Google+ …A plus for small businesses?

If you weren’t already overwhelmed with the number of online networking platforms floating around on the Web, Google has just launched a new social media tool called Google . In hopes of competing with Facebook (after previous attempts at social networking by Google have gone the way of the Dodo) this service is looking like it might actually stick around. Though it is still in its early days and not everyone has access yet, the positive buzz around Google can’t be ignored.

Many professionals have chosen to keep their Facebook profiles strictly for their personal life, and use LinkedIn for business networking. The new G seems like it might offer the best of both worlds. Your Google network is organized into circles: family, friends, business, and so on. Users can easily segment their business activity from their personal life (like the ‘group’ feature on Facebook, but simpler). Which circle you select also determines whose updates appear in your news feed.

Business users can take the G “circles” concept a step further. Imagine setting up specific circles for existing clients, leads, suppliers, and other professional contacts. Content can be shared based on the interests of each circle, giving more value to the information you provide a specific group.

Why should small businesses pay attention?

It is rumoured that Google will change the way search engine results are produced. Among other things, factors like keywords and links are currently used to determine which websites come up first. Now that Google is being thrown into the mix, social media will reportedly become one of the key influences in a website’s search engine ranking.

Have you noticed the small 1 button next to the websites that come up in your Google searches yet? This is a way that users can “Like” (to use a familiar Facebook term) websites, boosting their popularity. URLs that you’ve given a 1 will appear in a section on your profile. Businesses are already adopting the 1 button on their websites.

Another tool: online “hangouts” let users meet up with contacts in a chat room. This could be useful for business meetings and connecting with remote employees or customers. Up to 10 users with webcams can collaborate in a video hangout (which some say is apparently better than Skype).

What are people saying about it so far?

“If Google provides an advantage to communicators over other social channels, it’s the ability to reach a well-defined, targeted audience.” [Shel Holtz,]

“If Google rolls out deep integration with Google Apps then the collaboration story gets even stronger. Group/team workflow inside docs or spreadsheets would be even more useful than it is today. The addition of video to that mix adds to that. The addition of support for presentations could facilitate webinars, group presentation development and group sharing of content.” [Michael Fauscette,]

“If Google can persuade users to come back every day, it has a winner. But the company will have to do even more to provide a truly compelling alternative to Facebook. At the moment, Google cannot compete with the king of social, but Google doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to take on Mark Zuckerberg’s giant quite yet.” [Ben Parr,]

While it’s doubtful that Facebook users will suddenly jump ship to Google , the new social networking platform is expected by many to be an additional avenue for consumers and companies to share content and connect with others. Those who have gotten an early invitation to play around in Google have found it easy to understand and use. It will likely become a useful tool for entrepreneurs and small businesses to enhance their online presence.

Business profiles don’t exist yet on Google , but keep your eyes peeled — because they’re coming soon. In the meantime, why not learn a little more about Google ? Read up on some of the other features like Sparks and Huddles. It’s not a bad idea to start thinking about a strategy that your company can use to make the most out of this new social networking tool. When it becomes available, you will be one of the first on the scene, setting your company apart from the rest.