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A few features that didn't come out in the initial rollout bear discussing because they will come out soon and might be out by the time you read this book. The danger in writing about what isn't yet there is that it will change. But as the majority of this book isn't a log of features and services, I hope you'll forgive any changes.
Google is working on Places integration for brands that have physical locations, such as Starbucks or McDonald's. Places integration will give businesses the ability to post more details about specific locations, such as hours of operation, reviews, and more. I believe this will be a powerful addition to business pages on Google+, especially for smaller local businesses because it will help better integrate search and discovery.
Speaking of search, if you go to Google search (http://google.com) and put in the term "+nike" instead of "nike," Google now recognizes that + to mean that you'd like to find a branded business page on Google+ for Nike, and not Nike's primary website. Thus, if you want to connect with someone at Kodak on Google+, simply enter "+kodak" into Google search, and information would come up. This is new and a significant change to the Google search engine. It also speaks to how Google wants even more traffic to flow through its system, with the external goal being to help people find what they're seeking.
Another feature that business page administrators can expect soon is an integration to Google a.n.a.lytics. If Google expects businesses to spend more time working and populating its Google+ business pages, it must deliver a.n.a.lytical value. This feature should be out in early 2013, if not sooner in some rudimentary form. I haven't seen how the a.n.a.lytics tie into your previous Google a.n.a.lytics efforts, nor whether it will seamlessly track a user from Google+ to your site, and back again. Google will do everything it can to give administrators a great deal of data in this regard.
How Businesses Might Use These Pages.
In thinking through how businesses might use Google+, I've placed emphasis on how people can connect and find other people of interest. Using the search tools inside Google+ and third-party services such as findpeopleonplus.com, you have many opportunities to seek out the kinds of people who might be potential buyers of your product. Following are a few ways to interact with people: 1. As an education tool: Use your business page on Google+ to give people information about your products and services to help them better determine whether a product is a fit for them. Imagine hosting live video hangouts a few times a week to answer questions about specific features that might have otherwise held someone back from buying.
2. As a customer service channel: Use your business page to help existing customers with issues. Field problem issues and get them resolved. Update the community as a whole of any larger problems or outages. Provide resolution videos and how-to information in video format to clear up frequently asked questions.
3. As a community platform: Make your customers a place to hang out and talk about the use of your products and services and other related products and services, such that you contribute to their success. If you sell health insurance, maybe that means a wellness-minded community. If you sell homes in Louisville, Kentucky, perhaps that means you keep the local calendar updated. You can make your platform successful in many ways.
4. As a media center: Create and share interesting videos and audio and ebooks and whatever other media. Source and curate the best of the user-generated media that represents your product and service. Build interesting content from other sources to augment the experience of people in your buying community. For instance, if you're the brand manager for the Ford Mustang, post YouTube videos that feature the Mustang, but maybe also show off interesting videos from compet.i.tive muscle cars. (As a Camaro owner, I still watch videos about the Mustang and the Challenger, for instance.) 5. As a collaboration s.p.a.ce: Imagine being Wacom and hosting artist meetups and hangouts. People could join the Wacom hangout to share techniques on how to do various interesting art forms. Imagine being Gibson guitars and hosting hangouts where you can see Gibson artists playing and then going into lessons and jams with other enthusiasts. There are some exciting ways to look at this. And don't let my examples fool you. Several business-to-business applications exist for building an enthusiastic collaboration s.p.a.ce, too.
These are just five larger serving suggestions for how you might use the Google+ business page in some form that benefits the buying audience. In the early days of the launch, I saw most people using business pages as a kind of press release center. Though it's important that the community at large be briefed on new and upcoming situations, releases, and the like, I suspect that people on social networks won't seek out interactions with a business that speaks mostly through press releases.
Try imagining yourself at a c.o.c.ktail party, where you represent your company. Walk up to that friendly-seeming guy, shake hands, and then talk about your incredible fourth-quarter stock earnings. Jarring, isn't it? Though a c.o.c.ktail party isn't exactly the a.n.a.logy of all social networks, it's reasonably useful in explaining the not-exactly-b.u.t.toned-up nature of users interacting via these platforms. Not everyone using a social network seeks a strictly business interaction, and as such, you might consider that with how you represent the voice of your company on your business page.
Interesting Business Pages of Note.
In looking over how businesses and brands use their pages, I found a few for you to consider.
The Corcoran Group: https://plus.google.com/106654503918907830147/posts.
This is a real estate company from New York City. I love that it has implemented a lot of ideas that I've written about before, including pointing out the interesting sights to see around New York. On the day I visited the company's page, it pointed out Rob Pruitt's statue of Andy Warhol, which I saw in person just the day before. It also shared a restaurant review and many more photos of scenic locations.
That alone would have been interesting enough for me, but I was excited to see that the Corcoran Group also hosted a few hangouts, chatting with people on video about real estate in New York, I'd imagine. What was interesting was that one of the hangouts was with another real estate company. I don't know whether they're compet.i.tors, but I'm excited to consider the possibility that businesses can share their best ideas via Google+ with noncompet.i.tors.
The Dallas Cowboys: https://plus.google.com/106281600940449244340/posts.
This is the official page of an NFL football team, and as such, several pictures of players are posted. Some of the photos are similar to the kind you'd expect in Sports Ill.u.s.trated, and those are fine, but what interests me are the behind-the-scenes photos and the captured moments. For instance, there is a snap of Cowboys kicker David Buehler pretending to punch the mascot, Rowdy, after a game. In another photo, the Cowboys introduced one of the cheerleaders, Holly Arielle, who was a featured rookie of the week.
Most exciting to me were questions to fans of the team about various upcoming experiences. For instance, whoever runs the page asked people who from the Cowboys roster should be on the All-Pro team. This kind of engagement, when followed up by comments back to the various votes of the fans, is a great way to keep people feeling seen and heard.
When writing about the technology of social media, it's often easiest to find examples of tech companies doing interesting things. What stood out immediately to me about the Intel business page was that it asks people who chose to circle the page to identify with which circle they wanted Intel to place them in: Technology Enthusiasts, Newsroom, or Life at Intel. This is brilliant.
Immediately, with this gesture, Intel has basically said, "We know that not everything we post will be for everyone. If you want to receive X kind of news, we'll add you to the X circle, and send you only that." This is smart and something to highlight and underline for your own potential implementation of a business page.
I also loved Intel's use of video on its page to tell stories. In one video, Intel features blogger Scott Schumann, the sartorialist. By using its products to tell stories about its users, and then creating well-produced video to share on its page, Intel engages while showing off the benefits of its products. This is a great move.
Edelman Digital: https://plus.google.com/106069281351191490929/posts.
This is a PR agency, so I expected to see its page stuffed with client-related posts. I was pleasantly surprised to see more of a "life at Edelman" mixed with "things PR pract.i.tioners would find interesting" kind of mix. There was video, links to blog posts, photos of the team, and such.
If you want to talk about your company, it's interesting to talk to your peers in this way. I found the posts engaging enough to make me come back, even though I'm not in the market for Edelman's services. Instead, I appreciate what caught the page curator's attention, and I found surfing through the people they chose to circle to be worthwhile, too.
Finally, I like that Edelman uses the page as part of a hiring funnel. If you engage with the pages and find the people in the pictures interesting, you might want to learn more about working at Edelman Digital. It's an interesting way to share the flavor of the business and then encourage people to jump in.
Several media properties are quite active in the business pages on Google+. In most cases, media companies post links to their articles. This is to be expected.
I like how Forbes and the other brand pages for media properties I visited highlight stories on its own site but provide enough of a fresh synopsis as to feel like they were curated and picked, instead of just foisted on us. If you want to follow a business publication, this is certainly one for your list. And I have hopes for the future of Forbes and the other media properties.
Forbes, like many others, has video in its a.r.s.enal. I'd like to see some of its video interviews peppered on this wall. Forbes also has quite a staff of writers, and it would be interesting if they all had Google+ accounts and came around to add to the conversations that happen when the magazine posts a story. I would love to see Forbes host hangouts with important business voices and invite in some of the audience to listen in. See how amazing this could be?
The folks who bring us rocket ships and s.p.a.ce walks have an engaging brand presence on many social networks, but I feel they've found their stride with Google+. With fascinating videos and brilliant photographs, plus several astronauts and other NASA employees hanging around to post updates and share comments, NASA has a great opportunity here.
Schools can benefit from arranging live hangouts with their cla.s.srooms. Imagine encouraging tomorrow's scientists and engineers by putting them in touch easily with the women and men who get to step off into s.p.a.ce and watch the Earth revolve. When thinking about building business and brand pages, I hope that more companies consider what they can do to help foster education and growth. NASA will definitely implement these kinds of experiences, if their other social media presence is to be a guide, and this speaks well for what else could come about.
The Role of Your Business Page in Doing Business.
In watching the early days of people setting up business pages on Google+, I see a lot of people scramble to put together a handful of interesting photographs and then to post several updates about what the company or brand is doing these days. This is to be expected, but it's also just the beginning. To creatively use your business page as part of doing business, following are a few recommendations to consider: * Think of your business page as a mix of a TV station, a magazine, a telephone, and a business card. As a starting point, frame it like this. You have the opportunity to entertain, to educate, to serve and support, and to convert on your site.
* Consider encouraging more than a few people from varied departments to partic.i.p.ate on Google+ and to collaborate on the business page. Sales, marketing, PR, and customer service are easy and obvious choices for people to tap for communicate, but don't stop there. Do your designers want to share some of their inspirations? Could your office manager share a funny story or two about the team? Who else could add flavor to your business pages? And don't forget HR/recruiting.
* Make your customer the hero. Most pages I visit are still focused on themselves. If you make your buyers and users the hero, it's always more compelling. Note how Intel shared "The Sartorialist" as an example of someone using its products. That's a great model.
* Make your About page more about conversion. Make it super easy to point your would-be buyers toward the page on your own site that you feel can best convert them. (And use conversion however you want.) Invite people to subscribe to your email newsletter. Give them simple contact information for follow-up.
* Maintain a Team circle that you will share with the people who circle your business page. Share this circle and update it regularly so that people can circle the individuals in your company that represent the brand, as well. This won't be the right advice for everyone, but leave that to your discretion.
* When posting links to your site or blog, add something to the post on Google+. Don't simply post links. Instead, invite even more interaction by summing up the article or post with some more information. People want more than your rehashed website. They want a unique interaction with you on whichever social platform they use.
* Be the #1 voice in your comments section. Thank people, where appropriate. Respond to questions or requests for help. Realize the multipurpose nature of comments and how some people will ask purchasing questions, whereas others might challenge your policies and methods, whereas others still might be interested in customer service concerns. If you have your marketing team answering all these different needs, the team must be educated about how to help manage the various communications that might arise there.
* Partic.i.p.ate on a personal level and not just a business/brand level. Just because you have a business page doesn't mean you have to steer that ship all over Google+ to comment. Use your personal account frequently to comment and respond to posts by those who have circled you on their pages. Be you, a representative of the brand, and not the brand itself. Use that kind of last experience sparingly. People respond much better to other people than they do to a corporate logo.
As I've said at many other points in the book, realize that these bits of advice work differently for different groups and depending on your strategy. Not everything I recommend will be useful to your model, but with a little work, you can modify it for your needs.
A Robust Business Card.
As I've said since Google+ launched (and had to say quite often before business pages were implemented), the business page doesn't make you a business person. It's a robust business card. YOU do business by being a human, by representing the brand, and by encouraging interactions of value to both you and your customer or prospect. Camping out on your business page waiting for people to come and interact is like owning a shop and never setting foot onto the sidewalk or visiting any other shops in town.
Social networking tools such as Google+ enable you to be the best digital shopkeeper in the world. You can wander out of your perfect shop (your primary website) and onto the "sidewalk" (social networks), where you can interact with people who might consider your product or service for their own needs. Your goal is to connect with those people where they are, on their pages, on their own sites, and, if conversations go well, to invite them back to interact with your business page, as if you've handed them an interesting, engaging, and interactive business card.
The opportunities to do interesting business here are vast. You should start early, practice often, and see what works. And in one final note, realize that by starting a business page, you should have in place a crisis plan, a few legal possibilities considered, a policy about how to interact with compet.i.tors, and many more bits of social business governance. The number one problem with social network business presence is a lack of rough guidelines and plans for what to do with the s.p.a.ce and how to respond to the outlier issues that can arise.
Use these pages well, and you can build another great tool to help your company amplify the human digital channel. By building an outpost on Google+, you can potentially increase search rankings, partic.i.p.ate with thoughtful users, and use the mult.i.tude of tools available to illuminate a new view of your business for your customers and prospects to see.
13. Feeling Lucky?
It's important to start this chapter by explaining that I'm not an expert in search. I understand the value of search. I know enough about it that I don't make the big mistakes that one can make when constructing a website (no all-Flash sites, for instance). But I also know enough to realize that what Google+ offers you for business above any other opportunity is the chance to improve your search results because Google indexes the publicly shared content you create on Google+.
That means when you post something on Google+ about "How to Pick a Home Improvement Contractor," and the information has lots of great advice that gets shared with people who are interested in this material (and somewhere it has a link back to your site), you can potentially start to see the benefits of that sooner than later. Because Google is actively patrolling Google+ for interesting content that others might want to find via search, you have the chance to get information that's useful to your type of buyer out to the world.
Neither Facebook, Twitter, nor LinkedIn make it easy for Google to do this, by the way. Google no longer indexes Twitter, and it never had access to information inside of Facebook. Because more people use Google to search the web for information than any other search engine, if you do the majority of your online business marketing inside of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, you miss the potential to reach people who use Google to find you.
This isn't to say that Google+ is all you need to improve your search rankings. If you spend money on a search engine optimization (SEO) already, you won't necessarily be able to cut that budget and just throw a few posts together for Google+. However, spending money simply on SEO without working on organic search value is a waste of money. It is like buying vitamins and protein supplements but then never exercising or eating well. You have to do the hard work to make the supplemental work mean anything.
Home Bases, Outposts, and Search.
A fear is that Google+ search results might trump your own website's search rankings. When you Google "chris brogan," you can see my Google+ page come up in the ranks, encroaching on my own site, chrisbrogan.com. In my case, it's not terribly significant because I make it easy for people to contact me. But if your home base is a site that converts people to buy your product, you probably don't want Google+ to creep up in the ranks against you.
One way to keep your primary website the main search result is to be sure not to use the same search terms on your posts on Google+. Another way is to be sure to link back to your primary site and pages far more often than you ever point someone to material you create in Google+. You might also keep mentions of your brand name down on Google+, if you worry that it might take away search relevancy to your primary site. (Again, I'm not a search engine expert or even a decent amateur, but this is a suggestion that comes to mind as possibly helpful. It won't hurt.) In essence, you work hard to keep the "home base" of your main site as the primary search result for those things you hope to rank for, and use Google+ as your outpost and make posts there a way to guide people to your offerings. More about this in a moment, but first, look at some professionals who can help you better understand how Google+ might impact search.
If you notice that all the big names in SEO are actively trying out Google+ and experimenting, you can see that something important is going on. One of the changes search deals with is how Google weighs the value of links shared via social networks versus links shared via blogs and websites.