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How to extract a sliver of value from Google Plus - in 7 ways

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed November 26, 2014
Google Plus has been dismissed as a failure. But with some tweaks, there is enterprise value to be had. Here's 7 tips from my recent re-evaluation, complete with links to hidden settings.

Young Man with Magnifying Glass
Few products have gone through as much ridicule, and accusations of outright failure, as Google Plus. Yet it persists, despite a reduced importance for G+ in Google's forward strategy.

Does Google Plus have redeeming value for enterprises? Don't look to marketers for consensus. Google Plus is getting hate mail from some, but love letters from others. Content marketing stalwarts Copyblogger have gone so far as to redirect their blog comments to Google Plus, while killing their own Facebook Page.

Over the past few weeks, I did a re-evaluation of Google Plus, dusting off my near-abandoned circles. What I found pleasantly surprised me - though with some major caveats. As other platforms get noisy, the redeeming aspects of Google Plus come emerge.

With some tinkering, the result is a more customized experience than I find on other networks. Here's a few use cases, along with some buried settings you may need.

1. Hangouts are still the "killer app" of Google Plus, and now you can tape them. Originally rolled out for select journalists, Hangouts on Air are now available to all members. The benefit of a Hangout on Air is that Google will automatically post the recording to your connected YouTube channel for posterity. This is a boon for content marketers and reporters willing to have semi-public (or live) conversations. (There is still no way to tape a private Hangout automatically, to have the session recorded by Google it must be a Hangout on Air. Those looking for private taping features, I recommend the affordable Pro version of ScreenCast O Matic).

Why tape on Google Plus?

  • Hangouts whip the crap out of Skype for audio recording quality, particularly for multi-party discussions.
  • The auto-taping feature, posted directly to YouTube, is efficient and usually foolproof.
  • Google has added a number of funky/useful features, including professional touches like lower thirds for job titles.

Hangouts on Air tip: it can be a pain to schedule a Hangout on Air for the future. Most of the Hangouts on Air links immediately launch a live session (though you're not officially live until you hit the "Broadcast" button). However, the blue "Start a Hangout on Air" button on the middle left of this page leads you to a schedule option to put it on the calendar.

2. If you have good content, you don't have to be "all in" on Google Plus to extract value. Though most companies will not want to focus on Google Plus, it's easy to add Google Plus Pages to content distribution. This invokes a debate on whether content syndication is appropriate. Some marketers insist that you should not post the same content on different channels. Instead, go where your audience will engage you.

But I take a "hub and spoke" view of social networks (with your own web site being the hub), so if you have content to share, there's no reason why Google Plus shouldn't be a spoke. For example, I have tested my jonerpnewsfeed curated content on Google Plus, and with very little effort I have received 5,000+ views and a decent amount of click throughs. I have tailored the posting frequency and style based on the input of Google Plus readers. And if they don't want to see the content, it's easy for them to opt out, because it's a dedicated Page.

3. Google Plus still has the best threaded conversation format. Granted, Google Plus may not have the best conversations, because it often lacks critical mass for enterprisey topics. Facebook seems to have taken the lead for the best enterprise conversations (though the private nature of many of those discussions is a drawback). But Google Plus has an excellent format. For high signal conversations free of bullshit and rancor, I still like it the best, if enough folks are pulled in.

4. Google Plus is ideal for interacting with a few people each day. For overall distribution, Twitter remains superior for critical mass, but one of the best social network goals is simply to interact with a few folks each day you might not connect with otherwise. Given that Google Plus is low on enterprisey participation, those who respond to other people's posts are sorely needed.

When someone posts relevant content on G+, it's a chance to engage them with thoughtful follow-up. As long as they are paying some attention to their notifications, you have a better chance of getting a good thread going than on LinkedIn or maybe even Twitter, where attention varies and threads are still hard to follow.

5. If you're worn out by the noise machine of other networks, Google Plus' slower pace may be to your liking. On hectic days, other social networks can fly past at a dizzying pace and scale. Unless you're Robert Scoble and have thousands of folks in circles, Google Plus will update at a more relaxed level. It's not a good platform for getting a broad flavor or scanning reactions to breaking news, but if you're struggling with the noise factor, the slower unfolding of Google Plus can be just the right pace.

6. Consider adjusting your +1 settings before diving back in. Recently, Google made a change so that by default, all your +1s on Google Plus appear in the streams of those who follow you. This can be highly annoying. Here's my tips on adjusting those +1 features, along with a comment thread on the pros and cons. (Tip: you can also adjust the amount of "What's Hot?" posts from Google that wind up in your stream - more control than Facebook gives you on system posts).

7. Redo your circles with advanced features in mind. For enterprisey folks, there aren't a huge volume of folks on Google Plus. Only a fraction are logged in and monitoring the stream. If you ever want to do spontaneous Google Hangouts, you need circles of under 25 people (Unknown tip: if you invite a circle of more than 25 to a live Hangout, Google won't send out invite notifications to that circle). Without notifications, few will see your invite. With notifications, you have a better chance. Most of my circles are under 25 for that reason.

You need to add folks to your circles to account for the relatively low amount of updates that come each day. Under the "people" menu, Google has some pretty decent discovery features to find friends or new folks worth tracking.

Grouping your circles into topical and priority areas pays off with filtering controls:

  • You can now "mute" an entire circle, which allows you to control which updates actually appear in your default stream (muting an entire circle is different than muting an individual, here's the mute circle instructions).
  • It's also possible to turn the frequency of posts from a particular circle up or down using the same settings. Example: you could turn the volume up on posts from an existing client you have grouped in a circle, and turn the volume down on a client you aren't working with presently.
  • In the settings, there is a decent amount of control in terms of which notifications you receive from the network on your phone or in your email.

To be fair, Facebook now has similar abilities. For both, it takes work to setup - I like Google Plus' more precise controls better, but Facebook's filters are also worth the elbow grease (example: you don't want to "unfriend" someone, but you also don't want them to see your updates). Twitter and LinkedIn are much more rudimentary.

Final thoughts

Notice I did not fall back on the worn out "Google Plus is crucial to search results" advice. With the end of Google Authorship, it's not clear how relevant that advice is anymore. But the notion that you are either "all in" or completely out of a social network is misguided. With some toil setting up notifications and automating content distribution, you can easily share a good amount of content on Google Plus and check in a few times a week, while testing its viability.

The click-throughs via content distribution are a bonus. The real value is deepening of relevant relationships. Whether Google Plus will do that for you is not for me to decide. But as someone who has grown weary of Twitter's marketing saturation, LinkedIn's half-assed stream of crummy Pulse picks from irrelevant "thought leaders", and Facebook's perpetually awkward mashup of personal and professional, I'm enjoying my occasional visits to Google Plus.

Mixing and matching on different networks is a far better tactic than over-investing in one. Given the fickle nature of Facebook's infamous algorithm changes and Twitter's restless search for a business model, working across platforms is the right call.

If you want to check out a few folks doing things the right way on G+, I just took a look at my stream and amongst those I follow, Kevin Kelly, Trisha Liu, and Mark Montgomery stand out for their mix of commentary, links, and personalized posts (depending on their privacy settings, you may not be able to see all their stuff until they follow you). Google Plus is also a terrific medium for high quality photos.

As for me, next up I'll be revisiting my love/hate cycle with Facebook, with a harder look at using Facebook Groups for business. This should be interesting.

Image credit: Young Man with Magnifying Glass © bajinda -

Disclosure: I have no financial ties to Google. Google provides business services (Gmail, Drive, etc) to diginomica at the usual cost.

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