Google+ is still a mystery to many brands, but some brave souls have been using the fledgling social platform to build a new community of brand advocates.

As of this week Cadbury has been added to more than 500,000 G+ circles, making it the most popular consumer brand on the social network.

We recently reported on its G+ product launch, but what other tactics has the confectionery brand used to build its community?

Cadbury social media and community manager Jerry Daykin said the company had been using Google+ primarily to engage consumers around its sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

We haven’t reinvented the wheel, but we have been successful by taking the features that make the network unique, and being willing to experiment with them.”

Here are Jerry’s top five tips on how to make the most out of Google+:

1. Listen (and search)

“Before jumping into a new social space, listen to what people are saying about you, about your industry, about related products – is there already a healthy discussion you could be a part of?

If not, are you equipped to start one – or willing to admit that your target audience isn’t there?

On Google+ listening begins with searching. Once live, make sure you continue to ask for and listen to feedback from your followers, and never stop searching the wider chatter.

As one of the first brands to be active and appear in ‘What’s Hot’, we’ve sparked occasional debate, but spotting that early gave us the chance to positively engage with the community and learn from our activities.”

2. Know the Community

“No two platforms attract quite the same crowd, and G+ is no exception.

Though its appeal is increasingly mainstream it remains most famous for attracting photographers and a tech-friendly crowd, and posts tailored to these audiences do tend to go down well.

Much like Twitter, G+ is a network where individuals directly connect and have great influence. Establishing and engaging key influencers in your field can help you positively engage a much wider audience.

Playing to the early influence of Google’s own staff we produced customised Dairy Milk chocolate bars with some of their names on to celebrate the launch – many of them were so delighted to receive them they shared an image and a link to our page to hundreds of thousands of their followers.”

“It’s worth considering how you might be able to collaborate with other existing brand pages or individuals to mutually achieve larger visibility and share of voice.

While there are times you may want to say the same thing across a range of platforms you really should consider how best to present and word it for different audiences.

Don’t be afraid to ask for and encourage response but be wary that ‘shares’ are a big endorsement and we’ve seen that pushing people to do so can come across as spammy.

Delight users with relevant, tailor made activity and the shares should follow.”

3. Be Visual

“One thing G+ does particularly well is to showcase video and photo content prominently.

The ‘What’s Hot’ section on G+ is almost entirely dominated by visual topics, photographs in particular, and while text only updates can get a good
response on other platforms on G+ they rarely cut through.

For a brand like Cadbury this is a great opportunity to share our wider content, but we’ve also been sure to create simple G+ specific imagery.

If you’re a brand without an arsenal of visuals it’s still well worth considering what simple assets you can use to catch the eye.”

4. Use the unique functionality

“Circles are a great way of giving users the specific tailored content they want or to carry on specific conversations with small groups on your page.  

At this stage you’ll have to post and ask people if they want to be in a certain circle and then add them all individually – whilst this takes time it is actually a good way of getting to know your followers.

We’re actually piloting a trial of ‘public circles’ – allowing users to opt in to our circles at any time by clicking on the images at the top of our page which is going well so far.”

“Video hangouts are also a key feature and a powerful way of letting users have a very direct connection with you – we’ve only just begun to maximise them, with a public chat with Olympic hopeful Shanaze Reade under our belt.

At present brands can hangout with a small group, record it and later share it more widely, though the ‘Hangouts on Air’ feature will make bigger, live events possible.

We’re looking at how we collaborate with fans in a hangout or give them opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t get (like challenging an Olympian to a game).”

5. Measure

“There may not be a built in analytics tool at present but looking at the ‘ripples’ on each post is a great way of seeing how your content is being shared and who your most influential followers are.  

You can also use a range of free tools such as link shorteners and 3rd party G+ tools (such as Zoomsphere) which make tracking your growth, engagement and click through easier than you might think. 

Of course as public tools you can just as easily use them to check out other pages or even your competitors, and it’s worth keeping an eye on them as they too try and develop best practice.

Building a business case for a new network, and establishing yourself on it, is never easy so identifying examples of success may help.

In Google+’s case it will be interesting to see how the platform develops and whether brands can eventually afford not to be on it.”