Since I published 4 compelling reasons for creative people to start using Google Plus, lots of you have responded: “OK I’m sold! I’ve signed up for an account. But what do I DO with it?”
So this article will walk you through the process of getting started on Google+ and using it to build a network that brings you inspiration, connection, conversation, camaraderie, customers and/or career opportunities.
1. Don’t abandon your website or blog!
Every time a new social network comes along, we hear the familiar refrains:
“Blogging is dead!”
“You don’t need a website any more, just a Facebook page/Twitter account/Google+ profile.”
“[Shiny new social network] is the ultimate blogging platform, you should move your blog there.”
Social networks come and go – remember Friendster? MySpace? Friends Reunited? Jaiku? Plurk? – so if you make one of them your online ‘home’, you’re building it on quicksand.
And even if you could look into the future and see that a particular network was here to stay, it would still be a bad idea to make it the centre of your online universe.
Chris Brogan nailed this years ago, with his concept of home bases and outposts:
- Your home base is your own website, which you own and control. Build it right and it will bring you opportunities for the rest of your career. It may never be as big as the social networking empires, but it will endure while they rise and fall.
- Outposts are other people’s websites, where you spend time to connect with the wider world. They can include forums, the comments sections of other blogs, and social networks.
Google+ is an outpost. A very powerful and useful one, that can bring multiple benefits to your homebase (including SEO) – but not a replacement for your home base.
And it looks like Google+ was designed that way. Unlike Facebook, which seems to want to recreate the web inside its own walled garden, right from the beginning Google’s strategy has been about connecting up different parts of the web, mainly via its search engine. Which is probably why they built a social backplane instead of a social network in the conventional sense.
So don’t abandon your website or blog. Instead, use Google+ to amplify its reach, by connecting with new people.
2. Sign up for a Google+ account and fill out your profile
Click here to sign up for a Google+ account. No need to worry about choosing a good username: you need to give your real name, and Google+ profiles are identified by a string of numbers, not words.
When you fill out your profile, remember you’re using Google+ as a professional network, so emphasize your work over personal stuff. But it’s not LinkedIn, and you’re not a stuffed shirt, so don’t fill it out like a c.v./resume. Talk like a human being, and include enough of your personal interests to show there’s more to your life than work.
Here are the most important parts of your profile:
Make this a recognisable photo, preferably with a smile. No cats, dogs, significant others, Stormtrooper masks, weird avatars or cartoon portraits (unless you’re the cartoonist).
This is the big image that appears behind your portrait at the top of your profile. For some reason, Google+ recently changed the format of cover images from ‘very large’ to ‘absolutely gigantic’. It’s hard to think of a big benefit of taking up 50% of a social networking screen with an image, but hey, we’re in Google’s house so we need to respect their taste in interior design.
Most people seem to choose either an image that looks nice and sets an emotional tone, or one that communicates what they do. If you’re a visual artist, you can kill two birds with one stone by using one of your own images.
As a writer, coach and speaker, I’ve used a photo of me presenting (which is frankly more interesting than a photo of me writing).
Your answer to this question appears in the little thumbnail that pops up whenever someone hovers over your name on Google+. It may be their first impression of you – after reading one of your comments, or a post of yours shared by someone else – so make it count.
If you’re a brilliantly succinct copywriter, you might want to write an actual tagline that encapsulates what you do. For the rest of us, a simple and effective solution is to list your role(s). Mine says ‘Creative Business Coach. Poet.’
This is a place for you to expand on your job title and explain a bit more about who you are and why people should care.
As the name suggests, it a chance to tell a story that will intrigue the right kind of people, so that they want to get to know you better. But it’s not a good idea to post your life story in minute detail. Try to keep it fairly brief, highlighting the most important things you do, with links to your websites and projects for those who want to learn more.
A couple of small but important profile details many people overlook:
Add links to your other social networking profiles, such as your Twitter account or Facebook page. This helps Google identify you as the same person who is active on these accounts.
Why is this important? Because one of the 4 compelling reasons for using Google+ is to boost your search rankings, by identifying yourself as an authoritative and influential person online. Activity on social networks is one piece of the jigsaw Google uses to rank pages (and now Authors), so if you have a popular Pinterest or Twitter account, you’ll want to associate it with your Google+ profile.
Add links to your own website(s), and any sites where you contribute as a guest author or creator. This is half of what you need to do to let Google identify you as the creator of these pages, and get the SEO benefits we looked at in my previous article.
3. Link your website and guest posts to your Google+ profile
So you’ve linked your Google+ profile to your website, but anyone could do that, and pretend to be you. So you need to close the loop, by linking back to your Google+ profile from the site itself.
There are two ways to do this:
- Follow these instructions from Google.
- If like me you use WordPress + the Genesis Framework to run your sites, follow these instructions for a quicker and easier way to do it.
That takes care of your own sites. If you publish guest posts on other sites, ask the owner to update your author profile with a link back to your Google+ profile containing the tag ‘rel=author’. Here are instructions for doing that (option 1).
Now Google knows you are the author of the guest posts as well; in the fullness of time both you and the sites you create content for should benefit from the association.
4. Import your contacts and sort them into circles
Kick-start your social life on Google+ by importing your existing contacts (from Gmail or wherever) – click the ‘Find Friends’ button on this page.
Now the fun begins! One of the best features of Google+ is the ability to sort your contacts in to circles, to make it easier to keep up with them. There’s no ‘one true way to do this’ – here are some of the criteria you might apply:
- How many of their posts you want to read
- Friends / family / work contacts
For example, here are some of the circles I check most often:
- Following – all my contacts
- Inner circle – I want to read everything these people post
- Writers and publishers – what it says on the tin
- Artists and photographers – ditto
A few points to bear in mind:
- You can add people to more than one circle
- No-one sees your circles or the names you give them(!)
- You can change them later, so don’t worry about getting them right first time
Circles work both ways
As well as helping you keep up with different conversation streams, circles allow you to share your posts with selected groups of people.
On Twitter, everything you share is either totally public or (if you protect your tweets) visible only to your followers. On Facebook, the privacy settings are so complicated, it’s anyone’s guess who will see it.
But on Google+ you can easily decide who sees what, by publishing posts to selected circles only. So if you have a circle devoted to 15th century Scottish poetry, you might decide to share posts on that topic with members of that circle only, rather than the world at large.
5. Fit Google+ into the gaps in your day
Because it’s full of smart people sharing interesting links and gorgeous images, it won’t surprise you to learn that Google+ can be fiendishly addictive – you could lose entire days in there, if you’re not careful.
But with a little planning and self-knowledge, you can make the most of Google+ AND get your most important work done. Here are some tips for doing this:
Work to your own ultradian rhythms. Identify which parts of your day are your ‘creative hotspots’, and beware of frittering them away on Google+ (or any other social network).
Put hard edges in your day. Decide in advance which parts of your day are good times to use Google+, without interfering with your other work.
Be aware of the timezones of the people you want to reach. Make an effort to network when they are awake!
Use mobile apps. When you’re at your desk, you may well have more urgent and important priorities than hanging out on Google+. But if you use the smartphone or tablet app, you can network in ‘downtime’ – while travelling, waiting, or in the evenings and weekends. 10 minutes here and there can make a big difference, without swamping your day.
For example, I’m a ‘morning person’ so before lunch, writing is my priority, and you won’t see me on Google+ so much. I’m in the UK, but I have more readers and network contacts in the US than anywhere else, so afternoons are a good time for me to network.
So I check into Google+ between coaching clients in the afternoons, as well as via mobile in the evenings, and while I’m out and about during the day.
6. You are what you share
The two most important things you will do on Google+ are sharing media content and having conversations. Let’s start with the first one.
In practical terms, the media you share falls into two categories:
- Your own work
- Other people’s work
Your own work
Every time you create and publish something you’re proud of on another site (e.g. your blog, someone else’s blog, your online portfolio, your Vimeo page) its worth posting a link to it on Google+, with a brief note of introduction.
Not only will this help to get it into circulation and in front of new people, it should also help to get your work on Google’s radar. No one knows for sure how Google+ influences search rankings, but if for example, you’re a photographer, it’s a safe bet that if you post a lot of photographs from your website to Google+, and those are frequently shared by influential Google+ users, there will be a ‘trickle down’ SEO benefit to your website.
You can also use Google+ as a kind of ‘mini blog’, by writing up shortish posts about ideas that you wouldn’t necessarily want to publish on your main blog. Or uploading images, video or audio direct to Google+ and sharing it with your network that way.
If you’re very brilliant and/or prolific, you could probably attract a lively following on Google+ by only sharing your own work. But you (and others) might find that a little narcissistic. You’d also be missing out on a lot of the potential of Google+.
Other people’s work
Image by Paul Stickland
Discovering something great and sharing it with your friends is one of life’s great pleasures, and Google+ makes it easy to do this, whether the source is photos, video or text.
It’s worth adding a brief note about what it means to you and/or why you think it will be of interest to your network. For obvious reasons, you can’t do this on Twitter, and it can add a lot of value for your network – especially assuming they are in a hurry and might miss an important aspect of the work you are sharing.
Obviously, the creator benefits each time you share a link to their work. And it can be a great way to meet new people on Google+ – I’ve made several good contacts from either sharing someone’s work and receiving a nice ‘thank you’ comment, or noticing that someone has shared a piece of mine, and checking out their profile.
If you’re stuck for what to share on Google+, here are some questions that may help:
- Who or what inspires you?
- Who or what do you really admire?
- What will your network find interesting/entertaining?
- What will they find useful/helpful?
Media as digital clothing
Steve Rosenbaum, author of Curation Nation, has a delightful metaphor for online sharing (emphasis mine):
Sharing is more than just a pointer or a map: It’s an implicit endorsement. So, by sharing things that matter, you are building your collective digital “story,” a story of what you believe in and what you endorse.
I call it digital clothing. When you wake up in the morning, you look in your closet and say, “Today, I’ll wear the blue shirt with the white collar.” You put on the image you want to share with the world. Increasingly, we live our lives online, so the links we share and the collection of information we curate and endorse becomes a critical part of who we are.
Put another way: We are what we share.
Each time you share a piece of media on a social network, it says something about you – your tastes, your priorities, your interests, and the breadth and depth of your knowledge.
I would say “choose wisely” – but with your impeccable taste, that shouldn’t be difficult. 😉
7. Keep adding interesting people to your circles
Because Google+ makes it easy for users to share each others’ posts, with links to the original author embedded, and threaded comments under each post, if you engage in the network it will keep bringing new people to your attention.
When you see an unfamiliar name attached to an interesting post or comment, you can learn progressively more about them with a few clicks:
- Hover over their name and view the pop-up thumbnail – See why it pays to have good photos and a good tagline?
- Click through to their Google+ page to see their latest posts – See why it pays to be sharing interesting things?
- Click their ‘About’ tab to read their profile – See why it pays to write up a good Story?
- Click the link to their website – See why it pays to link back to your site (and have a site worth visiting)?
If you see someone with an interesting profile (and website), who’s sharing good stuff in their posts, feel free to add them to your circles.
Overwhelm is less of a problem on Google+ than other networks, since you can filter people by circle (and even ‘mute’ people who are too noisy!).
Unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, following is not reciprocal – the other person doesn’t need to accept the connection (or pretend to be your ‘friend’) for you to follow their public posts. And unlike Twitter, I’ve thankfully not come across anyone throwing hissy fits because “I followed her but she didn’t follow me back!”.
So make the most of Google+ as a place to explore, by meeting new people, and seeing what emerges from the conversation.
9. Explore communities
Communities are a relatively recent addition to Google+. They are a bit like groups on Facebook or LinkedIn – places for people to gather and discuss topics that interest them.
Some communities are private, others are public; some are busy, some are quiet; all the ones I’ve entered have been welcoming. (Come to think of it, the overall tone of Google+ is remarkably positive and constructive.)
Once you have your profile set up, click here to start looking for communities of people who share your interests.
And if you’re feeling really brave, starting your own community could be a great way to build your network…
9. Make an effort!
These days, I find it odd when non-users describe Google+ as a ‘ghost town’ – in my experience it’s one of the liveliest and most stimulating networks on the web.
But then I think back to when I first tried Google+, and I remember feeling a little (ahem) nonplussed.
I had been using Twitter and Facebook for years, so whenever I posted something on those networks, I was used to getting some kind of response – replies, retweets, likes etc. Which made it a little disconcerting to put up posts on Google+ and hear nothing but crickets chirping in response.
It wasn’t until I made a concerted effort to engage with other people’s posts that I started to unlock the real value of Google+. By commenting, resharing, and hitting the +1 button (similar to the ‘like’ button on Facebook) I started to connect with other users, and to receive more comments, shares and +1’s in response to my own posts.
As in so many other areas of life, it pays to make an effort on Google+ by joining conversations and being generous in sharing other people’s work.
The ‘small picture benefit’ of doing this is more exposure for your own work and ideas. But the exciting ‘big picture benefit’ is that the more smart, creative and passionate people are engaging with each other on Google+, the more valuable the network becomes for everyone.
Right now, millions of people are co-creating something extraordinary on Google+. Fancy joining us?
Over to you
Does this give you what you need to get up and running on Google+?
Experienced Google+ users – any tips you would like to add?
About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a creative coach and the author of Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success. Having read this article, you won’t be surprised to learn you can circle Mark on Google+.