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Getting the Most from Google's Ghost Town

Posted on 10.31.2013

via Website Magazine's Social Media Mavens Channel ::

When Google+ first arrived on the social scene, everyone wanted an invitation. Its membership numbers soared once it opened to the public, and when the network’s business profiles finally arrived, enterprising Internet professionals acted quickly to claim their places.

The initial newness has worn off though and most brands have all but abandoned their Google+ presence in favor of networks with established audiences and higher levels of engagement. Google+ may be a virtual ghost town compared to the likes of Facebook or Twitter, but the network actually offers several unique and business-friendly features to help companies create active and engaged communities while gaining a whole lot more than “likes” in the future.

Google+ Hangouts

One of the features that sets Google+ apart from other social networks is its ‘Hangout’ offering, which enables users to engage in group conversations, host Q&A sessions or virtual conferences or launch products live with ‘Hangouts on Air’. In fact, Hangouts On Air are broadcast not only on Google+, but can also be distributed on YouTube and websites where they have been embedded. Rasmussen College, for example, leverages this feature to connect with both current and future students.

“The Hangout feature is great for allowing businesses to be seen and continue to prove themselves as subject matter experts within their industry,” said Grant Tilus, inbound marketing specialist for Rasmussen College. “It is also a simple way to create visually engaging video content without the need for big budgets or time commitments.”

Google+ Communities

Similar to Facebook Groups, Google+ offers a ‘Communities’ feature, which empowers interest-based communities to gather and interact. IT service provider Baroan Technologies saw the potential in this feature and quickly took advantage of it.

“Communities are a great opportunity for businesses to interact with their target markets,” said Yvonne Miaoulis, marketing manager at Baroan Technologies. “We made a community for Bergen County businesses that serves as a platform for us to provide potential prospects with helpful information and resources about their local areas. Google+ is still young enough that a business can be the first to create a niche community that will grow as more companies join Google+. There are only 25 members in our community right now, but I have no doubt that number will increase exponentially in the next year.”

Communities can be kept either public or private, and provide businesses with opportunities to connect with key groups on more personal levels. Plus, members can create events within communities, which opens up offline networking and lead generation opportunities.

The Google+ Search Debate

Since the arrival of Google+, some SEOs have claimed that having a presence on the social network can boost a page’s position in the search results. In fact, a recent study from SEO software and analytics provider Moz claims that after page authority, a URL’s number of Google +1s is “more highly correlated with search rankings than any other factor.”

After Moz’s study was published, however, Google’s Matt Cutts came out to “debunk” its claim, stating “If you make compelling content, people will link to it, like it, share it on Facebook, +1 it, etc. But that doesn't mean that Google is using those signals in our ranking. Rather than chasing +1s of content, your time is much better spent making great content.”

With that said, the debate between Google+ and search ranking will continue to wage on. But what businesses can count on is that people have more personalized search experiences when they are logged into Google, which includes seeing content from the brands and people in their Google + Circles with higher frequencies. Essentially, having a presence on Google+ has the potential to boost your enterprise’s visibility, regardless if Google takes +1s into consideration or not.

Ghost Busters

In the end, Google+ should not be an afterthought. Not only can the platform’s features help businesses foster tight-knit communities, but time will also tell how the social network is further intertwined into Google’s other product offerings. Businesses should proceed with their digital strategies knowing that maintaining presences on Google+ is likely preparing their enterprises for long-term digital success.

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