Just when you thought you understood Facebook there is a new social network to utilize. Learn some tips for for increasing your brand on Google+.
Posted on: September 29, 2011
“Because Google+ does not yet allow brand pages, you need to look at what you can do to expose your brand,” says Jesse Stay, who wrote the book Google+ for Dummies, out on Wiley Publishing in November. “Google+ is an opportunity for you to open the covers a little and expose what is happening inside. Get employees of your company using Google+ and representing themselves as such.”
Stay says he used Google+ himself while writing the book. He posted sample chapters to elicit feedback. Stay recommends posting nuggets about your business and interesting news stories to engage potential customers. He says, the more you show customers that you are a legitimate company made up of real people, the better. He recommends hiring a community manager tasked with this charter.
Ryan Evans, the president of marketing company Rand Media Group, agrees: the trick is to create your own cult of personality and garner followers. Attracting followers means increasing awareness about your company and every click counts.
The question is: how do you accomplish that goal? Evans says to start with those you know already. Google+ lets you import your existing contacts easily from Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and other services. You can also import your Outlook contacts.
Then he says to organize contacts into Circles, the Google+ system for grouping contacts. When people are in Circles, you can post a message to all business partners, or to venture capitalists, or just one or two social networking gurus. Facebook uses a similar group post function, but it’s more complicated.
Evans says one critical step is to not just feed information into the service, but to engage with other entrepreneurs. This means commenting on their posts, tagging them in photos (maybe at your last business meet-up), and using the +1 feature, which is the Google equivalent of a “like” (e.g., public approval) in Facebook.
Going the extra mile
Google+ is a powerful service, but the hype has settled down. Now, entrepreneurs are trying to figure out how to get more value out of the social network. We’ve covered the basics – adding people into Circles, posting regularly. Yet, the experts say there are some proven methods for promoting a brand.
Adam Kmiec is the director of social media at Walgreens, the drug store retailer. Kmiec is a big fan of Google+, and Walgreens – along with Ford and a few others – is one of the few business entities with an approved corporate page.
Kmiec has found that the secret is not always in the sheer number of followers, but the quality of those who are following you. Your engagement level is critical: when you post a news story about your market segment, you want your followers to comment and engage with you, not just read the link. Like Michael Dell, every entrepreneur should illicit feedback and keep comments flowing. Kmiec says it’s critical to keep momentum going, not just post once in a while.
Eventually, Google will offer business pages for every company. (Google+ is currently in a private test for a few select business pages; in the next month or so, everyone will have the opportunity to create a business profile.)
For now, the secret is to be yourself. David Amerland is a search optimization expert, speaker, and book author. He says that customers can sniff out marketing ploys with a snap of their finger and quickly move on to the next post. Instead, Amerland says Google+ presents a gold opportunity for new companies because the service itself is so new – everyone expects you to make introductions.
“Do not market too hard, since Google+ really frowns upon this right now, but go about introducing the company and what it does, why it is there and who you are,” he says. “When you post content online, it has to have some real meaning.”
Amerland cited as example of a law firm that posted a question about what potential clients feel constitutes good service from a law firm. That triggered about 100 comments, which has the dual-purpose of providing valuable feedback and also helped the law firm find out who is participating in their discussions. Of course, it’s also important to “close the loop” on these discussions and start talking one-on-one with those who are taking the time to post comments on posts.
Scott Rayden, the founder of iSearch Media, agrees that Google+ presents a prime opportunity for start-ups. He says people are still flocking to the service to check out what is new and interesting, and entrepreneurs are filling the void by posting the most interesting links and stories.
Rayden advises to engage now on the service and to be ready for when Google+ does open up business pages in the next few weeks, and to be one of the first to create a company page, bringing along those who are already following your activities.
Interestingly, Amerland says this is already the model businesses should use in real life: to make social connections in person, not in a fake way or for marketing, but out of a real interest in existing social circles. Then, once those real connections have formed, people will be ready to become customers of your new business.
In the end, every social network helps. Kmiec says every new company should claim their “place” on every major network – on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and Google+ and even Tumblr and older nets like Bebo. The more the better.
He says, customers should be able to find your company on multiple networks. Engaging with them, posting interesting news, and following up on comments will help any business to start creating a valuable online presence.
15 tips for increasing your brand on Google+
For those new to the Google+ service, here are 15 tips you can put into practice right away, based on the advice from experts, to increase brand awareness.
1. Use your real name when you register – this creates an authentic presence on the service; investors can look you up by name, and customers want to know it’s really you. Later on, you can create a business page that’s less personal.
2. Create Google+ Circles in a logical fashion: business partners, employees, friends, investors. That way, as you start using the service, you can keep people organized. You can then choose only a select group to view a new post.
3. Engage with other business professionals in an authentic way – read what they post, make comments, and follow their links. When you follow links, comment on them so that everyone knows you read the article.
4. Post occasional coupons and specials – that way, you can see if people are engaging with your posts. Be careful about how often you post specials or you may raise the ire of the Google+ team, who discourages blatant promotion.
5. Send private messages to people who look interesting. You can just type the message, then remove the Public circle and just add one name.
6. Check your notifications on the upper right side of the screen – just look for the red notification alert. You can see who is following you, any new comments, and whether those you follow are following you back.
7. Don’t stop using Facebook. There is a lot of cross-pollination between the social networks. When you follow someone on Facebook or they follow you, check Google+ to see if they are using that service and follow them there.
8. Go ahead and think big. When Michael Dell makes a post, feel free to post a comment and see if he replies. You can even send direct post.
9. Don’t be afraid of negative attention. Posting a counter-argument, especially when it is something you feel strongly about, can generate some buzz. When you do, be ready to support your position with facts and well-developed opinions.
10. Make sure you have entered detailed information about yourself and add some humor. There’s a section in your profile for adding something unique about yourself. Include a recent photo that’s bright and colorful.
11. Use the Sparks feature to track trending topics. Just click Sparks and add a search term. Track these topics and re-post the most engaging stories.
12. Make use of the +1 feature that is now cropping up at many Web sites, including Inc.com. When you see a story you like, click +1 so that everyone knows you read the story and liked it. This increases engagement with like-minded users.
13. Try holding your own Hangout – a feature where you talk in a video chat about a specific topic. Pick a topic that is related to your business – if you run an ice cream shop, try holding a Hangout on the cost of supplies or retail trends.
14. Set aside Google+ time each day – make comments and post new entries, but also search for people to follow. When someone follows you, it’s polite to send a quick thank-you to acknowledge their interest.
15. Stay focused on the task at hand, which is to increase brand awareness. It takes time. You might not see engagement levels rise in just one day or a week, but track how many people comment on your posts over a month.
By Robbie Whelan
Here’s the good news for homeowners: They can now buy an insurance policy that protects against declines in values. The bad news is that the insurance can’t be applied to the last five years of carnage in the housing market, when most homeowners might have needed it.
The Home Value Insurance Co., a San Francisco-based concern, announced Wednesday the launch of its Home Value Protection, or HVP policy. The policy, which only provides protection for owner-occupied, single-family houses and condominiums, rolls out in Ohio, but is expected to be offered nationally, the company said.
The policy essentially pegs your home value at a certain price (called the “Protected Home Value”). If you sell the home at a loss compared with what it’s insured for, the HVP policy pays you for either the value of the loss, or the difference between what the home is insured for and the decline in home values according the local reading of the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index (whichever is less).
There are a few conditions:
First, if you bought your house within a year of getting the policy, the price you paid for your house is used as the Protected Home Value. If the home was bought more than a year ago, the Protected Home Value is determined using a formula involving several automated-valuation models.
Second, there’s only a payout if home values in the surrounding market have declined during the policy period, also based on Case-Shiller index.
Third, the HVP, a 10-year policy, insures home value declines of up to 25%, but it also comes with a 10% deductible for the first year, a 5% deductible for the second year and no deductible thereafter. After that, the usefulness of the product, from the homeowner’s standpoint, depends on long-term economic malaise, lasting well into the middle of this decade.
There are some obvious questions raised by such an insurance policy. Insurance is usually meant to protect people against accidents or economic anomalies such as when a borrower previously thought to be credit-worthy defaults on a debt obligation. If you live in a place where home values are rising, however slowly, but your house is the exception to the rule (for any number of reasons, including a high foreclosure rate in your neighborhood or submarket), this policy doesn’t protect you. Also, the policy is only helpful for long-term (two-plus years) volatility.
“If you think you’re going to sell your home in the next 24 months, don’t buy this insurance,” says Scott Ryles, president and chief executive of the Home Value Insurance Co. “People don’t buy or sell their home based on home prices being high or low. They buy their home because they want to move somewhere else. … When you sell your home is an uncertainty, just as home prices are an uncertainty.”
But the most glaring problem with the HVP (besides its slightly unfortunate acronym, given the current debate among presidential candidates about mandatory vaccination), is that home prices nationally are either at or near trough, according to most economists. Research firm Capital Economics produced a note on Wednesday forecasting a decline of 2% in U.S. home values by the end of 2011, with prices stabilizing next year, and no “sustained price gains” until 2014.
By and large, HVP insurance seems like a product that would have been very helpful a few years ago, but only makes financial sense for the insurer because it is being offered now, when prices are bouncing along the bottom. Mr. Ryles disagrees.
“We’re not betting on the fact the home prices have bottomed. We will take a loss if home prices go down any further than where they are right now, after two years,” he says.
On Tuesday, data-provider CoreLogic reported that as of July there were still 1.6 million American homes that are either 90 days delinquent, in foreclosure, or bank-owned after a foreclosure – commonly referred to as the country’s “shadow inventory.” This number represents a five-month supply of homes, and is down from 1.9 million a year earlier. Most economists agree that the shadow inventory must be reduced before prices can truly hit bottom. If a wave of delinquencies or foreclosures hits, that could mean another big letdown for prices, and a wave of Home Value Protection insurance claims.
Readers, is Home Value Protection insurance something you would buy today? And what does that say about where you think home prices are going in your market?
By Mark Grahne, Atlantic Homes and President, HBA of Delaware
There is no better time to take stock of your lawn and landscaping needs than during the shorter days and crisp temperatures that herald the beginning of fall. Not only can it help you have a great-looking lawn next spring, but it can save you money on your utility bills during the winter.
Assess Your Lawn
Fall is a great time for new grass seed to take root, especially in cooler climates. Even with meticulous care, lawns can thin out and lose color due to excessive thatch buildup, hard or compacted soils, or periods of high temperature, high humidity, or drought. Compacted soils slowly reduce the amount of oxygen contained in the soil, delaying the penetration of water and nutrients and impeding the lawn growth.
Aerating and over-seeding is an effective treatment to control thatch, reduce compaction, fill in bare spots and revitalize growth. It also reduces water runoff, increases the lawn’s drought tolerance and improves its overall health.
Lawn aeration allows air, moisture and fertilizer to penetrate down to the root zone. It involves removing small soil plugs or cores typically 1/2 to 3/4 inch in diameter from the lawn. Lawns composed of cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass are best aerified in the fall, when there is less heat stress and danger of invasion by weedy annuals. On the other hand, warm-season grasses are best aerified in late spring and summer, when they are actively growing.
Consider also reseeding your lawn in areas where the grass has gotten sparse. First, rake leaves and debris off your lawn so the seeds can penetrate the soil. Then fertilize your lawn one last time with a high nitrogen fertilizer to encourage root growth. Make sure you get a lawn fertilizer that is labeled “winterizing.”
Fall is also the best season for planting trees, shrubs and perennials. Plants planted in the fall benefit from cooler air temperatures, not to mention soil temperatures still warm enough to support good root growth. After a winter of dormancy, fall-planted trees and shrubs practically shoot out of the soil the following spring.
Plant deciduous trees that lose their leaves during the winter in front of windows that receive significant amounts of sunlight. This helps block solar heat in the summer and lets it in during the winter when you need it most, which could help reduce your heating and air conditioning costs.
A six-foot to eight-foot deciduous tree will begin shading your windows the first year and your roof, depending on the species, within five-10 years. In regions with year-round sun and no significant winter, planting evergreen trees or shrubs limits sunlight entering your home and serves as a windbreak.
Winter sunlight is a welcome heat source, but the wind that can accompany it can reduce its positive effects. A natural windbreak will reduce or redirect wind speed. Evergreen trees and shrubs planted on the side of your house that receives winds will help reduce the wind effect. Teaming evergreen trees and an earth berm, a natural or man-made wall, will direct wind over your house. Additionally, in snowy climates windbreaks will help keep snow away from your home’s foundation.
Contact The HBA of Delaware at 302-678-1520 or go to http://www.nahb.org for more information on lawn maintenance and home care.