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How to Grow Your Google+ Fan Base to 1,000 Followers & Beyond

Michelle Stinson-Ross
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+Post ads on the Google Display Network have been out of beta for several months now, but the engagement ad option is still only available to advertisers with at least 1,000 followers on their pages or profiles.

According to Christian Ashlock, Product Marketing Manager at Google+, the reason to limit the availability to just those accounts was to ensure that advertisers were getting the most value out of their spend. Pages with 1,000 or more followers tend to have an actively engaged audience and consistently create high quality content.

But what if your brand is new to the Google+ game or you're team has been investing most of their energy and resources into other networks with more bells and whistles? What if now you want to rock those +Post ads, but you don't have the 1,000 followers on G+ to get started?

You go back to basics and grow that fan base.

But before you get all deflated, we have a few tricks up our sleeves. We just went through this process with our own brand, and we want to share what we've learned so far.

First and foremost...

Resist the Urge to Buy Them

It's only 1,000 followers. Not a huge number, right? Why not go the quick and painless route and pay to bulk that number up? Tempting, yes.

When we were sitting at 500 followers and barely creeping along, the option crossed our minds, too. But at the end of the day what will you have gained?

If you buy the difference you need to get to 1,000, you just polluted the core of your Google+ foundation with a bunch of useless bots.

Don't lose sight of the fact that there is indirect Google search love for the engagement you get on Google+. If you buy yourself a bunch of bots, you likely won't get much in the way of comments, +1's, and shares from that non-human audience, and miss out on potential SEO lift.

Truthfully, it's not an audience at all, and Google knows that. Since they seek to validate and score the quality of everything else you do on the web, why wouldn't they also evaluate the quality of your following?

As nice as it would be to just get the number and move on with +Post ads, don't give in to the urge to buy the numbers you need. You'll miss out on all the broad spectrum Google good that getting followed by 1,000 real people will do.

Instead...

Follow to Be Followed

Find Google Plus Users That Engage

Much like Twitter, Google+ makes little distinction between a business entity and a person on the network. This means that, unlike Facebook, a brand is free to follow any other Google+ user and begin interacting with the content they are publicly sharing on the network.

Also, like Twitter, every follower counts, whether it's another brand or a person. Just like your Mom told you, you have to be a friend in order to make friends.

There are so many ways to find the right people to start following.

  • Use the discovery option. Google+ will give you recommendations of other pages and people to follow based on general categories. If you haven't built any segmented circles, this is a great topical way to get started. You can refine those circles as you go.
  • Check out the following of other brands and celebrities. If you go to the About section of their page, you can often get to the list of people following a brand or person and begin following that list.
  • Check out the list of people that have engaged with a popular post. If you hover over the icons in the lower right corner of a post with a high plus count, you will see that you have the option to click and see the activity on that post. Click and the post flips over to show you a list of the engagement on that post. Whether they commented, +1'd, or shared, that list of users is actively engaged and very interested in similar content. Circle them!

As you go through this process, don't forget to engage with the new content you're surfacing in your home feed. Nothing encourages a follow back like a +1, comment, or share of the shiny new content produced by the people you're hoping will follow back and get you to 1,000.

Segment As You Go

Your Circles

One of the biggest organic differences between Google+ and the rest of the pack is segmentation. Thanks to circles we can organically target the right content to the right pockets of followers and not overload the rest of our fans with content they might not really care about. The rest of the social networks make us pay for that segmentation.

What you don't want to do is just click "follow" over and over, and set yourself up for a segmentation headache later. Instead, try to place new people into a reasonable circle from the beginning.

Check out this example from our brand playbook.

One of our large target groups is parents of young children, so we created a Parenting & Kids Circle. Now when we run across a popular post related to that general category, we follow all of the active people on that post directly into our Parenting & Kids Circle. When any of those people follow us back, they will see anything we post privately just for that circle.

And here's a handy little tip. If you're going to be going through a large following like Parenting Magazine or Elle, take a moment to visit the People tab in your G+ Page account first. Your circles can be rearranged at will with a simple drag and drop.

If you put the target circle to the front of the line before you start following, that will be the option at the top of your drop down circle list. No need to scroll to find the right circle if you're planning to add a large affinity group.

Don't Forget You Want Real Active Users

At the end of the process to get to 1,000 followers, you want to be certain that the audience value was well worth the effort. Don't follow everything that shows up as a follower.

If you aren't likely to follow an account that still has the generic Twitter egg for a profile picture, you shouldn't follow an account that still has the generic G+ silhouette. Make a few judgment calls. Users that have taken the time to add a photo of themselves and a little biographical information are more likely to be users that actively engage on Google+.

You will also quickly discover just how very global Google+ is.

If you know your market is in North and South America, the followers you pick up from Germany, India, and Malaysia won't be worth much more than a number in one of your circles. If your customers only communicate in English and Spanish, sharing posts by your Chinese writing followers won't help you much either.

Filtering as you go may take a little longer, but the audience you cultivate in the process will be of much greater value to your brand over the long haul.

Conclusion

You're going to have to use every bit of your community management savvy to crank up your Google+ following to 1,000 and beyond.

Pick just the users you come across that show the most interest in the content you love and create. Group them into affinity groups right from the start.

Don't worry about how long the process might take. What has been the most surprising result of this follower growth effort for us was how quickly we started seeing a shift in the engagement with the content we had been posting for months. We can't make any direct connections, but we also started seeing SEO lift at the same time the engagement started ticking up.

Google+ is a place where people really like to comment on and share the cool stuff they find there. There's no algorithm dictating who will see your content and no limits on post length. So, create and find great content to share and enjoy the rewards of making new friends.


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