Just when you were finally starting to figure out Facebook and Twitter … along comes Google’s entry into the social media world with Google+.
Google+ is still officially in “beta” right now, but they’ve started opening up the invite process. According to this Wall Street Journal report, the service has garnered 18 million users in its first three weeks.
I was fortunate enough to get an invite early on and be one of the first wave of users to join Google+. It’s growth has been terrific. When people ask me “what it is,” I tell them it’s a service that combines the best aspects of Twitter and Facebook to create a social media service that truly values conversation.
That being said — social media tools are what you make of them. If you’re a politician or political organization that has been fortunate enough to snag an invite to Google+, please read on. While the service is still in its infancy, we try to provide some pointers on how to get started and make the most of Google+. (And, for the record, the two most high profile politicians to join the service in its early days were Newt Gingrich and Gary Johnson.)
- First, set up a personal profile and fill out as much detail as possible. Unlike Twitter, catchy acronyms or nicknames aren’t appreciated. Use your (or your candidate’s) real name. The profile is key, as it allows people to find you via keyword search. As you can see from this recent Google search of my name, your profile is the first thing people will see from now on when they do a general Google search of your name. Search engine gold!
- You’re probably wondering: “Can I set up a page for my campaign organization, such as ‘Republicans for Fair Elections’ or “Citizens for Smith’?” The answer is no — not yet. Google is set to role out pages for campaigns/organizations/businesses later this year. Some organizations have jumped the gun and set up profiles already — and there are some early indications that Google may “clean out” these pages (i.e., eliminate them). They really want to create a clear delineation between individuals and organizations, which is smart. They want to do it right. So, for now, hold off on creating an organizational page.
- Once your profile is set up, use the Search box to search for people who reside in your district. Look at their profiles to find their interests. Then start putting them into “circles.” What are circles? Basically, it’s a tool that allows you to segment the people you follow into groups, and then, if you wish, deliver customized messages to each circle. For example, you may want to create circles for people based on the cities in which they reside. This would allow you to deliver messages only pertaining to those cities to the people in those respective circles. Of course, you can always make your posts “public” so everyone can see them. But the circles can be a useful tool.
- Start posting. Not just news releases, but actual conversational content designed to engage fellow Google Plussers. As with other social networking sites, Google+ allows you to humanize your content and provide a personal connection that no other media have ever allowed us to provide. Just like we tell our clients regarding Twitter and Facebook: 30-second ads can provide a snapshot, but not nearly as effectively as a humorous tweet from the road, or a Facebook picture of you visiting the World’s Largest Ball of Wax en route to an actual campaign event. Like those sites, Google Plus allows your campaign to provide a real-time scrapbook — showing constant activity. You can show your supporters and network how hard you’re working simply by posting from the road with anecdotes and pictures of where you’ve been.
- As social media guru Chris Brogan warns: “don’t just post and run.” In other words — the strength of Google+ (and any social network) isn’t just broadcasting your message, it’s reading the feedback and commenting back and forth. Throw out questions to see what kind of feedback you get. It could be anything — from asking whether or not your followers support higher taxes … to asking if any of them have any good summer reading suggestions. Just get the conversation started.
- The Google+ interface makes it a great photo sharing tool. But, please, don’t just share photos from campaign events. Share photos of “Americana” as you travel your district, throw on some family photos … make it interesting.
- Sharing is appreciated. People always appreciate having their content shared. If you see something you like, share it. The social media karma gods will repay you.
- Feel free to +1 the posts you like. +1 is basically similar to a “like” on Facebook. It shows you find a post interesting or simply like it.
- You can also +1 content on the Web. Similar to how Facebook allows you to “like” content around the Web, whether it’s a story in your favorite newspaper, or a post on your favorite blog, +1 buttons are starting to pop up all over the Web. In addition, if you do a Google search, you’ll also notice that you can +1 various search results. Theoretically, this may help boost search rankings for piece of content — but these +1′s also are catalogued in people’s Google Profiles and can help lead to more viral traffic to your site. Encourage your supporters to +1 your Web content in the Google search results.
- Think of creative ways you can use “Google Hangouts.” In short, Google Hangouts is a group video chat tool. You can have video “hangouts” of up to 10 people. Yes, it’s limited, but it can be powerful. Newt Gingrich got some buzz for being the first politician to hold a Google Hangout. Imagine holding hangouts with 10 volunteers or voters in each town in your district. Or perhaps holding hangouts with your regional campaign directors. Conference calls are so early 2011. It’s time to start hanging out.
- Remember that Google+ is going to keep evolving, so be ready to adapt.
Most importantly — always be testing. See what works. Learn what doesn’t. Measure the feedback you get on certain kinds of posts — and watch closely the analytics on your Web site (which posts drive most people to your site, keep them there longer, etc.)
As with any social networking effort, have fun, be conversational, and act like a human. The days of one-way broadcast communication are coming to a close.
It’s all about engagement. See you on Google+!
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