Google’s foray into social media launched in June 2011. (Or rather their fourth foray – you remember Google Buzz, right? No? Moving on.) Main features included interest based communities, the ability to group your network into “circles,” and multi-person messaging and video chat called “hangouts.” Google+ had 10 million users by the time it had been up for two weeks, 25 million in the first month, and 90 million in the first year. Growth continued to explode like crazy, with 540 million “monthly active users” by October 2013. But, a lot of that growth had to do with Google+ integration with other Google services, like Gmail and YouTube commenting. Engagement on the actual site was low, with users spending an average of 3.3 minutes there per month, compared with 7.5 hours for Facebook. The New York Times called it a ghost town.
But wait – there’s more. Google+ didn’t just drift off into quiet oblivion like Google Wave or Google Notebook. No, Google+ stuck around, chugging along, continuing to get pushed by (and provide information to) Google. Then, in November of 2015 it got a makeover, with a significant redesign, simpler and faster interface, and a focus on new, content sharing features called Communities and Collections.
So, what is today’s Google+ like? And why should you care?
Communities are user-driven groups based around shared areas of interest. Those could be anything from football, to famous quotes, to sketches of old buildings. Communities can be public or private and invite-only, but they are a great way to engage with people who are enthusiastic about a certain topic.
For businesses, you can create your own Community and assign moderators to post interesting content and make sure others stay on-topic. A great moderator can make all the difference in the quality of a community. If you are starting a community for your company or brand, ideally your moderator will be somebody from your team, or perhaps a very engaged fan.
Starting a community specifically for your business won’t be right for every company, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of communities, especially those that relate to your industry. Google+ communities can be a great place to engage with other professionals in your industry or those interested in it, to post interesting content, and find inspiration for other content to post on your site.
Google+ Collections are also interest-based groups for posting and sharing content, but with a greater focus on curation. Instead of any group member being able to post, content comes exclusively from the group creator. Followers can then comment and share as they wish.
When someone follows your collection, posts will show up in their home stream, where they can +1, comment, or click through to the rest of your collection.
Collections are great for users since it allows them to have more control over what content shows up in their feed, as opposed to some other social media networks that force you to rely on their algorithm. They are also great for businesses because you can see who is interested in your content and your company. Even if you don’t want to create a collection of your own, you can still potentially be part of somebody else’s collection.
Communities and Collections are the backbone of the new Google+, but the benefits of these groups alone are not the only reason to consider using Google+ by a long shot.
Normally, when you post content on your website, blog, or other social media, you have to wait for Google to respond to an indexing request, or wait for Google’s crawlers to get there on their own. When you post content on Google+ though, Google indexes it almost instantly. This means that your content will show up on Google search results faster, and with a higher ranking. Additionally, Google+ content appears in Google search results with “rich snippets.” So when your content does show up, it will also have a preview of any media attached and will look special as compared to normal results.
This effect is amplified when your Google+ network is larger, so it behooves you to fill out your company profile as completely as possible and make it look great, and fitting with the brand and style of the rest of your web and social media pages. You can also obtain a custom Google+ URL for your company profile. But the best way to build your network and grow your “circles” is to stay active on Google+, posting content, commenting, and following others.
The other reason to pay attention to Google+ is that it is a great way to reach and interact with a specific demographic group. Google+ is still no Facebook or Twitter when it comes to engagement, but the people who do actually go to the site are quite active. The 2015 redesign and addition of Communities and Collections did a lot for engagement. 1.2 million people are joining new communities every day.
Google+ is also a particularly effective place to reach a certain demographic that may not be as readily accessible on other social media. Many social networks tend to skew heavily female – 42% of the adult U.S. internet users are on Pinterest for instance, with only 13% of them being men, and Snapchat users are 70% female compared to 30% male. Google+, on the other hand, skews heavily male, with 74% of users being male, and 26% female. Worldwide, 55% of all Google+ members are in the U.S., and occupation-wise, tech jobs like engineers and developers make up the highest percentages of Google+ user occupations. So, Google+ is particularly effective at reaching males, in the U.S., who work in tech.
Google+ may not be the coolest, newest or flashiest social media network around right now, but it is still quite significant. As a place to post content and reach a targeted audience, it can be incredibly effective. And all the while you are being active on Google+, you’ll be giving yourself an SEO boost.
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