Google+ for business - three great features, and three it's missing

Last week saw the launch of Google+ Pages – meaning that the search giant’s social media platform is finally open for business.

Google+ fits pretty seamlessly into Google’s existing offering, and could be a fantastic new way for businesses to connect with current or potential customers.

If you’ve not yet dipped your toe in, read more about setting up a Google+ Page for your business. Then check out some of the core features below, along with information on what they mean for your business.

Circles

Circles are at the heart of Google+. You can think of these in the same terms as follower lists, or groups of friends. Circles allow you to arrange the people you follow into specific groups, enabling better, more targeted communication.

Google provides you with Circles for ‘Customers’, ‘VIPs’, and ‘Team Members’ as standard, but you can rename these or add new ones as you please. You can then tailor your posts to individual Circles. For example, if you want to broadcast a post only to a specific subset of customers, Google+ allows you to do this – provided that you have put those customers in a Circle.

It is important to understand, however, that a user must add a business before that business can add them back. This might seem irritating – but it is a potentially important way of preventing spam, and of ensuring that users are only following the businesses in which they actually have an interest. It is therefore likely to be beneficial for both personal and business users in the long term.

Hangouts

Hangouts are amongst the most exciting elements of Google+. They give you the opportunity to chat live with other users, using webcams. As the system currently stands you can chat simultaneously with up to nine users. In addition to simple video chat you can also collaborate on Google Docs in real-time, share videos and pictures, and use a virtual whiteboard.

There are a significant potential business uses here. To begin with, Hangouts present an obvious opportunity for collaboration with colleagues. If some of your colleagues work remotely, Hangouts provide a simple, cheap way to keep in contact.

Similarly, Hangouts allow you to connect with your customers in an entirely new way. Imagine, for example, running a customer feedback session live on Google+. This could allow you to gain hugely beneficial insights into your products and your customer base – in a very cost-efficient way.

Direct Connect

Direct Connect is one of the most headline-grabbing features in Google+. It provides users with a simple way to find the Google+ Pages of the businesses or organisations they want to reach.

Users will eventually be able to reach any Google+ Page by simply adding a ‘+’ symbol to the front of a search term in Google. You can try it now with Youtube. This feature doesn’t yet apply to all Google+ Pages, but it is thought that it will be gradually rolled out.

What's it missing?

When Google+ first launched, we put together a wishlist of must-have features for business. While the platform shows great promise, our wishlist certainly hasn't been met - and there are some obvious features that really ought to have been included in the business product as standard.

  • Vanity URLs

This is a major oversight. As the system currently stands, Google+ Pages have incredibly ugly URLs. They are little more than a string of numbers. It would have been sensible for Google to offer business users the chance to use their business name in their URL – for example plus.google.com/widgetbusiness

  • Negative circles

Circles are very useful – but in their current iteration they are quite limiting. When making a post, users currently choose which Circles they would like to broadcast to. It would be even more useful if, in addition, users could choose which Circles they do not want to broadcast to. This would enable easier targeting.

  • Analytics

Google is preparing to launch an analytics dashboard for Google+ that will apparently help you track “who’s interacting with your page and how; your users’ demographics; and info about their social activities like +1's, shares and comments”. In the meantime, though, business users are sorely lacking hard data on Google+ usage.