What Local Business Should Know Now About Google PlusIf Mark Twain were comparing Google’s newly hatched social media network Google+ with Facebook, he’d likely use his favorite maxim and call it “the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”  With Google+, the search giant isn’t just stepping into the social networking ring, it is launching a frontal assault on Facebook and Twitter.  Compared to the fresh look and easy capabilities of Google+, Facebook starts to look downright stodgy and full of limitations.  Of course, Facebook has a long head start, not to mention 750 million active users.  So Zuckerberg & Co. isn’t going away.

It’s not ready for small businesses yet, but it will be soon. And once that happens, Google+ could emerge as an important new social media platform for local businesses. That’s the main thing you need to know. One key to its potential success is how easily it integrates with existing Google products related to local search, including Google Places, Boost, Offers, Wallet, recently-acquired Talkbin and others.

Another key is Facebook’s continuing troubles with low customer satisfaction ratings. Just as the wraps were coming off G+, a new edition of the influential American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) was released, giving FB a slap in the face.  Despite a small improvement this year, Facebook is the lowest-scoring site for consumer satisfaction, not only in the social media category, but of all measured companies covered in the report. The low satisfaction scores for Facebook have opened the door wide for a new player — and that’s where Google+ comes in.

Launched quietly in “beta”on June 28 (initially for personal use only), Google+ is already grabbing new users by the  millions and plans to offer business profile pages shortly.  Response has been so swift and overwhelming that Google says it has temporarily exceeded capacity and has set limits on new signups. What’s more, Google is discouraging businesses from using regular profiles for business purposes and may shut them down.

For local businesses, the bottom line is likely this:  Google+ will be another vitally important social media marketing platform and will likely co-exist with Facebook. So, yes, it will be one more social tool you will need to learn about and deal with in order to keep up. Businesses that create a presence on only one or the other will be at a disadvantage. And those not using either one will fall behind.

Briefly, Google+ is a social network centered on sharing, with four key features: Circles, Hangouts, Huddles and Sparks.

Circles are where you group the people you want to share with or follow. When you share something, it can be shared with everyone or just certain people in a Circle.  One big plus that Circles have over Facebook is that they offer an easy way to separate and categorize customers, friends, family, work connections and others. G+ also makes the task of creating circles fairly simple because you can drag-and-drop names from your Gmail or Google Contacts lists.

Hangouts are like a group chat conducted by video. When you create a Hangout, it shows up in the Circles you choose.  Anyone you notify can come hang out. Everyone can see and hear each other (assuming video is enabled). It works for groups of up to 10.

A Huddle is the G+ group messaging function that lets you communicate with people in your Circles.

Sparks are a way for you to subscribe to a topic and be alerted to important news and information that Google deems relevant to your chosen Spark.  It will look a lot like a search engine box, but Google calls it a “sharing engine.”

It’s a good bet that Google will integrate Google+ business profiles with Google Places, Offers, Analytics and other tools, and use it as a way to enhance local search results related to your business. Once this happens, the result could well be a whole new customer communications platform for local businesses. And don’t forget that Google is first, and foremost, a search engine. Thus, having a business profile on “Plus” (Google+) will be about much more than just local social marketing. It will also be about attracting search traffic to your page.  This is where search will truly meet social.

A Social Reset Button

One more reason for local businesses to consider Google+ is this:  If you botched your first effort to enter the social media world through Facebook, hopelessly intermingling personal and business pieces, this is your chance to hit the restart button and begin with a fresh slate.

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