How journalists can use Google+

It’s been a while that Google+ has been around, and many news organisations and journalists are already experimenting with it, either with their private accounts or with the recently allowed business pages. Google’s social network can be a great playground for media professionals. Here are my top 5 G+ tips for journalists – focusing on specifics of Google’s network.

1) Be an early adopter

Right now, G+ is still developing and growing. Remember when Twitter started? It was a nearly secluded scene of media professionals, opinion leaders, tech and PR people. G+ is a bit like that right now. Because there are not so many users, it’s easier to get to “know” others (even “celebrities”) and to draw attention to your posts. The chance is good that G+ is here to stay – and the earlier you build your reputation, the more you will profit afterwards. It’s just like with any other (virtual or real) community that you want to be part of: It’s so much easier for  early adopters and first members to claim their position.

2) Build your brand

In November, Google announced that it will start to integrate the G+ profiles of journalists with their stories on Google News. This means that anyone who sees your story on the Google News start page will also have the chance to immediately connect to you. If a journalist decides to use his G+ profile as a professional platform, that can be a big plus – especially considering the fact that readers often tend to overlook the author’s name in online articles, which makes it hard to make your name known as an online journalist. The link on Google News can drive readers to your G+ page and give them the chance to interact with you, or just to follow your coverage. And of course it’s all about marketing your brand and your “product”, a thought that many journalists I know heartily detest. Well, you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. The profile link on Google News is designed as an optional add-on.

News organisations should share circles with their journalists, so that readers can follow them, if they want to. And of course, like with all social networks, it makes sense to prominently place sharing buttons as well as links to editorial staff on G+ on the own website.

3) Hangout with interview partners, colleagues, readers

Google’s video chat, the hangout, is one of the nicest features on G+. It allows you to video chat with up to 10 people simultaneously. The possibilities are nearly endless:

  • Invite your readers to a hangout about a certain newsworthy topic and get their instant feedback and engagement. Media organizations might start a regular editors hangout where they can connect with the community.
  • Teach or lecture. Hangouts are a fabulous way to talk about something to a broader audience while being at the other end of the world or just out of town.
  • Interview someone. The sound and video quality on Google+ is decent, and you have the advantage of being able to publish the video instead of just the audio recording. If you want to be more adventurous, invite special guests (selected readers, experts) to co-interview with you.
  • Record your hangout. So far, that option is not included in the service itself, but there are free tools that can do the job pretty well.

4) Work together in real-time

Behind the scenes, Google is constantly working on improving its network. Some focus will be on introducing new hangout functionalities that are available to be tested now. The so-called “hangout with extras” includes:

  • Named hangouts
  • Shared notes and sketchpad
  • Google Docs integration
  • Screensharing

Now that’s great stuff! Imagine working with several colleagues on an article and being able to video chat with them while editing or improving the Google Doc in real time in the hangout window? That’s one of the functionalities that will be great for media professionals. Screensharing allows you to share your computer screen or part of it with someone you hang out with – great to explain technical things or graphs without having to send emails back and forth.

5) Get feedback, ask and discuss

Well, this is kind of a no-brainer, as it is the main function of social networks and therefore G+. Be there. Be open for discussions. Publish your articles, comment on other posts, ask questions, crowd-source, react to feedback. Of course, you can also do that on Facebook or Twitter, but with certain limitations. Facebook is still a kind of private space for many users, and the general tone of the network is personal, not professional. You are likely to get lost between cat pictures and food-related entries when you try to get a really substantial journalistic discussion going. When tweeting, you are limited to 140 characters. Furthermore, the Twitter discussion is not visible as a whole thread, unless you use hashtags or Storify to organise it.

The real deal with G+ is that Google will likely connect more and more of its features to the network, lifting it from a simple social network to a giant multimedia communication platform. And journalists, being in the communication business, should definitely make use of that.