[Note: this post was first published on AMEX OpenForum.com]
Our personal branding strategy may soon include Google+. This new breed of social network has features you won’t find on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or LinkedIn. The Google+ technology allows you to filter and group your friends into “Circles,” which reflect how we decipher relationships in real life. You treat your family different than your friends, and much different than your co-workers, when it comes to what you say and how you say it.
My first impression of Google+ was that it felt like a cooler version of high school. You won’t be included in certain Circles, but you will be included in others, based on who you are, what you do, and the strength of the relationship you have with people on the platform.
The word “friend” has changed significantly due to the popularity of social networks like Facebook. Research says that we don’t know one-fifth of our Facebook friends. The more people you add on Facebook, the more noise there is and the harder it is to publish content that your following will want to respond to. With Google+, you have complete control over who sees what and that’s important when you’re trying to establish your brand, while protecting your online reputation. Here are six things you can do right now to start building your personal brand on Google+.
1. Complete your Google profile
Google profiles have been around for a long time, but most people disregarded them. The importance of your Google profile used to be that it ranked on the first page of the Google search results for your full name. Now with Google+, your profile plays a more important role in defining who you are on Google’s social network.
When you’re signed into your Google account, go to “View Profile” and then “Edit Profile.” From here, you can paste your bio in the introduction section, add links to all of your social network profiles, websites, and blogs, as well as explain what you do and where you work. You will want to use the same avatar picture that you’ve been using on Twitter and your other profiles for consistency. Make sure the title under your name positions you as an expert in your field, not just as an employee of a company or a job seeker. This profile will help define your brand to the Google+ audience.
2. Create your Circles to distinguish your contacts
Typically on social networks, we get bombarded with updates and requests. With Circles, we can focus on the people that are most important in our lives, instead of the mainstream population. It forces you to contemplate who fits into what social circles, from family to friends to influencers, etc. You have full control over which Circles see what content and if you want to publicly display everything you publish.
Before you start using Circles, you will want to import your e-mail contacts from your Yahoo! or Hotmail account. You can even add your Facebook contacts. This way, you start with a foundation of friends. I recommend that you have a group for family, friends, industry contacts, your co-workers, and any special interest groups. I could also see a consultant using a Circle to connect with clients and for businesses to activate customer forum Circles.
On Google+ it’s more about quality contacts than a race for followers. It’s important that you separate your professional contacts with your personal contacts so that when you publish content, the right people are receiving information you’re comfortable sharing, and it’s more relevant to them. Don’t just cross promote your content from other social networks because it might not be applicable to every Circle.
3. Use the Sparks feature to start discussions around your expertise
If you’re wondering what you should share with your Circles, “Sparks” will help. Add your interests based on the types of content you typically keep track of using Google News, Google Blog Search or Google Alerts. Then, when you click on each Spark, you will have the latest news that you can share with different Circles of your network.
Sparks will make it so you don’t have to leave the page to find something to share. Think of Sparks as a real-time search engine built on your interests. By sharing niche content over and over again through sparks, you can build your brand as a subject matter expert in your field. When people comment on your content, you should reply and continue the conversation on the same thread.
4. Control who you associate with
You need to think about the people who you’re including in each Circle because it’s a reflection on you. With Google+ you can control brand association through the Network Visibility section in the “Profile and Privacy” section under “Account settings.” With Network Visibility, you can manage which people appear on your profile or hide their pictures altogether. Be mindful when you add certain individuals into each Circle because some people don’t want to associate themselves with others, there might be arguments.
5. Huddle and Hangout with your closest contacts
With Google+, you can get more intimate with your contacts and forge better relationships with important people in your industry, clients, and friends. +Huddle is a group messaging experience that syncs people up with each other in individual Circles. You can use it for promotional purposes or to share insights and location-based information. Think of it as a real-time mailing list for your contacts. +Hangouts is a video conferencing experience, which you can speak to multiple people at one time. It’s good for team meetings if you’re an entrepreneur or remote client presentations if you do consulting.