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Google+ a Ghost Town? Hardly

Not only is Google+ not deserted, it might be a better platform for business than Facebook and Twitter. Here's why.

Every social media-savvy tech entrepreneur with any digital credibility is on Twitter. But according to tech pundit Robert Scoble, maybe you need not be: Twitter is fast approaching the status of ghost town.

You should really be on Google+ instead, Scoble says. (And probably Facebook, too.)

If you're one of the many who's thought the exact opposite, here's a breakdown of why the Google+ community is more engaged than you think.

Google+ vs. Facebook vs. Twitter

G+ and Facebook, at least at this point, aren't drawing the same kinds of users.

As you well know, Facebook is a good place to keep up with family, friends and acquaintances. In fact, one G+ user who responded to Scoble's post calls Facebook "a school reunion that never ended."

For businesses, Facebook can be a good place to engage with fans, although some are questioning their investment there. General Motors recently announced it plans to stop advertising on the social network, saying its paid ads there aren't effective enough.

On G+ you'll likely connect with strangers, many of whom are tech-savvy men--more than 69% of G+ users are male, according to SocialStatistics.com. And because you usually don't have any kind of real-world relationship with these people no one is there to consume content like pictures of kids or other personal stuff. Instead, you'll see links to interesting content and quite a lot about subjects of a tech nature.

"I'm really liking the community here [on Google+]," Scoble wrote. "The conversation is usually intelligent, which is what keeps drawing me back."

The reason he's down on Twitter is this: Since last July only 20,000 new people have followed him there. That's opposed to Google+ where 1.5 million have put him in their circles and Facebook, which has brought him nearly 250,000 subscribers within the same time period.

"[W]hile number of tweets have gone up, people are getting overloaded so they aren't following more people. Why is that? Because there isn't any noise controls on Twitter (Facebook's feed, on my screens, is a LOT more useful than Twitter's feeds)," he wrote.

Why G+ Is Not a Ghost Town

Third-party research firms such as RJMetrics would have you believe the user engagement on G+ is low.

Findings from a recent study the company released sparked a lively conversation among users who took issue with the analysis.

Their main complaint? G+ has only been around for a year, so you can't compare that data to, say, data from Twitter's entire existence. Plus, the analysis was based only on public posts within G+, not private ones, which may have introduced a sampling error.

A Google spokeswoman I contacted agreed, adding that not only do these outside firms have no access to all the interactions going on within private circles--where the majority of activity happens--they also don't take into account how much a person can interact with G+ without actually going into the site. (You don't have to leave Gmail to see and reply to notifications.) She said 170 million people have signed up so far and internally they're seeing "phenomenal growth," although that's certainly a statement you'd expect to hear from the company itself.

Hangouts Are Good for Business

Tom Rolfson, an online pioneer and Internet entrepreneur, has become an unofficial evangelist for Google+, and particularly the Hangout feature that lets 10 people video chat, share screens, and collaborate on Google Docs files.

He produced what has come to be the quintessential example of a wildly successful public Hangout--the first online concerts of musician Daria Musk, a singer songwriter who started on Google+ with only 16 followers. Her first Hangout concert garnered a few hundred people who stopped by to listen during the six hours she performed.  Her second, a week later, had 7,300 people in 100 countries listening.

"The [third] one was watched by over 200,000 people live worldwide!" she writes on her Google+ profile page. She went on to give a TEDtalk and was featured in Billboard Magazine.

"She's now got 1.3 million followers and requests to play all over the world. That's what inspired the development of Hangouts On-Air," Rolfson says.

Hangouts On Air, introduced last month, is a fantastic way to engage with customers and fans because it lets you broadcast to the world live hangout video from the Google+ stream, your YouTube channel, or your website. While broadcasting, you can see how many people are watching and once you're finished Google posts a public recording of the event to your YouTube channel and to Google+.

Imagine the business uses: customer tutorials, market research, product demos, and launches--really any kind of external communication that traditionally would have been done in print can now be shared with millions via video. That is, if you can build a strong following on Google+.

How to Get Followers on Google+

Rolfson, who recently invited me to a hangout (my first) to make sure I learned how they work (and they are pretty slick), shared a couple of valuable tools that can help you grow your followers on Google+ and make sure you have a respectable following-to-follower ratio.

First, if you want people to follow you or your business on Google+ it helps to follow them first. Shared Circles are a great way to follow a large number of people all at once.

Many people, including plenty of tech influencers such as Scoble, have shared their circles--lists of people grouped together because of their interest in a myriad of topics. Entertainment, games, geeks, geography--you name it, there's likely a shared circle for it.

You can find the list of them in a public Google Docs spreadsheet. Once there, peruse the categories and titles, click on a link and you'll end up at the Google+ profile page for the person who shared it. Click to add the circle to yours, give it a name and voilà--you've now just added all the people on the shared circle to the people you're following. The hope is they will follow you back.

Want to circle people who are highly engaged on Google+? Rolfson has created just such a shared circle and says it will "rock anyone's stream."

Like Twitter, for the best credibility you'll want to have more people following you compared to the ones you follow so you really don't want to waste your numbers following people who don't follow back, especially since Google only lets you put 5,000 in circles.

To help with this, Rolfson suggests a tool called Uncircle Uncirclers, which in a few moments, figures out which people in  your circles aren't reciprocating and removes them from your circles.

If you want to know more about how you can use Google+ to bolster your brand, check out Google+ Your Business on Google+.

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Last updated: Jun 5, 2012

CHRISTINA DESMARAIS

Christina DesMarais is an Inc.com contributor who writes about the tech start-up community, covering innovative ideas, news, and trends. On Google+, add her to one of your circles. Have a tip? Email her at christinadesmarais (at) live (dot) com.




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