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Rachel Hawkes: Google+ is going to offer lots of opportunities for charities to connect with supporters

Third Sector, 28 July 2011

Rachel Hawkes

Rachel Hawkes

The new social media network might not be open to business just yet, but charities should already be planning how they can use it, says our online columnist

At the end of June, Google announced the launch of Google+, its latest attempt at gaining traction in the social media world. It isn’t just a way for it to rule the social media space, as the company describes it perfectly on its blog – it's more a way to make Google better and richer as a whole. And it can’t do that unless the search company has a solid foothold in the social arena. 

Although Google+ is not currently open for businesses to set up and run profiles, it won’t be long until it is (perhaps just a matter of weeks). So it would be worth considering now how you might use it for your charity, and how you could integrate this with your website and other social channels.

There are five key areas for Google+: Circles, Hangouts, Instant Upload, Sparks and Huddle. A quick overview of these initial launch features is below. More will inevitably be added as it continues to grow – it already has more than 20 million users in less than a month.

Circles: Lets you organise people into specific groups so you can more accurately communicate the right messages to the right groups of people. You are able to create as many circles as you like, so you can really drill down and tailor your comms. For example, you could have the following circles: trustees, staff, volunteers, members, donors, potential donors, stakeholders, media and so on. You could even drill down further and have circles for supporters of individual projects or activities – the London marathon 2012 or a Christmas challenge, for example.

Hangouts: This lets you virtually ‘hang out’ with all of your contacts or certain ‘circles’ through group video chat, and could be used to let your supporters access events in real time or even for customer service, internal team discussions and so on.  For example, if you want to provide an additional benefit to your members, you could host a hangout with an expert or celebrity patron and invite your members circle to the hangout.

Instant Uploads: Allows you to more easily share the content you capture on your phone. It sits in a private album until you decide who or which circles you want to share it with.

Sparks: This is a way of bringing the wider web more easily to you and to keep you within Google+. You let Sparks know what type of content you are interested in and it will deliver you a feed of content that you can then share with others. It’s almost an intuitive mix of iGoogle (Google’s RSS reader) and News Alerts. On the flip side, by integrating Google’s +1 across your website, you will be able to aggregate your content for people to find in Sparks.

Huddle: Huddle is a group text chat that allows you to have a richer real-time conversation with many people at once. Similar to Hangouts, this could be used for customer service, to add additional member benefits or to host a discussion with people who have supported a specific project.

Google+ has so much potential to grow, particularly when you consider Google’s other products, such as its mobile operating system Android, Google Maps, its location-based service Google Latitude, not to mention web analytics, to which it has already started introducing social media measurement, and advertising. You can already see the start of the integration of these services – as on Facebook, you can ‘Check In’ to a location. We’ve talked about how this can be used by charities in a previous instalment.

Similar features are available in Facebook, such as chat and video chat, thanks to the recent deal with Skype, but they can’t be used for group chats and can only be used by individuals. As a brand, you can’t categorise your followers into individual groups, which means you will always be delivering messages not wholly of interest to some of the people. 

As the old saying goes, "you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time. But you can never please all of the people all of the time." From what we know so far, maybe, just maybe, Google+ will be the closest tool we have to being able to please all of our followers all of the time.

Rachel Hawkes is an account director at communications consultancy Elemental

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