Google Plus: Business Edition

After spending several months working on improvements to existing Google+ features and adding new ones, Google has changed up the social media game once again with its all-new profile pages built especially for brands and businesses: Google+ Pages.

Since the search engine company launched the beta-version of Google+ in June, the social network has accumulated around 40 million users. Nevertheless, Google+ for the plain-old private user was not exactly what you’d call an instant hit.

Public missteps – like the “real name” fiasco and a Google employee’s cutting critique which was accidentally shared with the public – made clear that Google+ still has some issues to sort out before it can pose a real threat to Facebook (with its 800 million users). That may all change, though, with Google+ Pages.

On the following pages, we’ll take a look at these aspects of the new business pages on Google+:

  • Circles and how to add contacts
  • Search and Direct Connect
  • Administrators and management tools
  • Further highlights

For a basic overview of the introduction and development of Google+, read these articles:

Or check out our Special on the topic of social media, here.

The small green icon on the left lets you know that this is a brand page. (Screenshot: Google)

Circle up

One of the most fundamental features of Google+ is its circles; and naturally, this element is also integrated into Google+ Pages. The ability to organize friends and contacts into different circles is a helpful option for the average user, but it will prove even more useful for businesses.

If you are in the retail business, for example, you could organize your contact list into circles like “New customers”, “Loyal customers”, and “Suppliers”. Then, using one single platform, you could post special deals just for your new customers, offer discounts to loyal customers only, or share information specifically with your suppliers.

Google makes circles easy and intuitive to use. Nevertheless, businesses should be careful when posting content to individual circles since the default setting for sharing on Google+ Pages is public.

Although the circles concept is the same on Google+ and Google+ Pages, the way you add people to your circles is quite different. On Google+, you can add any person to your circles, regardless of whether they have added you to theirs. In this case, you simply have a Twitter-like “follower” status.

On Google+ Pages, however, businesses are not able to add someone to their circles until that user has added the brand Page to theirs. This process was established in order to prevent businesses from simply adding hundreds of Google+ users and spamming them with endless updates and offers.

For the private user, this is a relief, but it does present an obstacle for businesses. Add to that the fact that Google+ does not allow contests or promotions, and you may be left wondering how businesses are meant to fill up their circles at all. Keep reading to learn the answer.

If you use Direct Connect, you'll be prompted to add the page to your circles as shown here in the upper right corner. (Screenshot: Google)

Search me

The huge advantage that Google has over other social media companies is obvious. As a search engine company at heart, Google possesses the resources to integrate powerful search functions into the very foundation of Google+.

This doesn’t only pertain to search engine optimization; although you can bet that a brand’s activity, or inactivity, on Google+ Pages is likely to affect its overall Google search ranking. And it’s not just about searching within Google+; although the ability to search for topics and themes using a hash tag (e.g. #Social Media) is a handy feature on Google+ that Facebook, for one, lacks.

The real search innovation from Google is something called Direct Connect. This means that it is now possible to search for a brand or company in Google and land on that company’s Google+ brand page simply by adding a plus to your search. For example, search “+YouTube” and you’ll be taken directly to YouTube’s Google+ profile.

Furthermore, when users perform such a search, they will automatically be prompted to add the brand to their circles. Remember that private users must add a brand page to their circles before that brand is able to contact the user. Direct Connect will play a key role in facilitating this process and allowing companies to add customers and contacts to their circles.

In order to take advantage of the Direct Connect function for your brand’s profile on Google+ Pages, you need to insert a bit of code into your company’s official website. At the moment, Google has not enabled this feature for every brand, but general availability is on its way. In the meantime, you can learn more about it here.

Google+ video hangouts also work in the mobile app version. (Screenshot: SAP)

Just one admin, please

Today, companies that are active in social media often have a team of employees responsible for maintaining the brand’s various accounts and profiles. Some companies even allow all their employees to send Tweets or publish posts from the brand’s official account. Therefore, it’s a bit strange that Google chose to limit the number of administrators per brand page to just one person.

Luckily, there is a workaround solution to this problem. Six social media management companies – HootSuite, Buddy Media, Context Optional, Hearsay Social, Involver, and Virtue – have been given early access Google+’s API and have integrated Google+ Pages into their management tools.

If you already use HootSuite to manage your company’s Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts, you can simply add Google+ Pages to your dashboard. If you don’t already have an account with one of these social media management companies, you should set one up now. All of these tools enable you to assign multiple administrators, schedule and publish posts, monitor usage, and access insights.

Further highlights

Other notable features on Google+ Pages have been carried over from the original Google+ profiles. These include business-friendly functions like:

  • Video Hangouts for face-to-face conferences with colleagues, customers, or contacts
  • Screensharing
  • Integration of YouTube videos
  • Integration with Google Analytics, Google Mail, Google Docs, Google Chrome, Google Places, Picasa, Android OS, and (possibly in the future) Google Wallet

Finally, all these features work in the mobile app.

You can set up your own company profile on Google+ Pages here.

You can also use share Google Docs and your screen view in video hangouts (Screenshot: Google)