Although it may still be a few months before Google allows businesses to create branded profiles on Google+, social media expert Chris Brogan is convinced the new network will be a powerful tool for business owners to connect with customers online.
"Google is the largest search engine in the world and it's looking to Google+ to understand what people are searching for based on what they share there," says Brogan, who has logged "hundreds of hours" on the site since signing up in early July. He's writing a book, Google+ for Business: How Google's Social Network Changes Everything, to be published in November by Que, an imprint of Pearson.
In addition to providing a platform that allows people to directly connect with each other, Brogan says Google+ might also influence how people and businesses show up in online searches. "Search is important for business owners because most people don't immediately know the business name they seek," he says. "They search for 'plumber' or 'legal help,' and they might mention your location as well. … Google has, for a while, been trying to better understand how social media and social networks impact search and link and page value, and this is its attempt to make it work."
Here, Brogan offers his top three tips for business owners who want to get a head start on engaging customers on this emerging social community.
1. Get started now.
Don't hold off until Google officially rolls out branded profiles to create a personal profile and start connecting with the more than 20 million members on Google+, Brogan says. Those who do will have an advantage when it comes to "understanding the platform and how to interact with people."
"If you think of a business profile as a business card, would you have your salespeople wait until they had the right card? No. Get in now, and get in early," he says.
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The best person at a small business to create and maintain the account is the person who is most passionate about getting connecting with customers. "This might be the owner, the owner's wife, the store manager," he says. "It's up to your business. It's who's most passionate and able to communicate."
Google+ Features According to media expert Chris Brogan, Google+ operates a lot like Facebook, with some features similar to Twitter. "You can group people easier, control who sees what you post, and share many more types of media easier than on Twitter," Brogan says. "You don't have a 140-character limit [like on Twitter] and comments are threaded under the original post, keeping comment noise to a minimum as well." Here's a look at Google+'s main features:Circles: Enables members to sort their contacts into specific categories. This in turn allows you to tailor posts and send them to specific groups.Hangouts: Allows members to start on-screen gatherings where you can chat live with your contacts.Sparks: Collects articles and videos that might be of interest to you and your business.Huddle: Allows you to stay in touch with contacts while on-the-go via group messaging on your smartphone.
2. Create a detailed profile.
Once your profile is up, fill it out in detail. Brogan recommends including your title with the company, contact information and a description of the business. You can also include details such as hours of operation and special promotions.
"Small-business owners should include information on how a potential client can work with them," Brogan says. "If you sell legal advice, then be clear on what kind and what sort of customers you're seeking. If you're building the world's most amazing startup, then explain what people might do upon connecting with you."
3. Make connections, start sharing.
Then start searching for people to connect with, who can add value to your business. These people can include prospects, vendors, current clients as well as thought leaders in your industry. One way to start searching is by using a third-party site called FindPeopleOnPlus.com, Brogan says. You can look for contacts based on various demographic information that matches your business and the products or service you provide.
"Connect with people you think are interesting or useful to your business needs, and then see who they are following in their 'circles,'" he says. From there, organize connections in specific circles, such as current customers, target customers, industry influencers and others.
Once you have some contacts in your circles, start sharing your content. "You can post videos like walkthroughs of your offices or plant," Brogan suggests. "You can post photos of your happiest customers. You can post location data and share where your mobile food truck, for example, is going to be. There are all kinds of great ways to sharing."
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When Google+ eventually opens to business profiles, owners who have already built relationships will be able to introduce their connections to their new business profile page, Brogan says.
"Google+ hasn't explained whether or not it will be a system like Facebook where there are 'likes' involved to actually start receiving updates, but there's no effort lost by building connections now with your personal account," he says. "Waiting for a business account would be like waiting for a new logo before you run out to do any sales. Don't wait."