Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Unfortunately whether we like it or not, we all have to adopt Google+... fast. Especially if your business relies on SEO as a main source of traffic.

Google+ currently has less users than LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. But not for long.

Their recent Search, plus Your World update means that your search results are now being heavily influenced by Google+. And with over 3 billion searches per day on Google, it's poised to explode this year.

If you don't start using Google+ for your business immediately, then you're going to be left behind.

Search, plus Your World

Google is integrating it's new social network into your search results like we've never seen before.
They're adding a social layer on top of your search results, so what you see is heavily influenced by what your social graph recommends.

That means every single person's search results are personalized. (So much for tracking your keyword rankings).

If you want to know the basics, then there are plenty of great articles available. But it's hard to find actual examples of how to use it for your business.

What are some easy, practical ways you can get started right now?
Let's take a look at a few ideas.


Run an Exclusive Promotion

Technically, you cannot run promotions directly on Google+.

But you can share links to your promotion, and have it hosted elsewhere (like your blog).
One of the best ways to build an audience on a social network is to use one of your existing marketing assets. So use your blog traffic, and tell your Facebook fans and Twitter followers about your new promotion.

The catch is that the only way to enter is to find the link on your Google+ page. This is the exclusive access area that they have to pass through in order to be eligible to win.

Now you've got inbound traffic, but you need to keep them around.
That's where these other steps come in. The trick is to provide enough value that your incoming audience wants to stick around.

Video

Video is poised for a breakout year.

The technology to create, edit, and host your own professional videos is available and affordable.
You also have the perfect distribution platform because YouTube is fully integrated with Google+. Video is now an essential part of your content marketing strategy.

But how do you make it work for your business?

1. Video Tutorials: Do you have a complex niche, product or service? Then create video tutorials to help show people how it works. Pick one small topic you want to explain, and spend a few minutes teaching people how it impacts their lives. You can either sit in front of the camera, or show a screen shot and walk them through it.

2. Weekly Industry News Wrap-Up: What are the top news stories each week that affect your customers and clients? You can easily take one interesting story and create a 5 minute video each Friday.

3. Testimonials and Case Studies from Happy Customers: One of the best ways to convince people about your product or service is to have someone do it for you. Customer testimonials and case studies help decrease risk for potential buyers. Remember that you want to overcome objections with your testimonials and case studies. So avoid generic feedback, and have your past customers give you specific explanations about how your service changed their life.

4. Interview Staff and Show Company Events: What does a "day in the life" look like at your company? Are your employees fun and laid back? People today want to know if they can trust a company before they buy from them. There's no better way than to actually record videos of your company events, and show your employees in a casual, relaxed state.

Just remember to always focus on how this content benefits your audience.

Don't make it about you or your business. People don't care about you... they only care about themselves.
Make sure every piece of content you create focuses on the customer's point of view and gives them a tangible benefit.

Run Focus/Brainstorm Groups with Customers

It's always dangerous to ask for verbal feedback for marketing decisions, but if you do it right, then you'll get a lot of practical advice that you can use.

An informal focus group or brainstorming session is perfect for this, and Google+ can help you easily organize your session.

You can either do a written discussion, or organize a video Hangout.

Srinivas from BlogcastFM has a great example on their Google+ page, and he's written about the process on SocialMouths. Here is some of the advice he gave,
  • Pick a Goal: Having a clear objective guides the questions and discussions.
  • Give an Incentive: Offer a free product or service in exchange for people's time. You'll get better participation because they'll be excited to contribute.
  • Create a Small Circle: The easiest way to organize the event is through a Google+ circle. Keeping it small allows for deeper conversations and a focus on quality over quantity answers.
  • Stick to Open Ended Questions: Open ended questions elicit more detailed answers, and you can pick up on why people may feel a certain way. 

Mix Sharing with Selling

One of the first questions businesses always ask is, "How is this going to make me money?".
Which is fair... generating revenue is one of the most important social media goals.
If you do it correctly, then selling through social networks is perfectly OK. You just need to mix it in carefully with your other regular updates.

Rule of thumb? Try 1 commercial update out of every 4 regular updates. Share blog posts, images and start discussions. Then provide your audience with an offer to generate leads.

Please remember people don't want to immediately buy something. You need to get their interest and trust first. So give them something of value (discount, webinar, ebook, etc.), in exchange for their email address.
Get these leads into your sales funnel, and nurture the relationship until they're ready to buy.

Highlight Community

If you work in a brick-and-mortar business, then you can share stories, photos and video of your community.

A great example is the Corcoran Group, a real estate company in New York. Each day they share a beautiful photo and backstory about something in their community. Their content is always shared and recommended because of the quality and care that goes in to each piece.

What's unique about your location, and how can you emphasis it?

Maybe you live in a quaint-small town where you intimately know everyone. Then your story is about the people and how each individual has a unique perspective on life.

Or what if you work in a city that's had some problems over the past few years, but their trying to revitalize the area? Then your story is a fresh start, and you highlight all of the new, interesting projects and how the area is blossoming after years of neglect.

Internal Communication

How much time (the opportunity cost of lost productivity) do you waste travelling or commuting for meetings? What about on the phone, or in email?
You can easily jump on Google+ to go over some quick status updates or other routine communication. Create a circle for your team members and you can keep in touch all day instead of swapping emails back and forth. Unlike other social networks, you can have actual conversations instead of terse comments.
Sometimes, face-to-face is best. So use the Hangouts feature to have a video conference with other team members. You can also give an informal presentation to show people exactly what you're working on.

External Communication

Google+ can also be used to communicate with customers or other important people. Here are a few examples.
  • Interviews: Typical interviews start off with a phone screen or initial round. These help to get a better feel for the candidate and asses their knowledge and temperament. You can drastically cut the time and money associated with the interviewing process by using the Hangouts feature.
  • Office Hours: Open yourself up to select people during the week with a standard "Office Hours". You can answer questions, provide feedback, and share your thoughts in a life Q&A session with customers and other stakeholders.
  • Live Support: It's a lot easier to help people with problems when you know what you're looking at. The Hangouts feature again is perfect for helping you actually see the problem you need to help fix. 

Social Relations

For many small and medium sized businesses, social media is the new public relations.
You don't have to wait for access or permission to share your news. So get in the habit of regularly sharing your latest, important updates.

Hire someone new? Launch a new product? Starting a new Facebook campaign? Then share it with the world!

Not only is it good for your brand awareness, it also supports your other online marketing tactics like SEO.
A few months ago, software company HubSpot acquired OneForty, a social media company. They announced their latest acquisition on Twitter, in a series of a dozen tweets.

This caught on like wild-fire because it was so unexpected, yet fit perfectly with the company's social agenda. Each individual tweet had a carefully selected hashtag and the company's handle. So when people would re-share a message, the company's brand was fused with the message.

Summary

Google+ is now an essential social network for businesses.

It's already heavily influencing your own search results. And with over 3 billion searches per day, Google+ has the potential to grow extremely fast.

So you have to jump in, and you know that. The only decision now is what you're going to do with it.
Whether that's creating a video series, highlighting your community, or using it for communication, you need to have a Google+ strategy immediately.

Because it won't just affect your social media plan.

Google+ has the potential to disrupt every single online marketing plan that relies on SEO and social media to get traffic, generate leads, and make more sales.