YourABA: March 2014
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Does Google Plus matter? 5 reasons it might for you

By Joshua Poje
ABA Legal Technology Resource Center

In early 2012, an image made the rounds online describing how people use several major social networks in a peculiar context — doughnuts. A few examples:

Twitter: I’m eating a #doughnut
Facebook: I like doughnuts.
Foursquare: This is where I eat doughnuts.
LinkedIn: My skills include doughnut eating.

While each of these were good for a chuckle, the final one had the real punch line:

Google Plus: I’m a Google employee
who eats doughnuts.

If you’ve followed social media at all, you get the joke. If you haven’t, here’s the quick summary. Google launched Google Plus in the summer of 2011. It was billed by the media as a potential “Facebook killer,” but it simply hasn’t matched the hype. Despite the tens of millions of users that flocked to it in its initial months, its users never matched the energy or enthusiasm witnessed on other platforms. To new users, Google Plus felt like a ghost town.

Thus the joke: Much like the Microsoft Zune before it, Google Plus was a bit of technology only a Google employee could love.

There was certainly some truth in that joke, but the teasing has obscured the reality: A growing number of people seem to genuinely love Google Plus and consider it essential to an effective social media strategy.

What do they see that others have missed? While Facebook is littered with personal content and advertising, and Twitter tends to jump and meander from moment to moment, Google Plus has become a consistent and reliable source for genuinely interesting and relevant content. This is due in no small part to Google Plus’ “Circles,” a tool for easily segmenting the people you follow by category — friends, family, co-workers and thought leaders might each get their own “circle.”

This is quite different from Facebook pages or LinkedIn Groups where the parameters of the “community” are usually defined by someone else. On Google Plus, you’re able to build your own groups entirely on your end and arrange the people you follow in a way that makes sense to your interests.

But Google Plus’ appeal goes beyond standard networking. Here are five factors that may explain Google Plus’ growing appeal:

  1. Search. This one is obvious. Google earned its fame and built most of its wealth through its ubiquitous search engine. It’s still where most of us turn first when we have a quick question and want to find something on the Web. It’s no great surprise that Google Plus can help enhance your placement in search engine results. Google Plus “+1” endorsements — the Google Plus equivalent of liking something on Facebook — is said to factor into Google’s search algorithm, meaning that if your website, blog post or an article you’ve written is +1’d, it’s more likely to appear in relevant search results. Likewise, posts directly into Google Plus seem to rank higher than some other social media content in Google’s search results. In short, if you want to make sure you rank well in Google search, it can’t hurt to use Google Plus.

  2. Authorship. Beyond the basic benefits of having someone +1 your content, Google Plus also makes it possible to flag yourself as the author of content. For example, if you regularly contribute to a blog or a bar association periodical, you can link that content to your Google Plus profile. When the content you contribute appears in search results, it will have your profile photo and your authorship listed (e.g. “by Joe Attorney”) in the search snippet. Not only does this make your content look more professional, it also makes it easy for Google users to navigate to other content you’ve written.

  3. Localization. Head to Google and search for almost anything location based — a dentist in your town, a bakery in the city where you’re going on vacation — and Google will display a Yellow Pages style list of matching businesses and possibly a map. You’ll notice that below each of those listings is a link to the relevant Google Plus page. If you aren’t setting up your own Google Plus Local Page, your firm or organization may not be displayed and you may find yourself struggling to compete.

  4. Getting ahead of the competition. There’s a tremendous amount of noise on most social networks today. Log into your Facebook page or Twitter account and you’ll be bombarded by advertisements, promoted content, self-promotional posts and Tweets, and much more — all before you get to the actual content you’re interested in. That’s one area where Google Plus has benefited from its less active user base. The signal-to-noise ratio is much, much better. Getting active on Google Plus now gives you the opportunity to form strong relationships with other users and to get your firm or organization several steps ahead of the competition.

  5. You’re already using it. Google offers an enormous variety of tools, from email to statistical analysis tools to an advertising platform. As different as these tools may be from one another, they are linked by a common Google Account and that Google Account is increasingly integrated with Google Plus. Last fall, for example, Google began requiring YouTube users who posted videos or left comments to integrate their YouTube profiles with Google Plus. The point being: If you use Gmail, Google Docs, Google Analytics, YouTube or any other of Google’s many properties, you’re only a very short step away.

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