Google Plus is now open to the world which means the pressure to use social media marketing for individuals and businesses is only going to increase.

If you were one of those waiting on the sidelines to join Google+ the moment it became live your wait is now over. All you have to do is point your browser at: and join the social network.

Early adopters found the interface clean, the functionality intuitive and the engagement level unprecedented. While those who were not in it wondered at the fuss and thought how they would fit yet another social network into their lives, those of us who were exploring it were finding the kind of coherence, sense and information we felt a real social network should always give you.

With the ability to share posts like Twitter and engage through them like in Facebook and the added dimension of long posts and easy link sharing Google+ became, while it was still in Beta, one of the best ground for marketers and technophiles to hang around in.

If you need a helping hand to get started then here is a Google+ Starter Guide that’s been created by one of the Google+ users and which is amongst the best I have seen.

My own proclivities aside HelpMySEO is not the ground for professing Google-luv, nor is it a place where I will tell you what you will be hearing about in the next few days, weeks and months. The slant I take here is practical and although Google+ is a game changer on the web at a conceptual level what I need to focus is what you will get out of it if you become involved.

For a start there is search. Google has, for some time now, been taking into account social cues in the ranking of websites and with the official opening up of Google+ the trend is only going to get stronger. In addition Google’s +1 Button offers serious advantages when it comes gaining ranking in search and promoting anything across the web, from web pages to GoogleAds but that’s not all.

Google Goes Personal, Local and Social

Google search is changing. Amassing data across its web properties Google is driving for relevance in search and the ultimate end-user experience: search results which absolutely tally with your location, personal interests and social activity. In this three-pronged front Google+ as well as the Google +1 Button and (yes, even!) Google Buzz, play a critical role.

If you are not using any of these to promote your content, your website and what it does you are missing out on a sizeable (make it huge) piece of valuable online traffic.

Google Merges Two Worlds

Google knows that the web is neither the beginning nor the end of the known universe. When Google introduced Google Places, for instance, it enabled merchants who did not have a website to leverage the power of the web to drive customers to their doorsteps at a local level. This was a powerful concept which gained traction, particularly as Google then refined Google Places with reviews, offers (and more about this in a moment) and mobile search thanks to geolocation to put together a ‘Grand Plan for the Web’ if you will, which offered a one-stop solution to the end-user.

Google’s plan, was to erode the barrier between offline and online. There is a simple reason for this which most companies born on the web do not get (Google is an exception). For all its size, the web, despite its impressive growth, is still a dwarf when compared to our offline activity. The majority of commercial transactions, for instance, are still conducted offline. There are many people who have exclusive offline connections and although the online world and eCommerce transactions are growing at an almost exponential rate, offline is where most of us conduct our lives and make our purchases.

A lesser company would take the tack that what it needed was to get more of us online. Google does not operate that way. This is a company which prizes data above all else. It lets data guide its decisions and uses data to help it shape what it offers and the data said that while eCommerce is growing in our planned purchase decisions, there are a lot of situational, spur-of-the-moment or even opportunistic purchases we make which are not going to ever go online. Or at least not in the conventional sense.

Google, the world’s most powerful search engine however does a lot more than search. Its mobile platform, Android, has become the largest mobile platform in the world with the free operating system powering hundreds of millions of smartphones, tablets and web-enabled devices.

The mobile-owning population in the world, as it happens, is much larger than the computer-owing one so access to this market not only gave Google an overlap between the fairly office or home-based online user and the roving offline one, but it also gave it access to a brand new slice of the consumer population who might be perfectly happy to use a smartphone but less inclined to use a laptop or a PC.

The result has been that through Android Google has been able to beef up its plans for personalisation and localisation and begin to put in place the layer of socialisation it needs to ‘seal the deal’.

Google's visionary and audacious plan for the web is taking social media and eCommerce marketing to an entirely new level where online and offline become so closely integrated as to be part of the same equation.

Google Bridges Offline and Online with Two New Products

So, the question was, what would help Google clinch the deal? What is it that could become that compelling factor for consumers to use their smartphones not just for search and Google maps but also as a means of gain for themselves in the more material sense of the word?

Google did its homework carefully. This is a company which learns from every product whether it sets the world on fire or not. Its experience with Google Checkout had taught it a lot about payment systems, the way they are used and it now had a solid set of data on how people use them. Back in 2010 Google made an unprecedented $6 billion offer to Groupon which was promptly rejected.  Google went away with plans to build its own network and started to acquire a number of smaller companies which had the technology to help it build such a platform.

Almost a year later the first of the products Google needed to help it bridge the online and offline was in place with Google Offers. With its ability to combine search, Google Maps, Google Places and, now offers, Google’s offering (pan unintended) became much more compelling and a lot more cost-effective than Groupon’s.

With Offers in place, Google moved the next piece in position with Google Wallet. Basically a secure payment system which allows you to take your online identity with you on your mobile, through your Google account, Google wallet is an incredible development. For the first time ever it allows you to use your phone to make payments the same way you would had you had cash. This knocks on the head the barrier to using an online service offline which is opportunistic purchasing and the fact that most of the time, most of us, are away from our computers.

Seamless Integration with Offline and Online through a Google Account

By acknowledging that much of what we want starts with an online search Google brought Google Offers as a starting point and bridged it with Google Wallet which can contain everything a real-world wallet would: credit cards, coupons, discount offers and so on.

To understand how Google Offers works check out the video below:

And if you have an hour to spare (yep, it really is that long) check out the video of the presentation Google did for Google Wallet. It actually explains just how the new Google Wallet ecosystem will help to create a seamless online/offline end-user experience where you can take your cash, searches, deals, discount offers and much more, with you, no matter where you are and, from a merchant’s point of view you can tap into a slice of the market where your online marketing efforts and offers can become an integral part of your offline marketing.

So, Where Does Social Fit In?

It was Mark Zuckerberg who actually summarised it in one sentence at the 2011 Facebook f8 conference. when he said that social will soon become the default mode of the web.

This is where Google+ comes in. More than just a social network it is a set of tools through which you can use to socialise the web (a little like Facebook’s planned Open Social Graph without the all-rights grab for your data).

For anyone working online in any capacity at the moment, ‘social’ is an additional layer of consideration which really cannot be avoided. Irrespective if it happens on Google+, Facebook, Twitter or any other social network, it will become part of the cues search engines use to rank your website and the ‘authority’ of your web presence.

It provides unprecedented opportunities for engagement with those who are online which also means that for the first time you can talk to your potential customers, business partners and business contacts in the same way as you might talk to people offline, and with the same effectiveness.

What Should you be Doing in your Social Media Marketing?

Let’s begin with a few basics. Social Media Marketing is not a knee-jerk reaction to the need for a ‘magic bullet’ on getting more customers, making more sales and creating a better web presence. Like SEO it has to happen as part of a carefully planned campaign which takes into account how much time you have available to do it, your inclination (not everyone can be personable online), your business model (maybe Social Media Marketing should be part of specific campaigns) and your overall content strategy. The latter will also determine what you do, when and how.

While the needs of each business and its relationship with its customers will be different I assume that unless you have a company which sells suicide pills, repeat business is a necessity which means you want to establish a connection with your customers and potential customers which helps keep your business fresh in their minds and has them thinking of you first, before your competitors. This is where social media marketing can really help.

Here are some guidelines concerning social media marketing to get you started:

01. Do not jump on the social media marketing bandwagon without planning what you will post, why, to whom and for how long.

02. Be prepared to have ‘fuzzy’ metrics in the beginning. Social media marketing is about creating an awareness of who you are and what you do. It really helps if you think of it as being you at a large party where you do not know many people and many people do not know you. It takes time to create meaningful connections.

03. Social media marketing needs to make some sense. It is not enough to post links to your sales pages or special offers on a social media website or a real-time web channel, like Twitter and expect to get an instant response. Actually, if you do that, you will be lucky to get any response at all, most such actions result in an instant ban from the other members.

04. Do not forget your SEO. When you post content on social media websites it is important to remember that the content you post publicly is indexed by search engines and can have a very direct and positive impact on your website’s search engine ranking.

05. Before you start work out the tone of your sharing as it will determine the kind of ‘voice’ you establish online. Just like in the offline world, online you have to decide just how much to say, to whom and how. This has to not only be consistent so you do not make any mistakes but it also has to be authentic.

06. Remember your site is the beginning and the end. Social Media Marketing only works when it operates in a funnel effect. Content has to originate to your website and social media efforts – just like SEO – have to lead people back to your website. Anything else is a waste of time.

And that is about it. Provided you spend some time and effort planning things before you start to post and click, your social media marketing, just like your SEO efforts will start to pay off.