Inspired by a Tweetea topic, I decided that for the month of February, I would exclusively use Google+ (G+) as my social platform of choice. I left Facebook and its timeline behind (making it wonder whether I skipped a whole month of my life), as well as Twitter, which carried on with its usual 140 character blitz.
The objective of the experiment was to determine whether I could grow my Google+ network reach (individuals putting me in their circles) at the same or higher rate than I added people to my network (my circles). Outside of this goal, I also intended to identify the overarching impact that Google+ could have both for individuals and brands, large and small.
As many of you have either heard or read, the majority of blog posts on Google+ being shared are focused on whether this is just another of Google’s failed attempts at a social network and how it is just an empty playground. I would like to start by quashing both of these assumptions. Google has clearly put all bets on Google+, from fully integrating it into their core products (Gmail, Calendars, Maps etc), to running a nationally televised commercial featuring the Muppets. Not to mention the 90+ million users who already signed up for the service in less than a year. It is very apparent that this is not going away any time soon and is only expected to get bigger.
At the start of my experiment, I had already been spending a small amount of time in the network, adding people to my circles and sharing content here and there. But, it was nothing close to the amount of time I had spent in Twitter and Facebook. So at the start of February, I had a small base of 289 people/brands that had included me in their circles. This small number of followers was very reminiscent of my early months on Twitter. Like Twitter, as I added individuals to my circles, in most cases they reciprocated back by circling me. I determined that for every 1.35 people I circled, 1 person would circle me back. This to me indicated that my network could grow at a fairly even pace. By the end of February, I had grown the number of those who circled me by 23% from 289 to 355. Comparatively, I had increased the number of those who I circled by 36% from 353 to 480.
Now you may ask, “What does increasing the number of those who circle me or my brand mean?” Well, it doesn’t mean much unless you do something with this group of followers. Like all other social networks, you can’t just grow followers to grow followers. You have to engage them and share unique content with them. You may even offer incentives that no other channel can receive. Smaller brands should look at this network of people as the perfect opportunity to connect with promoters of your brand and drive awareness. What other network do you have the ability to interact with individuals without being pushed down in a user’s stream by every other brand and their brother?
I looked at brands like Bell’s Brewery, which is known nationally but still smaller than the big boys like Anheuser-Busch or Miller, as an example of taking advantage of a smaller network and capitalizing on it. Bell’s has demonstrated how a brand can develop and provide unique content to its followers. Currently, Bell’s has just under 1,200 people who are following its G+ brand page. If you scroll through the posts, you’ll see that almost every post has a +1 or comment.
On the flip side, bigger brands like Jack Daniel’s have yet to put considerable effort into its Google+ brand page and would most likely benefit, much like Bells, by putting an assertive effort into its Google+ brand page.
If you have the resources to add an additional social network to your marketing mix, you should definitely consider Google+ — whether it is the ability to edit live posts for those “whoops spelled that wrong” moments, or the fact that Google has recently enhanced its social analytics reporting with obvious focus around G+. Google+ definitely can have big brand impact that can be worthwhile.
The other big component of Google+ is the personal elements of the network. With the help of Rodolfo “Bobby” Mercader, who also dedicated the month of February to being only on Google+, I was able to see some interesting results on how to improve engagements. Looking at Bobby’s post data, posts that included a link were 63% more likely to receive a +1 than posts that did not include a link. Although this may not be revolutionary to marketing folks, it clearly shows a way that you can drive engagement both for your personal and brand content in Google+.
Another interesting observation that Bobby discovered was that out of all the individuals who +1’d his posts, a majority of them did not have him circled, and vice versa. It was as if they did a drive-by +1 and didn’t stop to introduce themselves. This could be an indicator that people are using Google+’s search field to find relevant content, but never actually establish a relationship with the originator of the content. Although there is no relationship built between the creator of the post and individual who +1’d the post, it is an indication of how Google is able to leverage its search knowledge to drive engagement.
Overall, Google+ is an extremely engaging social network that allows users to do several things, like check in to venues, video chat (“hang out” in Google+’s instance) or just post what interesting LOL cat video they found. The results of the experiment clearly show that Google+ is still very early in its development. It has yet to even hit a year of existence, and just like Facebook and Twitter, it will take time to find its groove.
Personally, I will continue to use Google+ as a core way to connect and share with others. I have found it to be a breath of fresh air to my mix of social networks that I spend my time on. I also have found the content being shared to be more interesting and asking for me to engage.
If you are a small brand, take this opportunity to be heard and build solid promoters. For larger brands, take the time to evaluate whether your audience is in the space. If you’re able to put the resources into your mix, then Google+ can be a driver for not only your social presence, but also your search presence.