In the 15 months since the launch of Google+, over 250 million people are using it. Though many of commented on it being a ghost town, this is far from the case. On average, users are on Google + 12 minutes a day, which is just shy of Facebook’s average of 14 minutes a day. With over one million brands jumping on the wagon (including over 50% of the top 100 US brands), this arena is growing rapidly. With 5 Billion plus ones per day, this has been the fastest global social share button in history.

Yes. Today I’ve been getting schooled on the world of Google Plus in my first session at Social Media Week Chicago. Though I was asked how many people are holding accounts to prevent brand jacking, the stats say that it’s use is only growing and I’d argue, if you’re just sitting on your brand page, you’re missing a huge opportunity to get ahead of your competition.

Circles

So those of you who use Google+, you may already be familiar with circles. Once you place someone is in your circle, your content will be in their Google+ stream.  As a brand, you can only put people into your circles and segment if they follow you. This double opt-in was built to protect the privacy of individuals. Companies like Intel, for instance, are using circles for press, behind the scenes at Intel, products and then for those just interested in tech.

Google Chicago uses it to also segment between local and global followers to allow them to send events and local information to people who can attend.

Hangouts

More than half the room have professed to using Hangouts for business but the live broadcast to “On Air,” like we tried last week with our Find your relevance with email Hangout, is still in it’s infancy with most people and for most businesses.

When you keep your Hangout restrained to Google+, you can you limit your invitation to individuals or certain circles and keep the hangout relatively private or you can go completely public with it. By sending it to YouTube, you are allowing for viewers who aren’t on Google+ to interact with it and it will also archive it. Even better, you can download the archived video, chop it up (or edit in YouTube) and repost. Tada! Panel sessions from around the world with only a laptop and some wifi needed.

Google +1 

Most sites have adopted the Google +1 button, or if they haven’t, they should as it’s, surprise, surprise, another way to endorse content.  

As presented by Google’s Midwest Community Manager, Amy Ravit Korin, 71% of people say reviews form family members or friends influence decisions while 84% use online sources when deciding what to buy. And they have seen an increase of 5-10% in CTR to those businesses endorsed by a friend.

Google can see this since introducing Search plus your world. This is meant to give you more personalized results back when you search on Google so if you +1 something or add a brand to a circle, this will affect the results of anyone who has you in their circles.

This helps in organic search and according to Korin, “it’s word of mouth coming to Google search.” This is separate to Google search and if you want to see a “clean” search, you need to be signed out of Google and you Chrome browser when you search. This social search is separate from SEO except for the fact it supersedes it. So if you are managing a brand, you want to be in your fans circles as much (and as fast) as possible. In my opinion at least. 

Facebook is just a website after all. But Google is much more than that especially with over 1 billion searches per day on Google. 

With the purchase of Zagat last year by Google, they now also have a huge data base of reviews when you use Google Local to search. It ranks them by Zagat rating UNLESS you search from your circles and then you see what the people in your circles have +1-ed on Google. Google also allow you to add your own reviews and once you regularly review (and you can do this from a brand page), you will start to get recommendations based on your reviews and what you liked/ didn’t like.

Yelp’s days look numbered.

A little help from you (Yes, I mean it!)

I am starting research on my first report for Econsultancy on Google+, Hangouts and Local so you get the low down on how to use it to benefit the brands you work with. We’ll include stats, interviews and case studies.

In order for me to tailor it to you (and not spend a year writing it), I’d love your questions, examples of brands doing it right – ESPECIALLY Hangouts which will be my main focus. Please put them below or send me an email directly. 

If we’re going to have to use Google Plus, we might as well do it right.