crowdSPRING. "Think of circles as your customer groups. Most businesses will have a variety of different customer groups and sometimes you want to communicate separately with each group," they explain.
With Google+, you can put customers into different groups or "circles" (by geography, by age, by interest) and then easily communicate with each circle separately, or with multiple circles at the same time. "For example, we created a group of loyal customers. We can customize offers and deals specifically for those customers without sending the same offers generally to the rest of the world or to other customers."
5. Free focus groups. Why pay for focus groups when you can use Google+ to get answers to questions or elicit customer feedback? That's what SEER Interactive, a search marketing firm, recently did. SEER used its Google+ page to host an hour long Q&A session covering SEO and PPC topics. "The result was a lively conversation on Google+ with more than 100 comments over the course of an hour," says Wil Reynolds, founder, SEER Interactive.
6. Good for B2B marketing. If you are looking to connect with other businesses, Google+ Your Business is designed to help. "We have found Google+ to be useful for acquiring new customers," explains Mike Rheaume, co-founder, SnapKnot, an online wedding photographer directory.
"Google+ is visual and participatory, meaning that photographers can easily share and comment on others' work. For us, this means it's easy to share photography-related content and connect with individual photographers [SnapKnot's target customers] beyond the major social media tools like Twitter and Facebook." Since using Google+, SnapKnot has achieved a high member conversion rate - and Rheaume considers it an excellent B2B marketing tool, especially for visual- and/or content-heavy businesses.
7. A potentially powerful PR tool. Using Google+ circles, you can target your public and media relations. "If we deliver a message, we know that it is going to be picked up by users who are more likely to respond, including key industry personalities and publishers," states Mike Essex, online marketing manager at Koozai, a U.K. digital marketing agency. Indeed, because Google+ allows users to tailor their message to a specific group (or circle), Essex has found Google+ to be a more effective PR tool than Twitter.
8. Can help promote brand awareness. "With the emergence of the social web, it has become essential for brands to build their reputation online," states Karim Guessous, founder and CEO of Tradepal, a peer-to-peer trading network. "Google+ gives a unique opportunity for an emerging product, such as Tradepal, to assert our personality and engage our user base." Through its Google+ page, Tradepal shares original content and tips, and has had dialogues with users, helping to solidify and promote its brand.
9. Another way to advertise promotions. With Google+, it's easy to offer promotions to those in your circles. For example, Arby's recently offered a coupon to Google+ users for a $2.99 Fish Sandwich & Small Curly Fries.
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers and partners.