By Jeff Kline


6 Ways Nonprofits Can Use Google Plus

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

google plus logoFor many of us, Google Plus is a riddle wrapped up in an enigma. It continues to hang around, and its community of active users continue to grow. But it’s hard for many of us to understand what makes it unique (and why we need yet another social network). In my next few posts, we are going to take a deep dive into the world of Google Plus to figure out what, exactly, makes it so special.

Let’s start with something easy—just a few basic facts about Google Plus.

What is Google Plus?

Google Plus debuted in June 2011, and it is already the second largest social network in the world, outnumbered only by Facebook’s enormous user base. Of Google Plus’s 500 million members, 369 million are actively participating on the network at the time of this writing. (That’s a 27% increase from just 3 months ago!)

In its simplest form, Google+ functions similarly to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Users create a profile, connect with friends, share content, and create and manage business/organization pages.

But Google Plus is also considered a "social layer." It integrates social components into all of Google’s services (Search, Gmail, Maps, Calendar, etc.), creating a cohesive and comprehensive user experience. This integration into Google’s already successful services is one of the main driving forces behind the network’s staying power. In upcoming posts, we’ll examine some of Google’s socially-enhanced services.

But today, let’s start from 10,000 feet up in the air, and get a good overview of what Google Plus has to offer for your nonprofit.

6 Ways Nonprofits Can Use Google Plus

Here are the top six ways Google Plus can be incorporated into your nonprofit’s social media strategy:

1) Segment your audience with CIRCLES.

Google Plus Circles iconOn Google Plus, users “follow” or “connect with” other users by adding them to a circle. Circles are ways to categorize your connections—for example, you might have the circles Family, Friends and Coworkers

When sharing content on your profile (comparable to a status update on Facebook), you can select which circle(s) you want your content to be visible to.

Circles make Google Plus a valuable marketing tool for organizations. They allow you to target unique messages to specific segments of your audience. For example, an economic development council could create circles for site selectors, local business owners, non-local business owners and entrepreneurs. Then the EDC could share business start-up articles with the entrepreneurs circle and share economic data reports with the site selectors circle.

2) Use HANGOUTS as a free alternative to webinar and video-conferencing software.

Google Plus Hangout iconFor nonprofits with a limited budget, Google Plus Hangouts is an extremely valuable tool. You can host a video chat with up to 10 people, or create a Hangout On Air to broadcast publicly—all free of charge! All you need is a Google Plus account.


3) Increase the visibility of your blog posts with AUTHORSHIP.

Google Plus profile iconWhen searching in Google, you’ve probably come across those results for articles or blog posts that have small profile pictures next to them. These profile pictures appear next to the links because the authors have connected their Google Plus accounts to their content. 

This is a feature called Google Plus Authorship, and it is a great SEO tactic for increasing the visibility of your published content in search engine results. Think about how you react when you see a blog article with an author photo next to it—do you find yourself more likely to click that link than another? (More on authorship next week!)

4) Participate in COMMUNITIES to engage in meaningful conversations with people who share a common interest.

Google Plus Communities iconGoogle Plus Communities are similar to LinkedIn’s Groups—they are places within the social network where people can have discussions, ask questions and provide expert advice. Unlike LinkedIn Groups (where only human users can join groups), Google Plus allows organizations to create and join communities and participate in discussions.

Nonprofits can use Google Plus Communities to establish expertise and thought leadership among their target audience. It’s also a great way to find people with common interests to add to your circles.

5) Check out WHAT'S HOT to gauge what’s popular and trending on Google Plus.

Google Plus What's Hot iconWhat’s Hot (sometimes called "Explore") is a newsfeed of the most popular content being shared on Google Plus. 

This is a valuable tool for finding third-party content to repost and share with your circles. And by observing which topics are popular on Google Plus, you can post related content and use trending hashtags to try to increase the engagement your content receives.

6) Get found in LOCAL search results. 

Google Plus Local iconGoogle Plus Local combines Pages, Maps and Search, and adds in a social component that allows users to recommend and write reviews about places. So when you’re searching in Google for a Mexican restaurant or an animal shelter, places that your friends have recommended will show up in your search results. Google Plus Local is an enhanced search experience that provides contact information, a Zagat rating, pictures, hours of operation and a content feed––all in one place.


When Google Plus first launched in 2011, many people’s initial reactions were that it wouldn’t last. But two years later and 500 million users strong, it looks to me like Google Plus is here to stay. So it’s about time we start learning how to use it.

Up Next: Google+ Authorship

You’ve probably noticed that sometimes, a blogger’s headshot will show up next to a listing in Google search results. And you probably feel more inclined to click on that link rather than on any others. 

Next week, learn how to use Google+ Authorship to get your search listings optimized with your profile picture!


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