Google+ finally hands over the keys to small business marketing

It remains to be seen how successful Google+ will be as a social media tool. The massive advantages that Facebook has in terms of size, features and familiarity may be enough to doom Google's project, but if the company's past history is any indication, the fight is not over yet. Consequently, companies should begin the process of setting up their own Google+ pages in anticipation of its possible success.

After being released this summer, private businesses were summarily dismissed from setting up profiles on the site. However, Google recently invited them back after tweaking ideas for how the site would display organizations. Google+ seems ripe for small businesses to use effectively for marketing and branding, so here are some features with which companies should familiarize themselves before launching their own Google-centric campaign.

Posts
Much like Facebook, Twitter and blogs, Google+ offers the ability to post information and statuses. This is pretty rote and will be familiar to anyone who has used those other platforms in the past. In particular, companies can mention ongoing sales, scheduled promotions, industry news and other information that would normally be shared with social networking followers on other services.

Hangouts
One of the first ways that Google+ is positioning itself apart from other services is through hangouts. Other sites, like Facebook, offer video chat, but Google+ gives users the ability to chat multiple people at once through a webcam and microphone. While some companies might not feel comfortable doing so, others can use this as an excellent customer engagement tool. Consumers who have questions about items in stock or the details of certain services that a business offers can speak face to face with a representative. This offers more familiarity than a phone call or email would, and is especially appealing for tech-savvy customers.

Circles
Instead of making a post available for every person who follows an account, users can instead filter it through circles set aside for family members, coworkers, work acquaintances and other groups. This is especially useful for commercial organizations that track the levels of interest that their customers have. Frequent updates can go to loyal followers, while only the most important pieces of information need to be transmitted to each user who has shown interest in products, promotions and deals.

+1
Facebook pioneered the ability to "like" something, but Google seems to be inching the progress of that phenomenon forward. By assigning numerical value to posts and other media, Google+ allows users to rate nearly everything that appears on the site. This is particularly good news for companies, since they can use that sort of information as a way to market products or events. Additionally, it seems that nearly anything that's on Google+ can be voted for. This includes advertisements, making it easier than ever for customers to make recommendations to other users or to create their own reviews independent from a company's own website.

Analytics
Long known for the tools they provide to help companies analyze the effectiveness of their online marketing strategies, Google is making it easier than ever to track the progress of social media efforts.

Ripples are detailed graphic representations of the progress of information. When a company disseminates word of an event or item that's on sale, a ripple map can be generated that shows the path it takes from one user to another. This is a fantastic way to learn how campaigns can be optimized, and offers some insight into the ways a particular customer base responds to online messages.

Lists of recommendations and +1s can also be generated by Google+. Besides allowing marketers to see how they appear to other users, it gives a glimpse into items that customers have liked in the past. This provides plenty of fodder for market research without having to spend a great deal of money on surveys and third party researchers. Additionally, it takes the form of targeted studies, because instead of getting a feel for a generalized sample that represents a customer group, it comments on the customers themselves.

Standard analyses
In addition to the new tools that Google+ is rolling out, traditional analytics are also going to soon play a signficant role on the social media platform. AdWords, AdSense and other Google services can be seamlessly integrated into Google+, making it easy to coordinate SEO strategies with the customer engagement that social networking sites offer.

Google has also announced that applications, like those found on smartphones and other social media sites, will soon be available. Companies with some programming skill that want to develop their own online tools can begin the process of generating apps that will make customer engagement even easier.  

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