If you haven’t noticed, Windmill Networking has become a community blogging platform with contributions from those that I consider true thought leaders in their fields. Take our Google Plus contributor, Mark Traphagen, for example. When Mark and I first “met” online, I was already impressed with his content and the early coverage he was receiving in the blogosphere for his G+ blog posts. Since then I have seen how Mark has almost singlehandedly leveraged Google Plus for his personal branding to become an established thought leader in the space. We’ve talked numerous times on this blog about the value that Google Plus has for businesses. Now let’s take a look at why it makes sense for every professional to have a G+ presence, and how in doing so it can help you develop a robust personal brand. I could think of no better person to ask on the topic than Mark himself, so below is a short interview I had a chance to do with him. You’ll see my questions in italic form.
Before looking at G+ for personal branding, I wanted to first clear the air about businesses using the platform in general, because despite the potential benefits it has for companies, it is generally being under-utilized by them.
1) Mark, I think you would agree that having a Google Plus presence for your business is a no-brainer … how do you convince skeptical businesses that it is in their best interest to be on G+?
The number one reason businesses are skeptical of the efficacy of Google Plus, in my experience, is having heard the “Google Plus is a ghost town” mantra so often they now believe it must be true. I explain to them that it’s actually the best reason to get active on Google+! Not because it’s true (it isn’t), but because as long as their competitors keep believing that lie they have a strategic advantage to dominate their market in that network and leave everyone else playing catch up.
It is true, though, that Google+ is still small compared to social media leviathans like Facebook and Twitter. That means its harder (but not impossible) to build a large audience there. But Google+ users tend to be thoughtful and highly-engaged people. In other words, they are worth finding, and a relatively small number of Google+ followers can bring you way more value than a larger number on other networks. And with Google+, your content and your followers’ resharing of it have far more potential reach than on any other social network, as I’ll explain in a moment.
It’s my contention that the reason a lot of social media experts write off Google Plus is that they are social specialists who don’t really understand search marketing. Search engine marketing looks way beyond numbers of likes and followers to strategies that maximize reach and influence. And it’s in those two areas that I see Google+ as such a powerhouse. That’s because of Google+’s tight integration into Google search. Google+ posts are easily indexed by Google search, and unlike tweets or Facebook posts, are treated much like regular web pages. That means a well-constructed G+ post (with a main keyword in the first sentence/title and a good amount of engagement) can rank well in Google search and, unlike other social media status posts, actually stay ranked for a long time. I have some G+ posts built around keywords important to me that have now been in the top 3 on Google for up to ten months.
And lets not forget about Google personalized search. Analytics show that for business sites, 40% or more of your users are logged in to Google while using the web. That means their Google results are highly personalized. Via Google+, Google will rank sites endorsed by others in a person’s extended network (their contacts plus friends of their contacts). So the bigger your Google+ network, the bigger the range of people whose search results will show you higher and more.
There are many other reasons to be active on Google+, but to me the huge potential reach is the “killer” reason.
2) Just as a company can leverage Google Plus for its branding, so can professionals. You are one of the first success stories of someone who has leveraged Google Plus for this purpose and I see that you are now in popular demand! To begin with, what was your first “Aha!” moment that others can learn from?
Google Plus has taken off for me like no other social network. After just a little over a year I’m circled by over 25,000 people, compared to my 1600 followers from two years on Twitter (and I worked hard at Twitter!). But it’s not the numbers so much as the quality of contacts that I’ve amassed on Google+ that thrills me. There I’ve found people who really “get” and appreciate what I have to offer. What’s most exciting though is that Google+ has accelerated my career like nothing else I’ve ever done. Thanks to my network on G+, I’m now getting offers to speak at national conferences, requests to write for major blogs (like Windmill Networking!), and even huge support for a book project from a social media rock star (stay tuned to my channels for more on that soon).
You asked about my first “Aha!” moment with Google Plus, the moment when I realized that this could be a very powerful network for building my personal brand. It was really combination of observations that came almost on my first day on the network (Google Plus’s third day of existence):
1. Seeing (and reading about) Google’s intention to integrate Google+ into all things Google (and hence the amazing potential reach I spoke about earlier).
2. Noticing the high caliber of people who were early-adopting and loving Google+.
3. Observing how easy and clean the interface is, how attractive my posts look (bold titles, easy-to-read type, big images), and how useful Circles were.
4. (and this was the big kicker for me that I’ll talk more about later) Discovering that Google+ was the identity engine that was going to allow Google to finally move forward with the Authorship and AuthorRank plans they had patented years before.
3) How would you compare personal branding on Google Plus versus other social media platforms? Benefits? Disadvantages?
Well, I think a truly effective personal branding campaign takes advantage of multiple social networks, but as we’ve noted, Google Plus has by far been the most powerful for me. I’ve already mentioned the quality of most of the people I’ve encountered on Google Plus, so in reviewing the benefits here I’ll concentrate on tools and techniques unique to G+.
1. Connection with Google Authorship, which shows my profile photo next to search results for my content across the web. Recently at a large conference in Las Vegas someone stopped me in the lobby because they recognized me from my author photo in their search results!
2. The powerful internal search on Google+ (hint: learn how to use the filters in the dropdown menu!). It enables you to find people who are actively talking about topics you have interests in. Commenting on and resharing the posts of others is a great way to turn them into your fans.
3. The ease of linking to other users. You can “tag” any other user in a post or comment just by typing a + sign and their name. This turns into an active link that both notifies the person you tagged that you mentioned them and allows others to discover who they are and follow them if they like. Favorably mentioning an influential person in a favorable post or comment is a great way to get them to follow you.
4. Two words: Shared Circles. I’ve never seen a network-growing tool like this built into any other social network. Briefly, you can build a circle of people you recommend around a certain topic and then share that circle in a post. Others can add the circle to their own circles with one click. Notify the influentials you included in the circle, and they’re almost certain to want to reshare it with their own network. If you’re relevant to the topic, you can even include yourself in the shared circle! Being included in some important shared circles has caused my following to explode several times over, and creating such circles myself has vastly increased my influence in the network. I wrote a whole post here about leveraging shared circles.
Honestly, the only one I can think of is that there are (for now) fewer people on Google+ than on some other networks, but “fewer” still means many millions (Google says over 400 million with accounts, 110 million of which are regular active uses). And Google Plus is growing rapidly, so early adopters will have the opportunity to grow big with it.
4) What would be your advice for those looking to leverage Google Plus for personal branding?
1. Don’t think of it like Facebook or LinkedIn, where the connections come more automatically from your existing relationships. Frankly, I’m always befuddled when people complain that their friends aren’t on Google+. Why do you need another network to talk to the same people?
Starting out on Google+ is a little more like starting out on Twitter (with a better search function to help you out). Approach it like you would a networking cocktail party. Chances are there are already active conversations going on that you could contribute to. Wander around the room (i.e., use the search and follow up on recommendations and shared circles from others) and contribute usefully. Build up some good content on your own profile (and fully fill out your profile’s “about” tab) so when people check you out, they see you’re worth circling.
2. Connect all your content across the web to Google Authorship via your Google+ profile. I’ve published complete instructions on how to do this. I’ll share more on this later.
3. Use a good, clear head shot of yourself as your profile photo. Personal branding is so powerful because we are programmed by evolution to have a desire to trust other human beings. A real photo reinforces the perception that a real person lies behind your great content. It doesn’t take long for the reliability and usefulness of your content to be transferred to you as a person. Then every time someone sees your face by a Google+ post or in their search results, they are predisposed to to trust and want to share the content.
4. This seems like social media 101, but so many don’t do it: fill out your Google+ profile “About” tab as completely as possible. Because Google+ allows you to put so much there, to me it is second only to LinkedIn as your most important online resume (and perhaps from a search consideration, your most important). Pro tip: your Google+ profile actually carries Google PageRank authority. The more places that reference it, the higher your PR. And that’s another reason you should link all your sites and social media profiles from your G+ profile.
5. Prioritize Google Plus engagement and networking. While someone trying to build up a personal brand should be active on as many social networks as possible, I believe prioritizing your time spent on Google+ will reap rich rewards down the line, for reasons I’ve already discussed.
6. Create “Engagers with me” and “Stalking” circles. You don’t have to call them that, but both can really boost your intentional network building. They should be the first circles you browse each time you go to G+. In the first put people who regularly comment on and re-share your posts. These people are helping to build your authority, and you can reward and encourage them to continue to do so by commenting on, +1ing, and re-sharing their posts. In the latter put people who are influential in your topic areas but with whom you do not have a relationship. Make it a priority to engage constructively with their posts so that they will begin to notice you. Of course, do this naturally and with some reserve. Don’t become a real stalker!
5) I believe the ultimate in personal branding is the notion of author rank. As you are one of the experts in this area, can you please introduce this concept to our readers, its importance, and how you see it evolving and playing an important role in personal branding?
I’ve already mentioned Google Authorship a few times, and Authorship and Author Rank (sometimes called AuthorRank) are intimately linked. Google Authorship is Google’s program to associate original content anywhere on the web with its verified authors. You do this by one of several methods, but fundamentally you’re linking from the content site to your Google Plus profile and then from your profile (in the Contributor To section) to the content site. The most immediate result of this is it can qualify you to get your author photo next to search results for your content, and there is some evidence that it also helps Google devalue unauthorized copies of your content.
As I said earlier, having your author photo in search results can be extremely powerful. Since people tend to search frequently on the same topics that are their primary interests, if you publish a lot of content on those topics, you literally become a familiar face to them, and they are inclined to click your results first. Plus these author rich snippet results are proven to increase click through rates, as people are drawn to a human face, even of a “stranger.”
But the biggest benefit of using Authorship is still in the future, and may be unveiled soon: Author Rank. From the very first public posts and videos Google released about Authorship they made it clear that its main purpose was to allow Google to collect influence data on individual content creators. Google is watching not only how many people engage with your content on a given topic, but who does so. If a person who is also influential in topics relevant to yours engages with your content, it will have a bigger effect on your influence rating. So see why I say you should make building an influential network on Google Plus a priority?
Over time, Google will assign to you an Author Rank score in each different topical area in which you publish. A high Author Rank in a given topic will mean that when people search for content in that topic, Google will boost search results for your stuff.
We have no evidence that Author Rank is fully in play yet as a search ranking factor (although my anecdotal experience leads me to believe they have been testing it). However, they are collecting data right now that will be used when they do turn it fully on. So those who are using Authorship now should have a sudden and powerful boost in their search rankings the day it is activated. We know that in its other ranking schemes Google gives a lot of deference to a long and consistent history, so it is reasonable to assume that those who have been building Author authority over time, even before Author Rank turns on, will have a big advantage when it is fully implemented.
Have you had any success leveraging Google Plus for your own personal branding? Please share!