Google+ — what you need to know…By Jo Singer

Since its launch last month, Google’s new social network, Google+, has been getting a lot of attention. To bring you up to speed with what’s going on with this exciting new social networking site, here is a brief overview of the Google+ project, as it is being referred to, with some links to pages that you may find helpful if you wish to dig deeper.

First, some background information. Google launched the Google+ social network in June as a field trial and has made access to the social networking site by invitation only. Once you have an invite to Google+, you can invite a limited number of others to join the social network site. This is why the invites have been in such demand, if you’ve been following the news!

Before you set up an account on Google+, you can learn all about the social networking site by visiting http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/. You can take a tour of Google+ at http://www.google.com/+/demo/. There is also a posting on the Google Blog introducing the project and the platform’s features, which is well worth reading: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/introducing-google-project-real-life.html.

No invite yet? There’s a Join the Project button at the top of the Take a Tour web page (http://www.google.com/+/demo/). When you click on the button, a note will pop up giving you the opportunity to be notified by Google when they are going to make more invites available.

And now some of my thoughts on Google+ I have been exploring the new social network over the past couple of weeks. I’ve only scratched the surface, but I can tell you this: look to add these words to your social vocabulary:  Circles, Sparks and Hangouts; and the concept of public vs. private sharing of information. My notes so far—

• Circles are at the core of Google+; they are used to manage contacts and are an innovative solution to the issues surrounding the sharing of information online. If you think about the people you know and who you are networked to, they fall into groups: family, friends, work friends, and so on. And, the kind of information that you want to share with these people is different. Google+ is set up to help you sort your contacts into groups (called Circles) and, more importantly, allows you to easily choose who you want to share your information with, prompting you with the options  – to your family circle, your acquaintance circle, for example. Going public with a posting is also an option, if you’re comfortable with that!  

Circles for friends, family, people you follow, and acquaintances are already set up within Google+, but you can also create a circle for any other group of contacts that you want to keep together. I set up two other circles, Work Friends and Princeton Friends, for example. You can add people to your circles, even though they may not have added you to their circles. And, when you share information, you can choose to email the posting to someone who is in your circle, but not using Google+.

As a side note, there’s a tab that allows you to edit your posting if you’ve made a mistake – an option that I really appreciate! 

•Hangouts allow you to video chat with up to 10 friends at one time. Google is not kidding when they say Check your hair and make sure your mic works! It took only seconds from the time I clicked on the Start a hangout button and installed the Google Voice and Video plugin to seeing myself on the screen, ready for a chat. Now to find some friends on Google+ to hangout with and try it out…

•Sparks are designed to help you keep track of, and share information about, topics or subjects that you’re really interested in. There’s a button that allows you to save the topic, so you can go back to it at anytime. Google+ offers suggestions for Sparks with featured interests, like fashion, recipes, and racecars. Not too exciting at first glance. But, then I popped into the search bar a popular, current event topic, US Debt Ceiling, and was immediately impressed—a news feed of recent online articles on the subject.

•On the mobile front, you can add your location to your postings, if you want. You can instantly upload photos from your smart phone to Google+ and, again, share them with only those you choose to share with. Wow! To learn about the supported phones and other features, visit http://www.google.com/mobile/+/. I’m not sure that everyone is having the same mobile experience—I have an Android phone and it appears seamless to me. One last feature, which I am looking forward to exploring when I have a few more local friends on the site, is the Huddle. This allows you to instant chat with a group of 6 people at one time.

•As I have an iGoogle account set up as my home page, my Google+ account is easy to access. I simply click on +Joann in the header, next to my Gmail and Google Reader. I added my photo to my profile and had the option to edit the image, changing the colors, and so on. Nice.

So far, so good! From all accounts, Google is trying to create a social networking site that is more about you and your needs as a user of a social networking site. They comment in the Google Blog posting, which is referenced above, “online sharing needs a serious re-think”. It feels like they have done that and more.  Time will tell as we use and explore Google+ over the coming months.

As a marketer, I’m interested in understanding how the new social network is going to impact businesses. Facebook pages are a great way to share interest stories and to connect with your audiences, and they’re optimized for the search engines. I wonder what’s on the horizon for businesses in this regard with Google+, and look forward to seeing the launch of this feature soon.

In the meantime, if you are a business owner or responsible for communications within your organization, I recommend that you (1) add the +1 button to your website with your other share buttons, so people coming to your website can recommend your content on Google+—users signed into Google.com will be able to see the +1 button in search results — http://www.google.com/webmasters/+1/button/; and (2) pay close attention to what’s going on with this.

 There is no Like, or Thumbs up, button on Google+. I hope you +1’d this!

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 Jo Singer is Director of Marketing and Social Media for Howard Design Group (www.howarddesign.com), a Princeton-based marketing and design firm. In her role at HDG, she works with both corporations and non-profit organizations helping them to better connect and engage with their audiences.