By B.L. Ochman
Are you among the many who say “Oh No! Not another social network! Why should I care about GooglePlus?” You may have heard people saying it’s a ghost town, or that it’s only for techies. The people who write these things are, quite simply, wrong.
The truth is that your association can’t ignore GooglePlus for another minute. If your association isn’t putting itself in the game, it should be. But before you take the plunge, let’s take a look at some of the many myths about GooglePlus.
Myth 1: GooglePlus is a “ghost town”. Mainstream media is particularly fond of this myth.
Vic Gundotra, head of social at Google, reported in October 2013 that Google+ experienced a 58% increase in users between May and Oct 2013. The platform has 540 million members, 300 million of whom are monthly active users. Despite what you may have read in the media, that hardly makes Google+ a “ghost town.”
Myth 2: GooglePlus is a just another social network.
Fact: Google Plus has a strong social component, but it actually is the biggest change in communications since the interactive website.
Social interaction is absolutely a part of GooglePlus, but it’s also integrated with Gmail, YouTube (owned by Google), Google Analytics, Google Images, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Finance, Google Drive, GoogleDocs, Google Wallet and – perhaps most importantly – Google Search.
In other words, GooglePlus is now the portal to the entire Google ecosystem.
Google’s search algorithm favors content that originates in GooglePlus. Google search looks for relevance, engagement and response. Original content achieves higher search ranking when others engage with the content by sharing it or commenting on it.
That means that a GooglePlus post that gets a lot of +1s and shares will have more weight and better placement in search. Google’s new search algorithm also weighs frequency of posting and whether content is original.
Unlike Facebook, which cut off Google’s access to its data in 2011, and which hides data from Google and Twitter, all GooglePlus data are immediately and fully accessible to Google search, because GooglePlus IS Google.
Google search crawls GooglePlus for new, original content. Many web professionals know that GooglePlus posts show up in Google search almost instantly. Part of the reason is that each GooglePlus post is assigned its own URL, and is treated like a blog post. The GooglePlus search feature was added in early October 2011.
Fact: GooglePlus hosts communities on business topics ranging from management to technology, small to international business, entrepreneurs to large organizations. These communities provide easy access to connecting with influencers and experts who are important to your business.
GooglePlus allows both public and private communities, making it a great resource for connecting with industry peers, customers and potential customers, vendors and resources.
Privacy and filtering controls allow focused discussion. And GooglePlus users will attest to the fact that the level of conversation, sharing and willingness to help others in these communities is stellar.
One key feature: Within GooglePlus communities, your association can use invitation-only or public Hangouts – arguably the best video platform EVER – for teaching, demonstrations, presentations and more to a select, engaged audience.
Myth 4: GooglePlus is too hard for the average person to use.
Fact: There is a rather steep learning curve in GooglePlus, but that’s because it has so many really useful features – all of which are free. Sadly, Google itself has contributed to this myth because the company simply has not done a good job of explaining its new platform.
At the dawn of the Internet, a lot of people felt that email, websites and e-commerce were too complex to learn. Like the communications tools that came before GooglePlus, those who don’t adapt will soon find themselves left behind in business.
You get out of GooglePlus what you put in. It takes some time to learn to use the platform effectively. You can save time, money and aggravation by hiring an experienced coach who knows GooglePlus thoroughly.
Many of the tools GooglePlus provides are unique to the platform and they are fully integrated into and work seamlessly with other Google products, including Google Apps for businesses.
Among the cool tools on GooglePlus:
• Hangouts on Air – a free web and mobile platform for video conferencing, live events, broadcasts, and live collaboration. Hangouts are arguably the best video conferencing platform ever, and they are seamlessly integrated with YouTube.
• Shared circles – you can share a circle of contacts you have created, making networking simple and fast.
• Live Events – a unique sharing solution that makes interaction easy before, during and after the event. These can be public or private and can allow collaborative sharing of documents, presentations, white boards and much more.
• Powerful internal search – it’s easy to find content within GooglePlus. After all, it’s part of Google search.
• Authorship – You’ve probably seen Google search results for articles or blog posts that have small profile photos next to them. Those are the author’s GooglePlus profile photos.
Google Authorship connects the original content you create (on your own site or someone else’s website) to your Google+ profile and indexes it in Google search.
Having your profile photo attached to your content in Google search results increases clickthru rates by as much as 150% according to Catalyst
Myth 5: GooglePlus communities are no different from Facebook and LinkedIn groups.
Fact: GooglePlus communities have features not found on any other social platform. Facebook or LinkedIn are stand-alone platforms. GooglePlus is the evolution of Google, and the gateway to Google search.
With its latest updates, only 2.5% of your Facebook followers are likely to see your posts among the cat videos, baby pictures and memes that increasingly clog the content stream.
Now Facebook wants you to pay to promote your posts so more of your fans will see them, in addition to buying advertising.
Unlike LinkedIn Groups (where only human users can join groups), Google Plus allows organizations to create and join communities and participate in discussions.
GooglePlus lets your association create not only public communities, but also ones where the moderator must approve members, in addition to fully private communities.
The beauty of private communities is that these communities, and the posts within them, do not appear in Google search results. This way, private stays private. Your search ranking will suffer if you don’t use GooglePlus.
Here’s the bottom line: If you don’t use Google+ you will lose out in search rankings compared to sites that do. That fact was confirmed by Google’s Eric Schmidt, who said about GooglePlus participation, “Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.” In other words, if you ignore GooglePlus, Google search will ignore you. No association can afford to let that happen!
B.L. Ochman has been helping blue chip companies incorporate new media into their online strategy since 1996. She is a Google-certified GooglePlus Helpout Coach, YouTube Partner and certified YouTube Channel Creator. She has been blogging about Internet strategy and trends since 2002 at her award-winning What’s Next Blog, contributes to AdvertisingAge Digital Next blog and Social Media Today, and is co-host of the weekly GooglePlus Hangout on Air, The Beyond Social Media Show
NOTE: This post originally appeared in Assocation Adviser