For big brands, Google+ is probably a good investment—but is Google+ an efficient use of time for small businesses?
Google unveiled Google+ brand pages in November, enabling businesses and brands to join its social network. Since then, big brands—including Pepsi, Macy's and Toyota—have jumped on the Google+ bandwagon, creating yet another hub page for their content-hungry fans.
We reached out to our community to better understand how (and if) small businesses are using Google+. We received more than 50 responses detailing the merits and downfalls of using Google's social network as a small business.
Below are some of the top thoughts on the pros and cons of using Google+ as a small business.
Reasons to use Google+
A bulk of the small businesses we spoke with said they feel Google+ is an important social platform because it was developed by Google, one of the Internet's favorite brands and one of the most influential websites when it comes to site referrals. But small business owners gave a plethora of reasons for being early adopters of the platform. Here are some of the top reasons we heard for using Google+.
1. Get an SEO boost. Bob Shirilla, director of marketing at Simply Bags, says that his business joined Google+ because he relies on Google search referrals for sales conversions. "Google+ influences search for all the people who have included my business in their circle," he says. "We have also put a +1 button on each product page. This is a great way to get free promotion from people who like the product to people with similar interests."
2. Host a hangout. "Hangouts offer an amazing opportunity for businesses to engage in a highly personal way with clients, customers and industry thought leaders," says Roger Friedensen, president and CEO of Forge Communications. "Plus, employees in remote locations can hold team meetings to brainstorm with one another from an interface that affords them immediate and easy access to share and collaborate on most of the information materials they might need, such as documents and spreadsheets."
3. Expand content distribution. Phyllis Khare, the social media editorial director of iPhone Life magazine, says that Google+ is a great platform for expanding the publication's content distribution. "It took us almost a year to get 1,000 Likes on our Facebook Page, and three days on G+ to get that number to Circle us," she says. "We are gearing up for Hangouts with some of our writers in 2012 to answer iOS questions and a few other fun things with contests and giveaways."
4. Connect with early adopters. If your business falls in the Internet or technology industries, Google+ could be a great place to connect a tech-savvy audience. "The people that are on Google+ already are most likely going to be early adopters of other technologies and marketing channels," says Jason Pinto, CMO at interlinkONE. "When we look at what defines an 'ideal customer' for our products, that criteria is certainly high on our list."
5. Segment your audience. "The obvious benefit of Google+ is that it allows us to share select content with specific audiences," says Chad Udell, managing director of Float Mobile Learning. Google+ makes it easy for businesses to segment their audiences and share content directly with those certain groups of followers.
6. Use Google+ to network. David Greenberg, president of Parliament Tutors, says that his business does not have a Google+ page, but that he uses his personal Google+ page to network and gather contact data and research the "personal side" of relevant contacts, such as journalists and potential clients, so that he can better create a connection with them. He adds that the "About" section of a contact's Google+ profile is usually a great start.
7. Just explore. Netronic Managing Director Martin Karlowitsch says, "We currently use Google+ for exploratory purposes. It is still a niche platform, but quickly growing and with a platform giant behind it. Knowing the impact that Google has on the way people find relevant information on the Web, Google+ soon can become significant by combining social and search. I want to start early using this platform to be prepared when this inflection point arises."
Downfalls of using Google+
While most of the small business owners we spoke with had a very positive outlook for Google+, we also spoke to a number of skeptics who identified numerous flaws in the social platform. Here are the top five reasons that small business owners gave for limiting their engagement on Google+.
1. Administration is difficult. "The pages need to be created from an individual's Google+ account, and you cannot add admins or any other users to manage the account," says Jason Donaldson, an account executive at Formic Media. "Depending on the size of the business, this may not be an issue. For example, if you only have one or two employees, there probably isn't an issue accessing the page from a personal Google account. The problem becomes more exaggerated with businesses that don't have a dedicated social media manager (unlikely with small businesses), because of the need to give out personal account information for users to post on the business page."
2. Facebook and Twitter reign. Many of the small businesses we spoke with pointed out that they maintain engaged audiences on Twitter and Facebook, but most of their customers and clients don't use Google+. So, the platform isn't much of a priority for their business. In the words of TwiloPR President Chris Heuwetter, "The true value is in Facebook, where we see a nice return on our efforts. Google+ seems like a ghost town [for many small businesses]."
3. Social dashboards don't integrate Google+ yet. While more progressive social media dashboards, like Hootsuite, have integrated Google+ into their products, many social dashboard services on the market do not enable users to post to Google+. For businesses that manage their social presences from one central location, the lack of Google+ integration is a huge barrier to Google+ usage.
4. Google side projects are unreliable. James Beswick manages online marketing for a bar in San Antonio called Drink. He looked into creating a Google+ page for the bar, but decided against it, since he's not certain that the social network will pan out. "Google keeps starting and shutting down products—Buzz, Wave and Hotpot, to name a few—and I'm not entirely convinced the same thing won't happen with Plus," he says. "Given the time and cost of engaging followers, I think the effort is better spent on Facebook."
5. Growth is small. Tara Parks, senior marketing administrator at Convergence Networks says that she sees potential in Google+, but that growth has been small for her company. "The biggest drawback to Google+ so far is that it's hard to grow a fan base, since businesses can only add other businesses to their Circles, and not individuals, the way you can on Twitter (until they add you, that is)," she says. "It will definitely be a lot more fun once more people start using Google+."
Is your small business using Google+? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below.