5 reasons why you should still care about Google+

Google+ is having a bad day. The social media network has received a slew of negative press adding fuel to the ongoing, fiery debate over whether the platform is a success or a dud. The first hit came in April when Google+ creator Vic Gundotra announced that he would be leaving the company. Despite Google CEO Larry Page’s public support of Google+, saying the network would march on, naysayers were quick to surmise that this meant the platform would soon shutter. Fast forward a month to this past June at Google's I/O developer conference where Google+ received not a single mention, again spurring outcries from critics that the social network is dead. Yet, a vocal group of Google+ supporters have been quick to defend the network. A few shouted loud enough that the author of a front page New York Times article declaring I/O as Google+’s time of death, felt compelled to write a follow up response including data that Google+ indeed has a large network of engaged users.

So who is using Google+? The first answer is a community of 300 million users, who are actively engaging with the social networking stream. A recent Nielsen report put Google+ usage at 29 million unique monthly users on the web and 21 million on smartphones. The group is young– between the ages of 25-34– predominantly male and extremely tech savvy (an attractive audience for marketers).

And should we still care? Well, some would argue Google+’s active user numbers are a bit skewed as Google now requires a Plus profile to open a Gmail account, create a YouTube profile or upload photos. Yet despite the bad press and the controversial numbers, you should still care about Google+ and consider leveraging it to market your business. Here are five reasons why Google+ should not be ignored.

1. It’s still (relatively) new

Although Google+ launched in June 2011, Google+ Pages for businesses were not offered until November of that year, putting the network at just over 2.5 years old. This may seem ancient in social media years, but for a company that is “always in beta,” there is still time for this network to come into its own.

2. You can still be first

Although several major brands have figured out the Google+ game (notable examples include Red Bull and Burberry), within the travel & tourism industry there is still an opportunity to be first. San Diego and Atlanta are two of the top followed U.S. cities on Google+, but aside from these two, the playing field is wide open. There is still an opportunity for travel brands to get in on the ground level, be innovative and garner earned media attention for their efforts.

3. It’s personal

Brands are frustrated with Facebook where it is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to deliver content to your own fans. Businesses should stop treating Google+ like Facebook because the platforms are inherently different in how they allow brands to interact with their fans. Simply put, Google+ is more personal. While Facebook prevents brand pages from messaging fans and limits interactions to liking or replying to comments, Google+ offers brands several avenues for connecting with users. For example, Google+ brand pages may search for users, add individuals to circles (for which the user will receive a notification), and even send users within a circle an email when posts are published. One might argue that the one-to-one connections made on Google+ are more valuable than adding fans on Facebook.

4. Google still believes in Google+

It's true. Google+ did not receive much love at the I/O developer conference (to which Google released a statement saying this year’s presentation was focused around three themes— "Design, Develop Distribute"– not product updates). Yet despite the lack of I/O love, Google still believes in Google+, a notion supported by a series of platform updates announced in the last few months. Most notably, Google+ released platform “Insights” for brand pages allowing page managers to view photo/post impressions, engagement and user demographics– numbers that previously had to be calculated manually. Google also continues to enhance Hangouts, the most successful Google+ feature, currently used by everyone from The White House to Major League Baseball.

5. Above all… search

Perhaps the number one reason to consider creating a Google+ page for your business is to leverage it for SEO. Google is committed to personalized search results, meaning recommendations from friends (+1’s on Google+ included) have an effect on a user’s search results. Your website’s Google +1’s will have a significant impact on page rank. Enriching your Google+ profile and posts with keywords, installing authorship for your blog and turning on social extensions for Google AdWord campaigns will all contribute to your website’s page rank. This is one fact that cannot be ignored.

Where do you stand on the great Google+ debate? Share your thoughts in the comments below.