The Great Google+ Debate: Using Personal vs. Business Profiles

When small business owners begin using Google+ to build their business, they are often wonder whether they should utilize a personal profile or a Google+ business page.  In today's Marketing Monday article, +Carolyn Capern of CT Social sheds light on the pros of both and how you can use them in harmony for ultimate Google+ success.

Naturally, if you have no specific purpose for your Google+ presence beyond the purely social, this debate is not important to you. You may never have even considered setting up a business page. But any goal related to a distinct professional identity may suddenly make it relevant:
  • Starting a musical or film career
  • Building an audience for a blog
  • Developing the SEO value of a website
  • Expanding a company brand in search of new business
So, accepting the fact that there are only a limited number of hours in the day, if I am trying to develop business opportunities (find a new client, increase my search rankings, etc), is it better to use Google+ primarily with my personal profile or my business page?

Benefits of Setting Up a Google+ Business Page 

There are strong reasons to use a business page if you’re on Google+ for professional purposes. 

Indeed, I would say that no company (however small) that is trying to establish a strong Google presence should be without a completely filled-out business page. Why?
  • Using Google+ business pages can provide branding opportunities for companies by increasing the visibility of your logo and messaging on the social network and in the search engines.
  • The page can be tied to your website and the benefit of endorsements transferred for purposes of search engine value.
  • Brand pages can now follow other users, and there are ample opportunities to engage with others in communities and in the audience of Hangouts on Air. 
Depending how you define your approach, you could use your business page just like a personal profile.

You could give the person monitoring the page freedom to respond with personality, within the constraints of appropriate professional behavior.

You could comment on other people’s posts, ask them questions, engage with people in conversation (NOT just sales efforts). You can be a real person, even though you’re behind a brand logo.

So what’s the catch? With the ability to interact on this level and the many benefits that brand pages can offer, why wouldn’t I focus on my business page as my primary Google+ presence? 

The Personal Approach

For all the great things that you can do with your Google+ business page, there is one thing that you will likely struggle to do: make people feel like there is a person behind the page.

This matters greatly in terms of both your success in gaining traction and in the way the person managing the profile must approach it. Using Google+ in the most effective way demands a different strategy than simply broadcasting a message and hoping others will hear it.

As with most other social media platforms, it is really only large brands that find rapid success and an instant following wherever they set up shop. If you are a small or medium sized business (or an individual professional) without much name recognition, you could be waiting a long time if all you do is pump out mediocre content and hope for the best. 

Engagement is the magic word for growth on Google+ -- and it’s not exactly magic. It’s much the same as being a good friend. Being a good neighbor. It’s about setting aside your fear of being too personal on social media, and being genuinely yourself.

Those things are hard to do when you are sitting behind a logo.

Brands have standards. Brands have reputations that they want to protect. 

So do people, of course. But when brands act in a way that protects their reputation and standards, it’s assumed to be (and often is) for the reason of making money. 

People – real people, the kind you can build relationships with on Google+ – are likely suspicious of the motivations of a company from the start. They believe that a brand page is approaching and talking to them only in the hopes of getting them to buy.

Then, too, it can be hard to relate to a brand page because you’re not sure who you are talking to—the logo creates an aura of anonymity that can usually only be conquered by having the individual writer sign each post. Even still, looking at a brand logo while you’re typing a message doesn’t generally inspire that sense of personal connection that you can get from looking at someone’s profile photo.

Even when you use a brand page in the most natural way possible, it is still hard to overcome that basic assumption about the motivations of a business. Probably because it’s usually true. And as a result, many Google+ users will approach conversation with brands differently.

The funny thing is that most of the professionals on Google+ are there for the same reason

In fact, many of them will admit to it if you ask them. They got onto Google+ because of the SEO benefits, because of the networking opportunities around the world, because of the potential demonstrated by Google+ Authorship, because of the ability to drive traffic to their website.

All, admittedly, self-serving goals. Yet when a person does it (and says that it is for the benefit of allowing others to learn about something), we are more likely to accept it as true. More likely to like and respect the person for their willingness to share. And, as a result of both those factors, we might even be more likely to buy from them if our needs are relevant. 

So what should I do?

Whether you work with a brand that is small and operates locally, or one that is large and operates internationally, you can use Google+ to your greatest advantage.

Certainly, go ahead and set up a brand page. You’ll ensure that no one else can grab that particular Google+ real estate, you’ll get the search benefits of linking it to your website, and you can interact as the page with anyone who follows you.

However, you should also plan to invest time in Google+ on at least a semi-personal level. Designate someone to be your company ‘personality’ on social media—someone who you can trust with the brand identity, but also someone who will be willing to use the platform personally and engage with people one on one. There are lots of great examples of this happening on Google+, though one that always comes to the top of my mind is +Michael Bennett, who is the face of Google+ for +Michlin Metals Inc in Chicago. He doesn’t post only about metals; quite the opposite, in fact. However, because of the blogging he does on their site and his engaging personality, people who know Michael on Google+ also know Michlin Metals. 

An effective blend of professional branding with a personal touch is a winning recipe on Google+. 

How have you used your brand page, and what results have you seen from trying to build personal and professional profiles on Google+? Let us know in the comments below!