We've been getting the following question a lot this week: "How should a public company use Google+?".
On first glance, this might seem like a tough question to answer. It's been widely publicized that you can't use a Google+ Profile as a business. In theory, this throws up communication obstacles for a business (especially an emerging business) because your feature set as a Google+ Page alone is incredibly limited. The result? IR professionals seem to have dismissed Google's primary Social Network (Google+) as being an effective Investor Relations tool.
But we strongly believe this is a misstep. Here's why...
Google Products and Gmail Addresses
The biggest problem I see with the suggestion that Google limits the use of Google+ Profiles for Investor Relations communication is that this policy isn't uniform. In fact, if you want to create a YouTube channel for your company, the only option available to you is to create it using a Gmail address under your company name. E.g. IR.Smartt.Inc@Gmail.com.
The reason for this is that YouTube only allows for one kind of channel. They don't split personalities into Personal Profiles and Corporate Pages. So realistically, if your company has a YouTube channel (if it doesn't, it probably should) then it actually already has a Google+ Profile that you're most likely unaware of.
Is Using the Google+ Profile "Ok"?
The two primary stipulations of the Google+ Policies and Principles that are relevant to us here refer to "Impersonation or Deceptive Behavior" and "User Profile Name". Namely...
#11. Do not use our products to impersonate.
#12. To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your full legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, either of those would be acceptable.
Let's attack these one at a time:
Re: Impersonation or Deception. Being deliberately deceptive in Social Media is just about the worst thing you could do because ultimately, you're going to be found out. There are just too many ways to spot someone being fake online. If you saw our post last month, "How NOT to do Social Media for Investor Relations" you'll have an idea of just where being deceptive online will get you.
So, the workaround here is to share a Google+ Profile between multiple people. By doing so and providing a disclaimer of this on the profile (we'll explain more later in this article) you eliminate any suggestion of impersonating another individual or of deceiving anyone.
Re: Use Profile Name. Again, there's a work around. When creating a Google+ Profile, we use a naming convention that makes plainly clear that the Google+ Profile is managed by multiple people at the company. Yet we genericize (yes, that's a word) the User Profile Name enough to be accepted according to these terms.
In short, yes you are allowed to use a Google+ Profile withint the limits of Google's policies, as long as you don't deceive anyone and you call it something obvious.
Branding Your Investor Relations Google+ Profile
Now that we're happy that moving forward with a Google+ Profile for your IR department is all fine and dandy, let's have a look at how to create it. Some of these points reflect the necessities of the Google+ policy outlined above and some are just best practices. Nevertheless, we recommend that you follow them all to be sure you're giving the best possible experience to your stakeholders.
Google+ requires you to create a first and last name, so we suggest you follow that by creating a generic Uni-sex First Name and using some derivative of your company name as the Last Name. In the case of IR Smartt's Google+ Profile, we decided to go with a male first name as everyone here at the company is a (handsome) guy.
Remember when we spoke about the "Impersonation or Deception" clause above? Here's where we need to be careful to follow Google's policy.
Adding a disclaimer or the variety provided here is the best way to explain to your stakeholders that your Google+ Profile is being used by multiple people in order to provide the best possible communication channel to them.
"Usually I'm a member of the Investor Relations Dept but on a given day, I could be anyone at IR Smartt Inc. I exist to allow simpler, and more effective communication between stakeholders and our company."
This is where we think you should get a little bit more corporate-y. You'd be shocked at the number of people who will arrive on your G+ Profile, add you to a "Circle" and then bounce out. It's really hard to capture this audience right away.
But perhaps the simplest method is to include both your company "Tagline" and market data in your header image. The example above is simple but effective and really all you need here.
We actually recommend a whole host of other other profile tweaks like effectively tagging Media, adding Photo Galleries and Social Links, making Stock Information available on your profile and linking with measurement tools like Klout. But we might have to leave those for a follow-up blog post. Let's move on to how you'll actually start using the Google+ Profile.
Engaging with your Google+ Profile
While it's not the key metric we use to measure success in Social Media, creating growth in social connections is always valuable. The fastest way to do this quickly and legitimately is to grab a .csv file of all your existing stakeholders and upload it to the Google+ Circles area. Be sure to arrange these contact in a clearly defined "Stakeholders" Circle so that you always know where they came from. You can update this Circle in future as you add or subtract stakeholders.
Google+ allows you to save a series of keyword searches for future use. These can be employed to find current content, discussion or even individuals who have keywords in the profiles related to your company, industry, competitors and project locations. We use these primarily to find new content and enter into discussions. This is easy to do when you're operating within Google+ as a Profile, but much much harder as a Page which is one of the reasons we find it so useful to have your Profile kicking around.
Finding people to follow is also easy using the search functions outlined above. When creating circles, we suggest trying to group the people you're following by their role. The figure below shows several Circles that we use for a client involved in the Canadian mining industry.
When sharing content on Google+ it's a good idea to provide attribution and recommendation. Whenever you come across something that you know to be valuable to a follower, be sure to share this directly with them by using the +symbol and their User Name. This sends them an alert over and above simply appearing in their Circle stream. Be sure not to over-use this technique though. It's also handy to share from your Page first and then re-share from your Profile, as this creates a brand impression for your company.
Linking with Klout
At the time of writing, Klout.com currently does not provide the ability for you to connect on behalf of a company page. So in order to measure your success in Google+, it's important that you link your Google+ Profile with your Klout account. As you can see below, some users are getting fantastic results from Google+ as part of their Social Media strategies.
While it's still an emerging network, Google+ offers some fantastic opportunities to connect your company with stakeholders. Implementing the techniques outlined above gives you the ability to go even further by establishing personal connections with them. For more information about how best to implement a Social Media strategy for your company through Google+, feel free to contact us directly at Get AT IR Smartt.com