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Clive Andrews

Google+ Pages for businesses: Circular thinking

And so it has happened: the inevitable and keenly-awaited announcement that Google+ is now available to businesses, through its new Google+ Pages feature. Google has extended its social network beyond people and towards brands, working in parallel with its +1 system of socialised recommendations.

There has been a keen rush to set up pages, and many blog posts have appeared, summarising the features, benefits, risks and shortcomings of Google+ Pages. Among the best insight so far have been a thorough overview from FreshNetworks and a good post from 1000heads that tackles, among other topics, the potential for unverified accounts to use brand names.

All good advice around Google+ stresses that the usual social media ground rules apply: What are my objectives? What do I want to achieve? Who am I talking to? What do I have to share that is interesting and relevant?

Don't Panic BadgeSo do read up on Google+, get familiar with it, but please don’t panic. There is no immediate requirement for your brand to have a presence here, especially one which may appear empty, tokenistic or unloved. Vanity URLs are not yet a native feature of Google+, so there is no rush to ‘claim territory’.

It is important to remember that despite first impressions, Google+ Pages is not simply another version of Facebook Pages. If you haven’t yet got to know Google+ at a personal level, I really would recommend it as a first step. Google+ is still developing its own culture and behaviours, and getting to know these as an individual is by far the best way to way to prepare yourself for participating as a brand – if you choose to do so.

One of the central features of Google+ is its ‘circles’ – much discussed when the platform launched, and, in my view, one of the most powerful opportunities available to brands looking to make meaningful use of Google+. Circles enable you to limit the visibility of content to specific groups of people.

How can a brand use Google+ circles within Google+ Pages?

Look at a brand page on Google+. Look at its followers. Who are they? Now imagine these are the followers of your branded page. Do you recognise them from your Facebook page, from your CRM, from your forums, your eCommerce records, or even from memory? As these people chosen to follow you (to put you in a circle), you are permitted to follow them back. But rather than bundling them all into the already-provided ‘Customers’ circle, why not create some additional circles to reflect relevant segments for your business? New customers? Loyal customers? Big spenders? Men? Women?

The exact nature of this segmentation will depend on your industry and your customers. You may already have some categorisation within your CRM system, but certain distinctions may only be possible from observing behaviour over time.

Consider these possibilities:

  • Messages for new customers or new followers
  • Offers designed to reward loyal customers
  • Targeted content for consumers of distinctly different product ranges
  • Age or gender-related segmentation
  • Content designed specifically for known advocates and prolific sharers
  • Announcements of presences at specific regional events- “We’ll see you at the Glasgow trade show!”
  • Preferred times of day – customers who seem to respond better in the morning, or the evening
  • A/B testing – the opportunity to test different content on arbitrarily divided groups. This could be of particular interest to our clients in the not-for-profit sector, testing the use of social updates, photos and videos to stimulate fundraising. With Google+ circles, there is now the potential for questions like this to be objectively answered.

Two important things to remember:

People can be placed in as many circles as you choose, but the overlaps between those circles can’t be specifically isolated. So, I could add you to three circles I’ve called ‘Loyal Customers’, ‘London’ and ‘Women’, and you may receive targeted content by virtue of being in one or more of those circles. But unless I create a further circle of ‘Loyal female customers in London’, I can’t target you that specifically. Consider the time required to take such a granular approach. Start broadly and see what happens.

Customers cannot see the circles you place them in – only you can. So feel free to create circles like ‘Priority’, ‘Advocates’, ‘Potential for Upgrade’, ‘Target customers for February’ or even ‘Challenging customers’, if that helps you to ensure you show the right stuff to the right people.

Why limit the visibility of my updates? Why would I want to show less stuff to fewer people?

With more and more content fighting for people’s attention across networks and devices, the focus of online marketing is, more than ever, about quality, and less about quantity. If you can find easy ways to show the right content to the people likely to respond to it, you can move a step closer to this ideal. Why clutter someone’s screen with a specific product or offer if you know it is extremely unlikely to interest them? And if you’re not sure what the right content is, then here’s your chance to try some testing.

How will I know it’s working?

At the moment, Google+ lacks the extensive measurement features you may expect to see somewhere like Facebook Insights. But with Google’s renowned capability in analytics, it is highly likely that powerful features will arrive on Google+ in future. In the short term, don’t ignore the simple ability to observe and count – to see which updates, links, videos and photos have provoked the best engagement. Test, learn, tweak, test again. It will keep changing.

How about public updates?

Despite the exciting potential of circles, do not disregard the value of making ‘public’ updates. Visible, searchable non-segmented updates will still be needed, otherwise your page will appear to be empty to anyone not in your circles. Consider each update and circle individually. “Who needs to see this content?” “What do these particular people need from us?” “Is this something for everyone?”. Despite your hopes, not everyone will follow you, so you will be unable to follow them back and allocate them to a circle. These people must not be ignored. Encourage them to follow you, but don’t require it. Watch how people behave.

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