Google Plus is the thinking person's social network. It's rapidly becoming the place to go for anyone looking to take part in thoughtful and engaging discussion online.
This makes Google Plus a great place for learning, research and sharing ideas, especially if you learn best through conversation and dialogue.
As a freelancer, you can use Google Plus's features to research your target market and prospects, learn new skills to enhance your business, curate content to share on social networks, and connect with like-minded people who are willing to teach what they know or help you brainstorm ideas.
Let's take a look at how to use Google Plus for research.
Why Use Google Plus for Research?
As the world's most popular search engine, Google is synonymous with online research, so much so that it's become a verb. "I'll Google it," is what we say when we need to learn something new.
Google has become king of the search engines because of its ability to offer useful, relevant search results. Google's ongoing mission is to make search results even more relevant and useful, and in pursuit of this goal, Google has realized that what's relevant to us is influenced by the people we hang out with. We're all shaped by our work colleagues, the people we admire, and our friends and family. If the people we care about have found a website or video useful or funny, we're more likely to find it useful or funny.
Google Plus, then, is Google's way of getting the data it needs about ourselves, our friends and our colleagues to deliver the best and most relevant search results. That means if Google is your search engine of choice, and you have a Google Plus account, you are already using Google Plus for research, every day you log online. This will become increasingly apparent as Google continues to integrate social with search.
With Communities, Google Plus allows you to meet and hang out with people who share your interests. In this sense, Google Plus is about the here and now, and the future.
That said, Google Plus provides a range of tools in addition to search which make it a handy research companion. Google Plus should certainly not become the only place you go to learn new things, but it's a good idea to put it in your research toolbox.
Google Plus's biggest win over other social networks is its recognition that we like to hang out with other people who care about the same things as us, even if we've never met those people. It first demonstrated this with Sparks, and more recently with Communities.
Facebook, as you know, is mainly about connecting with friends and family we know in real life. In this sense, Facebook is focused on the past. It's about hooking up with people you already know.
By contrast, Google Plus is about meeting up with people who share your interests. Online forums long ago discovered people like to have online discussions around a common interest; Google Plus is the first major social network to seriously pick up on this and run with it. With Communities, Google Plus allows you to meet and hang out with people who share your interests. In this sense, Google Plus is about the here and now, and the future. It's about making the connections that matter to you today.
That means for people with keen interests and passions, Google Plus is where they head for discussion. And they're happy to share their knowledge and interests with you.
The Research Toolbox
Google Plus offers a range of built in research tools. Search (of course!) is the main tool. From the Google Plus search bar, you can find:
- Google Plus Posts, to see what people are sharing and saying on a particular topic. You have the option to display the "best of" posts or "most recent" posts related to your search. Posts are a good way to get an overview of the zeitgeist in your niche.
- People and Pages for any person or business that has a Google Plus profile. For more advanced people search tools, check out Recommended Users or Find People on Plus.
- Communities. These are discussion groups around a shared interest. The search bar allows you to find communities by name, not by posts within the community.
- Hangouts and Events. Want to meet people face to face for your research? Look up relevant hangouts for video conversation, or events, and talk in the flesh.
If you find yourself checking out a search term regularly, then it's a good idea to save the search.
To access your saved searches, go to the Google Plus homepage, and select "More". You'll find your saved searches at the bottom of the drop down menu.
Research is often about chasing leads and finding authority figures you'd like to talk with, or who have something interesting to say. Ripples are an exciting way to chase down leads. To find an authority figure in your niche, first search out a few relevant articles or posts you like on Google Plus. Then click the arrow on the top right of the post, and select "View Ripples". For example, in my niche - Amazon ebook publishing - I found the following link shared by Brian Clark:
I can see it's got a lot of pluses and shares, so it's a popular post and will deliver useful insights. By clicking "View Ripples", I can find who else shared the post, and find out who the other big influencers are in this niche.
In the Ripples, I see the other big influencers include Joanna Penn, Abraham Williams, Max Gonzih and Pawel Synek. This gives me a good idea of who to follow to stay updated on my niche. I can check out their profiles and, if I like what I see, add them to my circles.
Finally, research often involves discussion and debate. The two most useful tools for this are posts, which you can use to ask questions to your followers, and Communities, which provide space for discussion around particular topics.
As Communities are a relatively recent addition to Google Plus, it's a great time to join in or even create your own community. By jumping in early, you establish yourself as a leader in your field. Communities are great for learning from others, meeting other people, and building up your network. Be willing to offer a helping hand, too.
Both Posts and Communities provide nested comments, which are ideal for longer conversations.
What Can You Research On Google Plus?
As a freelancer, you can use Google Plus to:
Get skilled up. Many freelancers are self-taught, if not in their primary skill then in secondary or tertiary skills such as marketing, technical support, or website building.
We're independently minded, and willing to do what it takes to train ourselves in the skills we need to get the right clients and do the best job possible for our clients. While learning alone can be an exciting challenge, Google Plus Communities are a place to meet mentors who can direct you to the top learning materials, and talk you through what you've learned.
- Reignite your fire. Freelancing is often chosen out of passion. We want to give our lives to writing, or design, or building cool apps. Yet even when we're doing what we love every day, or perhaps because we're doing what we love every day, it can become a drudge. Google Plus is ideal for pursuing your curiosity and rediscovering your sparks of passion which got you into freelancing in the first place.
- Get inspired. Need help getting over a creative block? Or maybe you want to try out new types of design, or a new blog post structure? Engaging with others on Google Plus can give you the ideas you need to get your work moving. For a heavy dose of inspiration, try hanging out in a Community you'd never normally visit, and force yourself to find an idea there.
Market your services while you learn. You can learn a lot just by being a lurker - reading conversations but not joining in the discussion. However, to make the most of Google Plus, you need to engage.
Everything you say boosts your visibility, and whenever you add value to a discussion you show your expertise. Remember, you're not only showing what you know to other people - which is important - but also to Google. It's likely Google uses what you share on Google Plus when it decides where to rank your website, blog and social media accounts in search results.
- Scout out demand. Got a new idea for a freelance service, but not sure if it will fly? Google Plus is a great market research tool. Ask around in Google Communities in your niche to find out what your clients really need. You can also search Google Plus to see what people say about service providers in your niche, so you can see what goes wrong (or right), and put yourself ahead of the pack by doing it better.
- Curate content to share on social networks. Curating and sharing content created by others is a simple way to establish yourself as an expert in your niche. Ripples make it super-easy to find the most popular content in your niche, while the "best of" search option allows you to discover hidden nuggets to share.
I'm sure as Google Plus develops and grows, it will become an even more powerful research tool. I'm curious to know: how do you use Google Plus for research?