Unless you have lived in a cave for a while, you cannot have missed the launch of Google Plus. This new social network managed to sign up 20 million users inside two weeks, influencers like Chris Brogan are already reporting to get most of their blog traffic from Google Plus. I for one was impressed with the interface and innovative features of this new network. The question is…

Is it useful for personal branding?

Google Plus is definitely useful for personal branding, to me it combines the best of Twitter and LinkedIn and possibly even Facebook. You are able to be picked up in Google searches, to show off a public profile full with information about what you do, content shared and even links to your site, blog and other places.

As always, personal branding works best online when you are selling yourself in some capacity. This could be your expertise, your training, your inspiration or creativity. The type of business person that relies on referrals for new customers will definitely benefit from using Google Plus (and other social networks). I can think of professions such as accountants, lawyers, designers, consultants and even health practitioners.

Here are 10 ideas to help you brand yourself on Google Plus:

1. Do up that profile of yours

The most logical place to start is your profile on Google Plus. If you are a heavy Google user you probably already had a Google Profile linked to your username. This profile has now become Google Plus and even more powerful. The main benefit of the old Profile was the fact that you ranked well for your name on Google the search engine (hope this isn’t getting too confusing).

On your Google Plus profile, make sure you upload an image, write up a nice headline (just like LinkedIn) and a paste in your professional bio which you can add hyperlinks to. Be sure to link up your profile to your blog or website and any other outposts you have such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube etc.

2. Get your head around the privacy settings

Google Plus is very useful in that it’s both private and public. You can choose what part of your profile is visible to a random search on Google and what is visible to your nearest and dearest. You are able to share posts publicly on your profile, these will appear in searches on Google. Just click on Privacy Settings and it’s all self-explanatory.

You can also choose to download all your information provided to Google in an instant using what they call Data Liberation. They let you save a backup of your images, profile information, contacts, circles, stream posts and other stuff to your computer. It seems they take your privacy very seriously, the big G obviously learned it the hard way after the Google Buzz debacle.

My approach to privacy is that I’m not bothered about it, everything I publish on Google Plus is in the open – I just make sure that my posts are safe for the office as it were.

3. Categorize your network in Circles

One of the key features of Google Plus is what they call Circles. It’s a very straightforward way of categorizing your contacts, just like circles of friends in real life. Google’s Circles are similar to Facebook or Twitter lists, even LinkedIn tags but they are much simpler to administrate. The first thing you want to do is import your contacts to Google Plus from webmail services such as Yahoo or Hotmail, contact files from Outlook and LinkedIn.

Once they are imported you can choose who you want to put in what circle. This is when it’s time to be smart about what you do. I would suggest having a family circle, a friends circle, a business circle and any other circles relevant to your personal branding objectives. Let’s say you want to go on a dentistry speaking tour of South America, I would then add influential people in that industry from Argentina and Brazil – they will be notified that you have added them and hopefully interested to add you back. Once they do, you can go on sharing content and engaging properly. Before you know it you’ll be on that plane to Rio. Note that other users will never know which circles you put them into.

Personally, I have four circles just to keep things simple. It’s family, friends, acquaintances and following. Family and friends are what they say on the tin. Acquaintances is where I put most of my online buddies that I have actually engaged with, following is for people who probably don’t know who I am. I might do circles for more specific purposes as and when the need arises.

4. Search for great content with Sparks

Another nifty feature of Google Plus is Sparks, basically a Google Alert set up for whatever keyword you are interested in. So you tap in ‘politics’ and up comes news articles, blog posts and other stories related to politics from the last days. If you want to be more specific, just add another keyword like ‘Canadian’ or ‘local’ to narrow down the search results.

With Sparks you’ll never be lost for content to share on Google Plus. One thing that annoys me slightly about Sparks is the fact that you can only share stories on Google Plus, I guess a Twitter integration wouldn’t make much commercial sense but I would have appreciated it.

So yes Sparks is very useful but nothing revolutionary that you couldn’t do with Google Reader, Google News and Google Alerts (just to underline the complete Google dominance of the web by the way). Just bear in mind that others will easily find exactly the same content in Sparks so you might have to think a bit outside the box to stay original.

5. Share that great content selectively (if you have the time)

Once you have found content in Sparks, go ahead and share it on your profile. Google Plus make it very simple for you to click ‘Share’ and it will go into the streams you choose. Be sure to only share relevant content to relevant circles. If you’re sharing something about Argentinian dentistry, you’ll want to keep that to your South American dentistry circle and not friend and family. Likewise, the dentists of Bueons Aires will not take a huge interest in your holiday snaps from Blackpool.

I share all my posts with everyone, just like I do it on Twitter which seems to work well. To share things selectively you will need to dedicate a lot of time and effort to Google Plus, not sure if it’s worth it at this point.

6. Use Hangouts for group video chats

Remember the old chat-rooms from the 90s? Here they are again but this time they come with audio and video. Hangouts is a much talked about feature of Google Plus allowing you to have a conversation with a group of people in your circles. You could of course use this for business purposes, perhaps by giving a free webinar or offering free consultations with prospective customers. Not long after this feature was announced by Google did Facebook present their Skype integration, no coincidence there.

7. That engagement thing

The trouble with Twitter is that it’s difficult to see who commented on what, there is no stickiness of posts at all. Facebook does this much better but it’s in a very closed environment and only friends can join in the discussion.

Google Plus has made it very easy to engage with fellow members. Anything you post will come up in the homefeed of people who have put you in their circles, they can click Share, Comment or +1 (the Like equivalent on Google Plus). You will be notified who has done what and you can follow up and get a discussion going. The engineers at Google HQ must have worked long and hard at this as everyone I have spoken to think they have cracked it.

If you use Gmail you’ll notice constant notifications in the top righ hand corner of your browser whenever something happens on Google Plus – I dare you to ignore the notifications for a whole day (we both know it ain’t gonna happen).

8. Get your vanity URL

Right, this one isn’t compulsory but most people like to get a shorter URL than the one that Google issues us with by default. Check out GPlus.to for an unofficial vanity URL for now. Google will bring out the ‘real’ one soon. 

9. Invite others to circle you in

If you want people to add you on Google Plus you’ll have to start telling the world you are actually on there. You can add your URL on your email signature, stick an icon on your blog or just mention it in a blog post like this: “Hey look at me, I’m now on Google Plus – circle me right here”.

10. Use Google Plus in moderation

The jury is still out on Google Plus. Yes it’s looking very promising and it has attracted lots of followers in a short space of time, but it has a long way to go until it catches up with Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. The early adopters are there but the long tail haven’t got there yet, meaning your target audience might not be present. If Google Plus becomes a serious contender they will get there but it will take 6-12 months I would say. So for now, explore Google Plus but only treat it as another really useful tool when you can see some results from it.

Hope these 10 ideas are of use to you, please let me know how you get on with Google Plus as I am not sure myself of how useful it is – but will keep you posted of course!