Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What's Google+, and should I be on it?

After I ran a Google+ workshop recently I got a tweet from a client telling me, very honestly, that she really had no idea what Google+ ("Google Plus") was and asking whether she needed to know.

And that's a really good question - Google+ is a bit of an enigma when it comes to social media! So I promised her I'd write a blog post to explain the important bits and put her mind at ease.

My Google+ profile

What is Google+?

Basically, Google+ started out as Google's attempt to compete with Facebook. There have been a couple of other attempts but this is the one that seems to be sticking, and is doing reasonably well. Of course, it has nowhere near the number of users as Facebook*, but it's got lots and is particularly well-used in some demographics (men, for example, are much heavier users of Google+, whereas Facebook is dominated by women).

It has many features which are pretty much the same as Facebook: you have a profile, you can post  updates, photos and links, you can share them and comment on them, and you can "like" them except that it's called "+1".

One thing Google+ really tried to promote at launch is their "Circles" - groups of your connections so that you can easily post your updates only for one group (meaning that your colleagues don't need to see photos of your wild party on the weekend or your university graduate friends might be the only one who see an invite to a talk from your old professor). This is possible in Facebook these days too but it's not as integral there as it is in Google+.

Is Google+ important?

This is the big question. Is Google+ important and do I need to be there? There's not really a simple answer, but this is the advice I give my clients at the moment:
  1. I can't really see it happening, but if Facebook should fall flat on its face, Google+ would be the natural place for people to flock to.
  2. Some people and some niches use Google+ much more heavily than Facebook (and I have to admit that there are many aspects of it that I prefer). 
  3. The big reason to be involved with Google+ though, in my opinion, is the fact that it's Google. How do most people find your website or blog? It's through Google's search engine. And word on the street (well, on the screen) is that using Google+ to share your blog posts and website updates might be integral to improving your place on Google's roster for search engine results. (Kim Garst's recent post on why not to avoid Google+ makes a short and simple case for this.)

So do I need to be on Google+?

Again, my best advice at the moment is this: be on Google+ (especially for Google Authorship), and post your blog posts there each time you publish them. Posting these links on Google+ is a kind of SEO (search engine optimisation) insurance policy. Also, Google+ can be fun, there are great people using it, it's not (yet) full of advertising like Facebook, and it has some great features (Hangouts, for example - video conferencing with multiple people) that are lacking in other social media.

However, if you already feel like you have a full social media roster and no spare minutes for something new, it's probably not the end of the world if you're not on it. Probably, I say. Because there's a part of me that just thinks it might become essential one day.

Do you like my six of one, half dozen of the other answer? If you're on Google+ let me know what you think about it in the comments.

* The stats say Google+ has half a billion users - but many of these are inactive accounts. For example, most people who sign up to create a blog in Google's Blogger are allocated a Google+ profile but that doesn't mean they use it.

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