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Don't count out Google+ just yet Add to ...

Despite the Internet powerhouse behind it, Google+, the social network that Google Inc. launched last year as a competitor to Facebook, hasn’t yet made much of an impact on the online world.

As of last April, Google claimed more than 170 million Google+ users. Meanwhile, Facebook says it has more than 955 million.

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For comparison’s sake, fellow social media tools Twitter and LinkedIn have about 140 million and 175 million users, respectively.

The temptation is to see Google+ as a poor stepsister to powerhouse Facebook. But it shouldn’t be dismissed, says Jacquie McCarnan, Vancouver-based social networking consultant and principal of Social Media Canada.

“I don’t think there’s any question that (Google+ is) going to become more popular and more widely used,” Ms. McCarnan says. “No company can afford to ignore any of the social media platforms.”

Most businesses should have some presence on Google+ and the other social networks, if only to monitor what people are saying about them, she says.

While Google envisioned Google+ as a direct competitor to Facebook, it has turned out to be more of a niche player, popular with people who work with or are knowledgeable about technology, says Ben Dickie, research analyst at London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group.

Google+ doesn’t have the penetration of Facebook and probably never will, Mr. Dickie says – but he does think it’s worth a look for at least some businesses.

Some organizations may find their target audience favours Google+, Mr. Dickie says. Others, such as fashion and design companies, may find their audience on Pinterest, a content-sharing site. Most consumer-oriented brands will probably find the bulk of their target audience on Facebook, while business-to-business operations are likely to see more action on LinkedIn.

But few businesses have a homogeneous audience, says Wayne Ingram, managing director of technology for consulting firm Accenture Canada in Toronto. Some customers will favour Facebook, others Twitter, others Google+. A good social media strategy will accommodate them all. “It’s about how do you reach your customer through the way they want to interact.”

Not everyone sees Google+ as a major contender, however. While it has features that some social-network users prefer, it ultimately comes down to numbers, says Lowell Brown, social media marketing adviser and chief executive officer of Going Social, a Toronto-based social-media consultancy. “People will jump on board to use it, but in the end, they will stay where the audience is.”

The audience, Mr. Brown says, is still primarily on Facebook and Twitter. Pinterest is growing, and LinkedIn remains popular for business-to-business networking online.

Mr. Brown advises his clients to start with the social networks “where the most eyeballs are.” But once that’s done, he suggests they “pick up other pieces” and expand into additional networks.

Because of search engine optimization, posts on Google+ are more likely than those on other social networks to show up near the top of search results, the experts say. That’s sometimes helpful in reaching new customers.

“If you put your company on Google+,” Ms. McCarnan says, “you kind of jump to the head of the line as far as the search engine goes.”

The Hangouts feature on Google+, which lets users conduct online video meetings, is popular and a potentially useful tool. For instance, Mr. Dickie says, U.S. President Barack Obama has successfully used it to conduct an online town-hall meeting. This feature is “a great way to interact with customers,” Mr. Brown says.

Circles is a Google+ feature that lets users target their posts to different subsets of followers. Mr. Ingram says that could allow businesses to communicate with different types of customers in the most appropriate ways for each. “I think there is an opportunity to start to build some communities of interest,” he says.

Ms. McCarnan believes features like these are major reasons why Google+ will gain ground in the social networking stakes. “They’ve thought of a lot of stuff,” she says. “It’s just really robust.”

Few users really understand the advantages of Google+ today, she contends, so it is popular mainly with early adopters. That means one reason to adopt it now is to be there ahead of your competition. “Chances are you’re going to be the only construction company in Vancouver that has adopted Google+.”

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