Call Lynette Young an early adopter. A really early adopter.
“Literally four hours after Google started sending private invites for Google+, I received one from a friend of mine on the west coast,” Young says. “I was about to go to bed when I got it. I said, ‘I’m just going to stay up a little bit later and make an account.’ I stayed up for 24 hours after that.”
It was two years ago now that Young got hooked on the search giant’s social network, the community that was meant to compete with the mighty Facebook. Fast forward to today, and Young, by some rankings, is in the top 100 most popular users of the service, which boasts 340 million active users per month, though it is still leagues away from its rival. She also literally wrote the book on using Google+, and it’s called “Google+ for Small Businesses.”
Though many businesses may already have active Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter presences, Young says they should seriously think about joining Google+ as well. Young, who owns her own business called Purple Stripe Productions, will lead a New Jersey CAMA workshop Thursday, September 19, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on how business owners can use the network to their advantage. Anyone attending the workshop will receive a free “cheat sheet” of tips and tricks that Young has compiled over the last two years. The event will take place at the small auditorium at the Princeton University Computer Science Building on William Street. Free. Register at www.njcama.org. The event is sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery and IEEE chapter at Princeton University.
Google has many unique features that its chief rivals lack, Young says. Its appeal was apparent during her first day-long Google+ binge, during which she “pushed the buttons” on the service to learn how it worked. “I immediately recognized it as a next-level tool for communication,” she says.
Despite its growing user base, Google is sometimes the butt of jokes for being something of a “ghost town.” Your high school classmates, your aunt who lives two states away, and your co-worker who quit a few years ago, whose memes and party photos clog your Facebook feed, are unlikely to also be on Google+. But Young discovered that the scarcity of real-life contacts could, in a way, be an advantage for business owners.
“Facebook is for people who you know, and Google+ is for people who you want to know. It’s an opportunity to make new connections rather than falling back on the same old connections. Businesses are looking for new eyeballs.”
In response to early complaints about the lack of users, Google+ added a “community” feature, where users can gather to discuss areas of common interest, that has since grown very popular, Young says. Google also has another feature that you won’t find on Facebook or Twitter: Hangouts, which combine video and text chat with multiple users. Hangouts can be private or shared with the world. The latter option is especially appealing as a business tool.
The best part about Google Hangouts is that they aren’t just a promotional tool. Businesses can use them to actually accomplish things and serve their customers. All you need to make one is a cell phone.
“I had been on one hangout where a guy who owned a place that rented high-end luxury cars was walking around, filming with his tablet, showing the cars in his lot. There was somebody in the hangout who saw a car he liked and decided to rent it for the weekend. I think it was a Camaro that looked like the batmobile.”
Young has also seen insurance adjustors give clients house tours via hangout, and other creative uses. Since hangouts can be made public, they can also serve as kind of a marketing tool in addition to a customer service one.
There are more reasons Google+ may be more business-friendly than other social media platforms. Other services are designed to be ephemeral — items fall off of your news feed, never to be seen again unless someone painstakingly searches for it. Google+ is designed to be more permanent. Once you make a post, it is there for good, and search engines can find it.
“With other services, you have to keep proving yourself over and over again,” Young says. “With Google+, you’re always just a search away from having new people find you.”
Young says her clients are mostly small to medium-sized businesses, who find that they can compete with larger companies due to the democratic nature of Google+. There are no promoted posts or sponsored tweets, so an upstart Google+ user is on the same footing as, say, Coke, with its piles of money to spend on social media marketing. “You can’t buy your way up,” she says. “You get the same tools as everyone else.”
With all those advantages, will Google+ ever stop being a punchline to some people?
“I’m not sure that will ever change,” Young says. “I run across people all the time who still think that Linkedin is not a good thing to do. I’ve run across businesses that said you could not pay them money to participate on Twitter,’’ she says.
Young has lots of advice for business owners who want to use Google+. The first is to find a hole in their industry that they could fill. “That’s generally content-based,” she says. Filling that hole isn’t always easy. It could mean creating a video, which is readily sharable because of Google’s ownership of YouTube. Young recommends how-to videos, or a video answering the most common customer questions. It may be more work than writing a Tweet, she says, but it could reach a better audience.
She recommends not following in the footsteps of larger businesses. “We have light budgets and quick turnaround, which means we have to use it differently,” she says.
As nifty as Google+ may seem now though, Young, who has been blogging since 1996, realizes that it might go the way of Myspace someday. “Sadly, in three or four years, we’ll have something completely new on the playing field and we’ll have to do it all over again,” she says.