So you're still not on Google+? Or maybe you've stuck your toe in the water but you want to make sure G+ is the real thing?
Better get busy! Google has already grown to 25 million-plus users in only a few weeks, and it could be opening the floodgates to brands soon. (Ford is already test-driving its business page.) No one knows for sure, but I believe that, with its financial muscle and market power, Google+ will emerge as the leading social platform for business once it fully integrates its search and other tools (Gmail, Chrome, etc.).
So, you need to hedge your bets by getting involved in G+. But that doesn't mean you need to put all your eggs in this basket or spend all your waking hours on G+. There are ways you can manage your time and use G+ selectively and strategically.
Below are seven examples of maximizing Google+ (efficiently), based on my last few weeks of working on the new platform.
1. Think rifle shot vs. shotgun: Avoid the temptation to use G+ like another broadcast medium, as many do on Twitter, or duplicate what you're doing on other platforms. Use G+ to supplement your other channels. What are you missing from your other channels? What can Google+ provide, keeping in mind some of the unique features? What will your key audiences be looking for from G+ that they're not getting from Facebook or Twitter?
2. Start small: Start with 100 to 200 people to follow (or fewer) instead of thousands--- high quality people (the usual industry leaders and influencers, but also other people you want to connect with on deeper levels). Invite select users like potential clients and highly regarded business colleagues---even those not tech savvy. You're going to provide them a guide or two to get started and be their shepherd into G+, which gives you an (early adopter) edge if you execute right. Put them in select Circles, and start thinking about how you'll share with them. (Tip: use a URL shortener and add your G+ URL to your profiles and email signature; mine is http://gplus.to/markivey)
3. Strategize your Circles: The beauty of Google+ is how easily you can add people to follow in your Circles, and manage those for maximum efficiency. You can shoot out something to a large group, select a small to midsize group of friends, or even focus on just one person. So, it's almost like tweeting (large group), blogging (your readers) and emailing (1:1 correspondence).
Spend some time to get this right. I'd suggest 8 to 12 Circles for starters. This might include different ones for your personal interests, friends/family, close business contacts, corporate clients, early adopters, influencers, "loose ties," and so on. You need to define the Circles that make sense for you for maximum effectiveness. You can add more as you go. Carri Bugbee, a social media consultant, says she "creates circles based upon both geography and careers/interests. Most people will be in at least 2 circles of mine, if not more."
One note: G+ is much easier than Facebook to control who you're posting to, so you're not overloading your important business contacts with all your marketing or personal posts.
4. Go deep: The key is to share only relevant, segmented posts that appeal to each group. G+ people are 2 to 3 times more likely to share within specific circles than in public, so I focus on creating and working with small groups, say by reaching out with a question to key people. For example, I'm helping my wife launch a new gluten-free Asian food business, and I called on my Circles for feedback. I also queried a small group about this story. You can also launch a questionnaire or poll. Do you have a new product, or want to help a client get feedback on certain features or issues?
The point is to forget broadcasting; think of developing fewer, deeper relationships, using more personal, targeted approaches.
For instance, Mari Smith, a social media marketing strategist with a large following, only posts two or three times a day on G+, compared to once an hour on Twitter, and several times a day on Facebook. The result is deeper, "tremendous engagement" and, interestingly, "more immediate responses than most other social networks," she says.
5. Manage the noise: I put "loud" posters who I still want to keep any eye on (ex: Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki) in separate circles. I also "mute" conversations that quickly get out of hand and distract me with constant email reminders. (You can also turn them off completely.)
6. Interact: I follow about 8 or 10 people very closely and keep my eye on another dozen or so people. The rest I just check on (in my "stream") once or so a day. When someone says something interesting, I try to leave a comment or give it a 1+ (equal to a Facebook "like"). Do this selectively to build and connect with your community, generate new connections and get added into the right groups/Circles. The key to managing this is limiting your sources, know what you're looking for and being able to skim quickly and cut through the noise.
7. Schedule your time, stay organized: Avoid getting sucked into G+ like any platform, set a time limit---say 30 to 40 minutes early morning and late day. Develop an editorial calendar and stick to it. Be clear on your objectives and goals each day, so you can stay focused. About once or twice a week go through your Circles and weed out the weak players (yes, it's a little like a garden) by uncircling them.
Evaluate your strategy once a week. If it's not working, make changes. Smart users like brand strategist Gaynelle Grover use Chrome's extensions (ex: G+Me and Golden View) to make it easier to skim posts.
This is basically my approach to G+, but it is changing as I delve deeper and the platform evolves. Be sure to experiment with G+ to see what's going to work for you. Explore "Hangouts" (live video conferencing chats) and "Huddles" (group messaging features. Try different types of interactive techniques and questions, posting different times of the week and day, and so on. Schedule in a little fun. (OK, forget the "schedule. Just go for it!)
See you online!
Mark Ivey is a consultant and vice-president with the ION Group, a marketing communications company specializing in social media strategy. He helps companies tell their stories and connect with their key audiences in the new interactive online world. He shows them how to use a blend of social media and traditional marketing and PR tools to build communities, develop thought leadership platforms and promote their brands.
Mark brings a unique multi-dimensional perspective based on 20 years of industry experience spanning journalism, marketing, PR, media and executive communications. He worked as a writer and bureau chief for BusinessWeek magazine for almost a decade and in the late 90s served as a consumer media spokesman for Intel, part of a unique national education program he developed for families--Intel's first "human brand" program. He's a published author (Random House) and former nationally syndicated newspaper columnist who has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV shows.
The ION Group specializes in digital marketing and communications consulting services, along with building interactive websites, blogs and other social media platforms. The company is based in San Jose, and primarily works with Fortune 500 companies in Silicon Valley.