In terms of social network popularity, Google+ is nowhere near the top of the list. Despite Google's push to break into the social media game in 2011, it simply never caught on with consumers the way Twitter and Facebook did. Most businesses know this, and tend to treat Google+ as an afterthought because it's not where most of their customers are.
But ignoring or downplaying your Google+ profile could actually be a huge mistake. Because of its integration with so many other Google products, it's actually a lot bigger than it seems: In February 2014, the New York Times reported that 300 million people use Google+ and its affiliated apps each month. More importantly, an active, complete Google+ business profile can really boost your search rankings.
"While it may not yet be the most ubiquitous of social media platforms, Google+ is a powerful tool for savvy marketers," said Ronn Torossian, CEO and founder of 5WPR and author of "For Immediate Release" (BenBella Books, 2011). "A +1 on Google+ correlates with higher search rankings for users, as posts and pages shared on Google+ are more quickly indexed into the Google search engine than those on other platforms."
Some brands choose to run keyword-based ads within Google Search, but with the right Google+ strategy, you may even see better results than paid advertisements, said Phil Penton, president of reputation management firm Social Integration. [Google+ Do's and Don'ts for Small Businesses]
"It's not about getting people to go to Google+," Penton told Business News Daily. "Google uses those posts in other Google properties. If you do everything correctly, that Google+ post will show up in search. There are people searching for your business or industry, and [those posts] will come up, which is borderline free advertising for your business."
Torossian and Penton offered the following tips to help you make the most of your business's Google+ presence.
Complete your profile. Google+ posts can be a great opportunity to share your company's content, announcements and other brand-related information. But before you figure out your posting strategy, you should take the time to fill out your profile as completely as possible.
"The biggest mistake I see a lot of brands making is not fully filling out their profiles," Torossian said. "Each area that allows you to enter text is an opportunity to draw relevance to your Google+ profile and the services your company offers. Not entering this information is a huge missed opportunity. If you don't tell them, how will they know?"
Encourage customer reviews. Asking for customer review on Google can be tricky. On the one hand, it will boost your authenticity and trust among consumers, but on the other, you may invite some negative attention to your brand from one or two disappointed customers. Penton advised putting yourself out there and asking for reviews anyway whenever possible, as it will be beneficial for your business's SEO in the long run. And if you do get negative reviews, make sure you don't ignore them.
"Get in there and write responses to negative reviews," Penton said. "You can't erase them. But when small businesses actually ask customers to leave reviews, the positive one often outweighs the negative ones."
Use Circles and Hangouts. If a "Circle" means a shape and a "Hangout" means a social gathering to you, you might want to brush up on your Google lingo. These two Google+ features can be helpful for appealing to a targeted audience and establishing brand authority for your company.
Torossian noted that Google+ Circles allow you to add anyone to a designated group called a Circle. Content you post is included in the Google search results when any member of your Circle searches keywords relevant to your content. You can also curate Circles for specialized niche groups within your community, and use them to deliver highly relevant content that you know will gain engagement.
Using Google+ Hangouts, Google's video chat service, is a great way to gain exposure for both your Google+ profile and your brand, Torossian said. Many companies have begun to use Hangouts for Q&A sessions, workshops, announcements, webinars and more, which can help a business stand out as an expert in its industry.
Set up connected Google+ pages. Businesses can establish greater credibility with Google by linking their Google+ profiles with other Google products like Maps and Google+ Local.
"If a business connects its Google+ profile with its Google+ Local page [or Google Maps location], Google will take away competitor ads and showcase your business when a customer is specifically looking for your page," Penton said. "Any time you get a review or update photos, they will show up on Google Maps. The [profiles] that have the most up-to-date information do well."
Regardless of your strategy for Google+ content, the important thing is that your business is active and consistent in using it as a part of your social marketing efforts.
"Google+ is Google's product," Torossian said. "Since we're all marketers living in Google's world, we should make a strong effort in delivering content to the platform."
Originally published on Business News Daily.
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to the Google Authorship program, which was terminated on Aug. 28, 2014.