By the end of 2012, analysts predict that Google+ will reach 400 million users. In its first 88 days the social platform’s growth rate outpaced Facebook and every other social network. Impressive, but, is it worth a small business owner’s time and energy to learn yet another social network? While Google+ is still just a fraction of the size of Facebook, its uses are already becoming apparent. Because of this, developing an understanding of the unique qualities of Google+ can help give your business a competitive edge on a new and expanding platform.

Start with a clear understanding of the features that make Google+ different from other social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Open a Google+ account and try it out. I recommend starting with a personal account before you create a business brand page. Chances are, you are already one of the 800 million active Facebook users. But, the choice between Facebook and Google+ is not mutually exclusive—you can do both. Of course, a natural overlap will exist between Facebook and Google+ users, just as the majority of my Twitter followers also use Facebook.

You can be assured that your customers and prospects are debating over similar choices. More and more people will adopt Google+ because of its unique benefits. Also, since your competition may not have established a presence on Google+ yet, doing so now can pay dividends later.

What are the Strengths of Google+ for Small Business?

A few unique advantages to this new social platform are highlighted below:

  • Low Production Costs and High Reach Potential: Do some quick best practice research and visit these ten great examples of creative Google+ brand pages. Of particular note is the Burberry’s brand page’s creative use of animation. Google+ allows you to make your brand page visually stunning—helping to drive interest and visits—with relative ease.
  • Google+ is More than a Social Network: According to Brian Solis, “Google+ will become a platform that connects all Google products, essentially creating a personal or social operating system for each individual.” Google+ is a strategic addition to the range of products many of us already depend on such as Gmail, Documents, Google Apps, Reader, and Calendar. All of these components are parts of a carefully orchestrated strategy to make Google indispensible to the everyday user. All wrapped in a very clean, easy to use interface.
  • Google+ Circles: this just may be the killer feature of G+ that enables you to narrowcast messages for different groups. Such a feature creates strong marketing implications and offers you the ability to segment or micro-target your messages to different audiences. Circles are based on the fact that you may not want to share all messages with everyone. For example, let’s say you are an accountant looking to expand your business among not only firms of various sizes but individuals as well. Your biggest challenge is to identify more cost-effective ways to market your services. Using Circles, you can create and segment based on your definitions. For example: loyalty, high value, new customers, prospects, small businesses, etc. The Circles feature allows you to customize offers, deals, events, and various types of information. And, as a blogger, you can also share content on Google+ based on interests. Your goal is to become a trusted resource in your online community, a person or business known for publishing valuable content. Circles will enable you to share the right information with the right audience at the right time.
  • Hangouts: This unique feature enables you to host online video chats with up to 10 people at a time. With only a webcam you are ready to invite anyone in your Circles to join in. The opportunity to show off your product (and yourself) is a big plus. Using short videos is a great way to involve your audience. It is also an engaging way to hold a meeting, brainstorm or conduct market research—and keep the travel costs down. Using Hangouts effectively shows off your personality and humanizes your brand.

Helpful Links to More Information

To read more about the benefits of using Google+ for your small business, read the links below:

Dell: One of the Early Google+ Brand Page Pioneers

Take a look at Dell’s Google+ page. Dell was involved in the June, 2011, Google+ beta test, making the company a pioneer in the brand page space. The Official Dell Corporate Blog describes Dell’s Google+ brand page as a “centralized place to get updates from all of Dell across all our businesses.” The page provides something of value whether “you are a home user, an owner of a small or medium business, or someone who is responsible for implementing technology in a global corporation.” Observing how major brands use their brand page is a great way to give you ideas for your own page. In this way, Google+ helps level the playing field for brands of all sizes.

Small Businesses’ Top New Year’s Resolution

According to the latest Intuit Small Business Survey [November, 2011] reported in the Huffington Post, “More than half (57 percent) of small businesses’ top New Year’s resolution is to expand marketing to attract more customers. Intuit created this Infographic with some of the survey results.

My recommendation is to establish your Google+ brand presence now. As this new social network grows, more and more of your customers and prospects will join. Experimentation will give your small business a leg up on your competition and help energize your small business marketing initiatives in 2012.

Start Your Own Circle of Trust [Video]

This post was originally published on AT&T’s Networking Exchange Blog.

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