In this ongoing series on using social media as an association, we’ve covered best practices for your association Facebook page, managing an association’s Twitter account, and best practices for LinkedIn. Today, we are moving on to less “mainstream” networks, but those that are still valuable as you approach your association’s overall online communications strategy. First up? Google Plus.

First let me admit that it’s a fallacy to call Google+ anything other than “mainstream”—according to the latest figures, the network has over half a billion users (though it’s likely that far less are active users, with Business Insider putting the number at around 135 million). With that many people on Google+, it’s definitely worth considering including it in your social media plans.

Today, we’ll discuss how best to leverage this fairly new social channel, and how some associations are using it to boost membership and more.

When It Comes to Content, Synergy is Key – If you’re integrating Google+ into your communications efforts, the odds are good you are already extremely active on a number of other social channels. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, maybe you even have an association Pinterest page. As such, keeping up with the demands of each page for fresh content can be somewhat taxing. Luckily, like other networks, Google+ allows you to integrate and cross-post content from other pages. What you post to Twitter and Facebook can be automatically populated to Google+ as well. The same applies for content from your website, such as news articles or your latest blog post. Another piece of good news? Google+ also uses hash tags—now that Facebook has integrated hash tags into their user interface as well, creating content that can flow across multiple channels is easier than ever.

Remember, even when populating content automatically in this manner, it is still crucial for you to be actively engaged with your online community. You must continue to moderate discussions, and be active and responsive if you want your followers to get the most out of interacting with your association online.

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As always, be sure to diversify your content. Google+ allows for posting of multimedia, including photos and videos that will provide your followers with more than just a flat wall of text and links.

Use the Tools – While cross-posting content is an excellent strategy for making the most of multiple social channels, don’t forget to make use of the excellent tools that are unique to Google+. The best one? Google Hangout. This is a tool that could come in particularly handy at association meetings or conferences.

Use Google Hangout to host live-streaming discussions of important issues with multiple users; if you’re using it at a conference or event, think of it as a “virtual expert panel”. This is also a great way to utilize social media during a conference to share information and ideas with your members who were unable to attend. You can also host Q&A discussions with members on association issues, or bring in experts to interview—the possibilities are endless!

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Google+ also offers “Communities”. Similar to LinkedIn Groups, you can create a community that is specific to your association and invite your members to join. By creating a community, you can encourage members to post their own content to your Google+ page, where they can start discussions, plan meet-ups and events, and share information with each other.

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Search Engine Optimization – While using social media regularly will improve your association’s online reputation overall, and Google search rankings for topics related to your field, using Google+ gives you an extra edge. According to a recent article in Business Insider about the growth of Google+, a social media marketing expert claims that while Google+ may not be as popular as Facebook, organizations should not ignore it if they want to see their rankings improve.

“’An authoritative Google Plus account is one of the factors that will help you rank high on Google (search results),’ she said, noting that a popular Google Plus account was an important criterion in the search algorithm that ranks pages.”

Driving traffic to your website is one of the best ways to recruit new members and retain current ones, which makes this important advice to consider as you navigate the new world of Google+.

As our summer series on social media best practices continues, in the future we will target even less “mainstream” channels, and discover how your association may still benefit. For example, are you on Pinterest? It’s possible you should be!