In case you haven’t heard the news: Traffic to Google+ jumped 55 percent  in the month of December and is expected to hit 400 million users  by the end of 2012. I know, it’s almost impressive, right? But many small business owners are still completely ignoring the platform, either because they’re not sure how to use it or they don’t think it’s any different from more-established networks like Twitter and Facebook. For SMBs not sure how to get started or how they can leverage Google+ in their day-to-day business, below are five jumping off points to help you get started. When it comes to Google+, you may not even know what you don’t know.
1. Share content with the right audience
As a marketer and blogger, one of the coolest things about Google+ to me is how easy it makes segmenting your audience through the use of Google+ circles. Circles are how you’re able to “organize” the people that you choose to invite into your network. You can create as many circles as you deem necessary, label them whatever you’d like [Customers, Vendors, Friends, Bloggers You Read, etc], and add users to as many as make sense for your purposes. Then, when you post an update, you can decide which audience segment(s) you want to see it and which you don’t. What this gives you is a breathtakingly easy way to bucket your audience and share content based on those buckets. Now you can account for different time zones by posting the same content at different times without appearing redundant or post questions to only a certain bucket of your audience – perhaps those who have bought from you vs those who have not.
2. Host a hangout
We’ve talked a lot about Twitter Chats and Facebook contests, but Google+ goes one important step further with its Hangout feature. What Hangouts allows you to do is have a video chat with up to nine of your friends, colleagues or customers. As a small business owner, Hangouts can be used to talk to remote employees, hold business calls, answer customer support questions face-to-face, have events or even record presentations that you can use later. It’s a powerful feature that allows everyone to connect, regardless of where they’re located.
3. Create saved keyword searches
Of course, at it’s core, Google is still a search engine. And it stays true to that by allowing users to search Google+ based on keyword, brand terms or anything else they may be interested in. By doing a search for [Outspoken Media], I’m able to easily find everyone who has been talking about Outspoken Media or who has shared blog content.
I’m then able to save the search so that I can quickly reference it and look for new updates. As a small business owner, you may want to create save searches for brand terms, industry keywords, hot topics or anything else you want to keep an eye on.
4. See how your content spreads
We create content to share with our audience with the hope that they’ll like it enough to share it with theirs. So any tool we can use to visualize how our content is being shared, who is doing the sharing, and who it is being shared to is really valuable. Lucky for SMBs, Google+ makes it pretty easy to help us see just that. By clicking to the right of any Google+ post (yours or someone else’s), you’ll see a link to view ripples.
Once you select that link, Google will populate a graph so that you can watch, in real motion, how your content was shared, what was said by whom, and what circles it became part of.
This is a really neat and functional feature.
5. Create a business page
Want another way to share content with your audience and keep them up to date on what’s top of mind for your business? Well, you can now create a Google+ business page. Use it to post relevant blog posts, to promote your own content, to poll your audience, to share company photos, to post (appropriate) videos from your holiday party, etc. Below you’ll see the Google+ page for Pepsi.
The soda giant is using it to host conversations with fans, to share photos, and build out a new presence. As we’re starting to see these brand pages rank in the search engines, creating a presence is only going to become more important in helping customers to find you.
Above are five ways for small business owners to find value in Google+. How have you used it for your business? Or, if you’re avoiding it, what’s causing you to hold back?