For some time, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have been the "big three" of social media, but a new and very powerful player -- Google+ -- has changed the social media landscape, especially for B2B marketers. Already overwhelmed with the multiple options and rapidly expanding time and resource commitment required to remain relevant across multiple communication channels, B2B marketers find themselves faced with a big decision-stick with LinkedIn or become engaged with Google+? Or both?
While the concern that most have when making these sorts of decisions tends to revolve around "missing out" on opportunities, as with any question related to which communication channels are most appropriate, it pays to step back and consider both the audience you're attempting to reach and your goals, notes Katie Conroy, an SEO and local search specialist with Hall Internet Marketing in Portland, Maine. "The answer very much depends on what your goals are and what kinds of interactions you want to gain," she says. "They are both very similar, but with a few important differences."
Those differences, along with a solid understanding of your goals and audience, can help you determine where you should be spending your time. One important feature of Google+ that LinkedIn doesn't offer is the ability to segment and target specific audiences with unique messages through its "circles." So, B2B marketers can communicate differently with prospects and current customers, for instance, or with prospects in different industry segments.
The open nature of Google+, says Conroy, also allows users to more easily connect with a broader audience. LinkedIn she suggests, is helpful for connecting with people you already know, while Google+ "includes an openness similar to Facebook, allowing people from other countries and other experiences to comment within the Google+ community regardless of professional background."
In addition, points out Alex Membrillo, founder and CEO of Cardinal Web Solutions in Atlanta, Google+ offers a higher level of engagement for those that have "the time and creativity to make the most of it." Google+, he says, allows users to more prominently and attractively display images and video, and more features are available. "Professionals can use Google+ Events within a Community to promote an industry conference, or Hangouts on Air to host a live mini-symposium with other professionals in the industry."
Of course, from a search perspective, notes Conroy, Google+ has an obvious edge. Google+ communities are "indexable within Google searches, which is worth all the free clicks money wishes it could buy," she notes.
Even more importantly: "The more you comment within a Google+ community, the more Google begins to recognize you as an authority in the space, which is playing hardball with a much bigger giant than just LinkedIn." Ultimately, she says, with enough perseverance and some linking "you can get Google authorship with the help of your activity on Google+ communities-and that, for most of us in the industry, is the real trophy."
There are some definite advantages offered by Google+. But, in addition to features, B2B marketers must consider demographic and branding approaches when creating their strategy.
While many believe that LinkedIn has the larger audience, according to Craig Smith, with Digital Marketing Ramblings, Google+ has 343 million active users; LinkedIn has 225 million.
The users are different, though, notes Membrillo. "A company that tends toward middle-aged or older professionals is better off using LinkedIn," he says. "There are more users-especially in the 35+ age range-and more Groups already established on LinkedIn, especially for niche industries, than there are on Google+." While Google+ may be perfect for an Internet technology company, for instance, a financial advisor may be more successful connecting with professionals on LinkedIn, Membrillo says.
Google+ and LinkedIn also appeal to different positioning, or branding, approaches, suggests Shawna Tregunna, founder of ReSoMe based in Ottawa, Ontario.
Only individuals can interact in LinkedIn Groups, she notes-not organizations or "brands." "From a personal branding perspective it's great, but as a strategic marketing move for a brand it's tricky because an individual has to talk about your business and the individual owns the interaction and gains the connection," says Tregunna, not the brand.
Not so on Google+ where brand pages can join and engage in communities, just as individuals can. This creates the opportunity for the brand to partner with internal champions around an official presence, says Tregunna. "It increases exposure, control and protects the brand from the actions and opinions of one individual."
When considering these, and other, options says Membrillo, "what you really have to ask yourself is which is a better fit for your business: a professional network trying to become more social, or a social network that is attracting more professionals every day," says Membrillo.
Ideally, he says, B2B marketers would have the resources to do both. Of course, many don't. He suggests that the best way to make the decision is to review your professional network and identify the platform they are most engaged with. Ultimately, as with any marketing communication decision, that's the best place to focus your efforts.