Google’s new social networking platform was made available to the public in September 2011, having been operating as an invite-only service prior to that in order to build the buzz and iron out the kinks. Billed as a Facebook killer, millions of users signed up to the site upon its launch, eager to see what the next generation of social networking was like. Some of them even posted status updates – for a while. The lack of a critical mass of users, leading to a lack of online interaction, meant that most people lost interest in Google+ shortly after its launch, and only a few months after its release, many observers are labelling it a flop. However, others are pointing to its high early-adoption rate in comparison with other services such as Facebook and Twitter, and the fact that these networks took a while to get going as well. So, if you operate a small business, should you bother investing your time in Google+?.
There are several reasons why you might want to consider it. Chief among these are the SEO benefits of having a Google+ presence. While their social network might be floundering, their search engine is still the king of the hill, so anything you can do to get pushed up the rankings will be worth the effort in terms of increased traffic. Putting a +1 button on each of your product or service pages is a great way to get free promotion from satisfied customers, and if you get enough votes it can push you up the search rankings.
One of the most interesting features of Google+ is the hangout function, which allow you to meet with customers, clients, and employees online, and make use of shared resources such as documents and spreadsheets. This makes it ideal for hosting remote brainstorming sessions with employees or customer Q and A sessions.
Google+ is also a much more efficient content-sharing platform than Facebook, particularly if you are in the internet or technology business. The type of people that join a social network early on are more likely to be early adopters of other technologies or services, an ideal clientele for a small business. You can also segment your audience using Circles, so that you can share select content with certain groups of followers. The large number of people who have signed up to the service mean that it is also quite a powerful tool for researching the personal side of relevant contacts, such as potential clients or journalists, using the ‘About’ section of their Google+ profile so that you will be better prepared for your communications with them.
However, there are many reasons why you might not wish to bother with Google+. The most obvious one is the fact that it has not really taken off yet, and there is a fair chance that it never will. The world of social networking can be an incredibly fickle one – just ask Rupert Murdoch, who recently sold on former social networking giant MySpace at a loss of over half a billion dollars. Google’s previous social networking effort, Buzz, was a high profile failure, and Google has a history of launching and dropping side projects – does anyone remember Google Wave? While there is a definite advantage to be gained by mastering a new technology before it becomes widespread, investing in a Google+ presence would appear to be something of a gamble at present.
Even if it does take off, there are other issues that may reduce the usefulness of Google+ for small businesses. For example, when you set up a page, you have to create it from within your own Google+ account, and you cannot add admins in the same way you can on Facebook. This may be less of an issue for businesses with only one ore two trusted employees, as you can simply share login information, but for larger organisations without a dedicated social media manager it could pose a problem. Also, business can only add other businesses to their circles, and the only way to have individuals in your network is to wait until they add you, which places it at a disadvantage compared with Twitter. Another major disadvantage is the fact that, at present, few social media dashboards incorporate Google+, which means that you would have to carry out any activities using the main Google+ console – although this may change in the near future.
So, should you spend valuable time and energy on Google+?. The answer very much depends on the type and size of business that you run. For most businesses, it is going to be more trouble than it is worth, and it is likely that your time would be better spent improving your presence on better-populated social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. However, things can change fast in the world of social networking, so it is well worth keeping an eye on developments just in case it does start to catch on. At the moment, though, the outlook is not very promising.