I shared an infographic some time ago that compared Google Plus to Facebook. At that time, Google Plus was just over a year old, and growing fast. It wasn’t reaching anywhere near the same number of people as Facebook, but hey—what does? It was young and growing faster than any other social media network at the time, and for a while it looked like the next big thing.

Now, a year later, Google Plus is still….here. 

If you already have a Google account (Gmail, for example), chances are you’ve at least taken the time to set up a Google Plus profile. But for most people it’s never become a ‘must visit’ place that you check every time you’re near a computer or smartphone.

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Google Plus: Ghost Town or Gold Mine?

It might be something of a surprise to hear that Google Plus is actually the second largest social media site in the world right now, with a larger membership base than Twitter. But where is everybody? Everyone has an account, you get tons of emails asking you to join this or that circle, but why aren’t your friends and colleagues using it every day? Why does it feel like winter in a summer resort town, full of houses that nobody lives in?

Most people touted Google Plus as “the next Facebook” when it launched, and that idea stuck around even though Google Plus took a completely different approach. If you drop the comparison though, suddenly Google Plus gets a lot more interesting.

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CommunitiesUnlike the profile-centric approach of Facebook, all the activity on Google Plus happens out in the site at large. That’s probably one of the reasons people become disillusioned with it after awhile—you’re used to people coming by and liking your status updates because that’s what happens on Facebook.

The easiest way to get involved with other people, whether they’re friends or customers, is through the Communities feature.Communities are groups centred around a specific interest where members can ask questions, discover related events in their area, or simply meet new people. Right now there are about 50,000 active communities, with topics ranging from Harry Potter to 3D printing technology and everything in between.

And the best part? You can join a Community as a brand, making it easier to get involved with your audience on a more personal level. To search for Communities, hover over the “Home” icon on your Google Plus dashboard and look for Communities in the slide menu.


Hangouts

The second feature that makes Google Plus unique is Hangouts, which are essentially video chats with up to 10 participants. Hangouts work well for:

  • Organizing a team
  • Demonstrating your services or a new product
  • Giving a seminar (only 10 people can participate, but anybody can watch)
  • Interviews
  • Discussions (allow viewers to join the call to ask a question, for example)

And once you finish a Hangout, you can always archive it and upload the video to Youtube. Want to see it in action? This video (and on the right, has the cast and crew of the film Ender’s Game talking to fans and answering questions. It really lets you be creative with how you promote your brand.

In the end, Google Plus isn’t for everybody, or every brand. I’ll always recommend a LinkedIn and and Twitter profile for a B2B company, and Facebook and Twitter for a B2C company, work on those first, and if you have time or if you feel like Google Plus’s features are a good fit for you, give it a try!