By Jennifer Olvera
You’ve probably heard a lot about what Google Plus isn’t.
It isn’t Twitter, it isn’t Instagram, and it most certainly isn’t Facebook. Your friends and family may not even be on it, or perhaps they signed up but rarely come back. But does that mean there’s no reason for you to be there?
Here’s why. While social platforms like Facebook are designed to help you connect and keep up with people you already know, Google Plus is evolving into a community where users come together more around shared interests than shared relationships. If you’re looking to connect, learn from and network with others interested in, say, business administration, marketing or human resource management, Google Plus offers a growing opportunity to dive in and get started.
And it isn’t as though the place is a ghost town, either. Google Plus has surpassed Twitter to become the world’s second-largest social platform , with the highest growth seen among older users. What’s more, Google Plus allows the user to be picked up in Google searches, display a public profile detailing what they do, and share content, such as links to a personal blog – all of these can boost your personal branding efforts.
The key, then, is learning how to using the platform to your advantage. We’ve got seven tips to help you get started on Google Plus:
1. Create a robust profile.
If applicable, start by ensuring your Google Plus and Google Profile are linked. Then, in LinkedIn fashion, upload an image and headline for Google Plus, add your personal bio and link the account to your blog, website and any other social networks you’d like to include.
2. Understand – and use – the privacy settings.
Decide what content you want to be made available to which Circles (your groups of connections). Depending on how you set these up, your posts may be shared publicly on your profile as well as in Google searches (again, this can be beneficial if you’re looking to build a reputation for yourself in your field).
3. Organize your Circles.
Google Plus allows you to categorize your contacts in whatever way you see fit. First, import your contacts from your email account or LinkedIn contact list. Then, choose who you want in which Circle. Including separate categories for friends, family, school and business contacts are wise.
4. Search for Communities in your professional area(s) of interest – and join the conversation.
Communities on Google Plus are not unlike LinkedIn groups – you can search for them by topic and browse the content to find similar-minded connections. You can also start your own group, making it public or private. Within groups, you can share ideas, links to relevant resources online and other media such as videos and images. You can also connect via Hangouts (more on that below).
5. Make use of Sparks.
Google Plus has a useful feature called “Sparks” that lets you select a keyword to search for content. For networking purposes, this tool helps you mine for relevant content worth sharing in relevant Circles. Do so, but do so wisely.
6. Put Hangouts to use.
Another feature of the platform is Hangouts - audio and video chats that let you interact face-to-face (via webcam) with others on Google Plus. In the business realm, it’s an opportunity to host a webinar or even provide consultations.
7. Stay engaged.
Just like any social network, Google Plus takes work to put it to good use. Whatever you post to specific Circles will appear in the feeds of those who include you in their circles. At that point, they can share, comment or +1 (an action that serves a similar purpose to a Facebook “like.”) It’s a way to know who is doing what and an opportunity to start or engage in discussions. When this content is timely and professionally relevant, it can boost your visibility in your chosen industry and help you make a name among key influencers in your field.
Jennifer Olvera is a Chicago-based freelance writer.
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