google plus for inbound marketingI’m with John. I can’t say I’ve spent a ton of time exploring Google+, at least not as much as I’ve spent on other social platforms. Like other inbound marketers, I clambered for the elusive invitation to check out Google’s shiny new social network despite my skepticism given Google’s past forays into the social space until I finally scored one from a complete stranger.

After a few weeks of poking around, I kind of forgot about it, not only for the reasons John mentioned earlier this year, but because it seemed like the only people using it were social media/marketing/technology geeks. Networks like Facebook and Twitter grew to mammoth proportions, and then marketers figured out how to use them to reach target audiences. In the case of Google+, marketers flocked to Google+ before their target audiences even got there.

I think it’s best when the public defines the purpose of a social network, and then brands adapt accordingly. Marketers seemed to put the cart before the horse with Google+. Within just weeks of launching and despite messages from Google that many updates were in store, people were touting “expertise” in Google+ marketing. How is that even possible?

It all seemed silly to me, so I stuck it on the back burner. I figured I’d give it time to either disappear or grow before I gave it another serious look. The time to do that is now, if you haven’t already. Google, for better or worse, has made Google+ a channel that cannot be ignored.  And it’s seen impressive growth. Let’s take a look at some stats from Google Blog, TechCrunch and HubSpot:

  • “Student” is the number one occupation of Google+ users, followed by software engineers and consultants
  • The Google +1 button is used more than five billion times per day. (!)
  • Google+ is adding 625,000 new users every day.
  • As of September, there were over 100 million active Google+ users and 400 million total users.
  • Websites using the +1 button generate 3.5x the Google+ visits than sites without the button.

Staggering stats aside, here are five more reasons I and other inbound marketers need to get active on Google+, as its potential for inbound marketing is growing all the time:

  • AuthorRank: If you or your company has a blog, your contributors need to have a Google+ profile. Upcoming changes to Google’s search algorithm will factor in AuthorRank – the popularity and legitimacy of the content posted by individual authors, identified by Google+ profiles. Dan wrote the first of a series of posts about AuthorRank a few weeks ago.
  • Communities: Similar to Facebook or LinkedIn Groups, Communities are a way for users to commune around a common interest. A brief look at the Communities homepage, and you’ll see everything from Nexus 7 Users to Real Estate to Cute Pictures of Cats. And just like on Facebook or LinkedIn, you should check these out to see if there’s a Community related to your brand, so you can listen to your audience or maybe even engage them in discussion. You can create a Community, too. Learn more from HubSpot’s Corey Eridon.
  • Google News Integration: Google has integrated Google+ with many of its other services, and earlier this year, Google News was added to that list. Users can see posts from their Google+ Circles on both the Google News page and the real-time coverage page. If you’re practicing David Meerman Scott’s newsjacking, this could be huge for you.
  • Google Search Integration: Old news, but Google has of course integrated Search with Google+. Users who are logged in to their Google accounts can see if a particular search result has been shared on Google+ by someone in their Circles. You can view it somewhat like a recommendation engine. A user might be more inclined to check out an article if they see someone they know has already read and recommended it.
  • Hangouts: Also old news, but still powerful. Hangouts are arguably the best way to have a face-to-face chat with a group of followers. Granted, those followers will need to be on the more tech-savvy end of the spectrum, but what a great way to host a Q&A, training, demo or focus group.

I came across this interview with Chris Brogan, one of the first and biggest evangelists for Google+, and I really liked what he said about the visual design of the network. It’s a very photo- and video-centric platform, and if you’re monitoring trends in web content, you know that this type of content typically gets the most views and shares. If Pinterest isn’t proof of that, I don’t know what is.

The bottom line is that Google+ can no longer be ignored. And while the features I discussed above are certainly standouts, the point where I get stuck is that Google+ demands attention not because it’s an awesome user experience and grew organically entirely on its own merit; it demands attention because Google integrated it with its other offerings and has essentially forced people to at least create a profile.

If you’re a Google+ fan, personally or professionally, I want to hear from you. Why do you love it? What is your advice to other inbound marketers about the power of Google+? Do you truly love it for its functionality, or are you using it because you feel you have to? Comment below!

Photo credit: west.m