A Ghost Town Worth Visiting: Why and How Content Marketers Should Use Google+

How is it possible that the company behind the most successful search engine is responsible for the most confusing social network?

If you’re like most marketers, you’ve dabbled in Google+, but don’t really get the point. Or you might be a holdout who just doesn’t want to commit to yet another social account without proof that it’ll deliver results. (It sure didn’t help the social network’s reputation when The New York Times called Google+ a “ghost town.”) Whichever camp you fall into, you should know that there’s more to the story.

According to a Forrester Research study, Google+ generates almost as much engagement per follower as Facebook, and almost double that of Twitter. Also, 65 percent of marketers say they want to learn more about using Google+, while 61 percent plan on increasing Google+ activities in 2014, according to the 2014 Social Media Marketing Industry Report by Social Media Examiner.

If those stats don’t convince you, listen to two Google+ enthusiasts we spoke to about why and how content marketers should give Google+ the ol’ college try.

Start with your profile.

The Google+ profile offers users many options to link to their work. Do you run your own website or contribute to blogs? Sync up your published pieces with your Google+ page. It will help your SEO, says Natascha Thomson, co-author of the book 42 Rules for B2B Social Media Marketing and chief innovator at MarketingXLerator, a marketing consultancy with a focus on social media.

“This establishes your authority and, in turn, the authority of your content,” she explains. “Google has been working hard to reward quality content. So, by having a well-maintained Google+ profile, it adds to your credibility as an author.”

Plus tip: Spend a lot of time crafting your profile, says Jimmie Lanley, who calls herself a Google+ fanatic and conducts Google+ training. “Think of the About section of the Google+ profile as your About page on your site or blog,” she recommends. “This is not a 140-character Twitter profile description. It can be very long and rich with formatting and hyperlinks.”

Boost your content with Google authorship.

Have you ever seen an author’s headshot in a thumbnail next to their article on Google Search? That’s because they have Google Authorship, which is one of the easiest ways to boost your content’s performance. Research shows that users are 150 percent more likely to click on an article with a thumbnail attached.

This setup extends your network impact beyond the social media domain, writes Demian Farnworth, chief copywriter for Copyblogger Media. “It follows you across all of Google’s products: Reviews, Maps, Chrome, Ads, Hangouts, YouTube, Drive, Calendar, Wallet,” he explains in his article “Why Google+ Is the Best Social Platform for Content Marketers.” And the best part: “Where a tweet or a Facebook post has a shelf life of 30 minutes at the most, a Google+ post can be found during a search by someone in your network … no matter how old it is.

Plus tip: Confused about how to set up Google Authorship for your site and writers? Kissmetrics offers an easy, step-by-step guide.

Hand-pick your audience to meet your goals.

Google+ Circles help you segment your audience and send the right content to the right people, based on the criteria you determine, says Thomson. This allows you to identify your influencers—ideally your brand advocates—and add them to one or more Circles. If you are working on making influencers a core part of your overall marketing strategy, this can help, says Thomson.

In his article “Hashing Out Google Plus Hashtags: Uncover Their Hidden Powers,” Google+ expert Mark Traphagen suggests using hashtags as a tool to discover new people with whom you wish to engage. As for getting others to follow you, interaction is key, so spend time engaging with other people’s content,” says Lanley. “Interact on other people’s posts far more than you post, and you will see steady organic growth in your followers.”

Plus tip: If you post to “Extended Circles,” everyone in your circles and the people in their circles will see the content. You also have the option of sending an email to all of your contacts.

Take advantage of communities and hangouts.

Similar to LinkedIn Groups, communities are one of the more underappreciated features of Google+, says Thomson. “Through this type of networking, one can establish thought leadership, a good reputation, and possibly create business referrals. You get what you put in.”

Another benefit comes from Google Hangouts, which allows you to invite people into your live webcasts for free. “What’s really great is you can stream and record them, and then share them on your YouTube channel,” says Thomson.

Plus tip: Attend other users’ hangouts and events first. “The interaction on the event pages during a live event is a fantastic way to connect with people in your niche and set yourself up as someone worthy of being added to a circle,” says Lanley.

Once you’re familiar with how they run, invite your audience to a hangout. “Even if attendance is not always high, the people in the audience are motivated and of high quality,” says Thomson.

Be an early adopter of untapped avenues.

The one area where I think Google+ has the most potential for a content marketer is Hangouts on Air (HoA), in which you broadcast your hangout live to the world,” says Lanley. The more forward-thinking marketers are already experimenting with or regularly using Hangouts, but a lot of people hang back on the sidelines, afraid to invest time in learning and taking the risks required to succeed with live video.

“This means there is a wide-open playing field for all kinds of niches that have no HoA coverage,” says Lanley. “This is the time to plunge into Google+ and leverage HoA to present yourself as an expert, build community, and dominate search results.”

Plus tip: Since these live events can be recorded to your YouTube channel, each piece of HoA video content gives your SEO a triple boost with exposure on YouTube, Google+, and Google Search. “It’s a very underused secret weapon,” says Lanley.

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Image via YouTube

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