Google + for Nonprofits: Invest Time or Not? Nonprofit Starter Steps | Beth's Blog

Google + for Nonprofits: Invest Time or Not? Nonprofit Starter Steps

Digital Strategy

Does Google + have the potential to be a valuable platform for nonprofits or is it just another shiny object to distract nonprofits?  Should your nonprofit do more than simply set up a presence on Google + and not invest any more time?  What is a productive way to experiment and learn to the answers to these questions without wasting time?  These were the questions that were going through my mind as I listened to a presentation on Google + Alex Abelin at the Social Media for Nonprofits Conference as he explained some of the benefits.     This post will help you create a plan for getting started with a low risk experiment.

Before jumping in, hit the pause button.   What are your communications objectives and the audience you want to target?   Do you have a couple hours a week to devote to a learning experiment to get comfortable with the platform, the work flow, and learn something about what what content and engagement works on Google +?    Are there other ways you should be investing your time?        If you don’t have the time or good answers to these questions, simply set up a presence for now and come back to it when the timing makes sense.

But if you Google + seems like the right next step in your integrated social media strategy, here’s how to get started.

Become Familiar with the Google + Landscape

If you’re new to Google +, here’s the official set up help pages and instructions from Google + . Set aside some “play and explore” time to observe, read, and interact with your colleagues and peers who are on Google +.  One of your first tasks will be to find interesting and valuable people and brands to “circle” and follow to support your goal to become familiar with the Google + landscape.

If you set up you presence when Google + first launched,  but you didn’t organize it to learn, now’s your opportunity for a fresh start.

My first step with a new platform is to create a “Circle of the Wise” consisting of people who regularly share useful tips and news about the platform. I look for people in the nonprofit space, but also those who work for the platform or have specialized in blogging about the platform.  Or people whose Google + is focused on Google + tips, news, and resources.  Ask around if you don’t know who they are.   I start with a handful and expand from there.   Also, my circle of the wise is constantly changing, but here’s a few for you to get started.

  • Debra Askanase Blogger and trainer who share useful tips about Google + (and other platforms too!)
  • Janet Fouts: Blogger and social media coach who is consistently blogging some excellent posts about how nonprofits can leverage google +.
  • John Haydon: Blogger and Facebook Guy also shares tips on Google + along with tips about other platforms
  • Louis Gray He’s on the Google + team and shares items about new features, analytics, and other stuff.
  • Lynette Young:  Curates Women of Google +
  • Toby Stein: Google + mobile and pages Community Manager
  • Natalie Villa-Lobos Community Manager for Google + she shares information about Google +, but also more broadly resources about building online community that are applicable to Google + strategy
  • Jesse Stay, Author of Google + for Dummies
  • Vincent Mo – technical lead for google + photos
  • Google for Nonprofits They are sharing information about hangouts about Google products, how-to resources, and important feature changes.
  • Nonprofits Organizations This is Heather Mansfied’s Google + brand page. You can cruise through her public circles of nonprofit brands and check the nonprofit of the week on Google +

If I’m just getting started on a platform, my circle of the wise is a tightly curated list so I don’t get overwhelmed or distracted.  Not everyone in the circle is tightly focused on Google +, but I know I can find good information there.   But, if you want more suggestions, see 22 Must Circle Nonprofit Bloggers and Nonprofits on Google + that Heather Mansfield aggregated.   It is a diverse list of different nonprofits and people  that have a presence and share information information on Google + that might be of interest to nonprofits.

Next, I put together a circle of nonprofit brands that I could observe and learn from. I have two nonprofit brand circles. One where I’m simply aggregating nonprofit brands I discover on Google + that has over 700 nonprofit brands and more tightly curated list of nonprofit brands that are sharing content or engaging with their audiences in interesting ways.  That second circle is a “watch list” and I look for patterns and ideas.

Heather Mansfield put together this list of 22 Must Circle Nonprofit Brands that are active on Google +.  If you want to easily circle them, I created this shared circle based on that list you can grab.  I was curious and started a conversation asking these questions:

  • What is your definition of success on Google +?
  • How are you measuring that?
  • How much time are you investing?
  • What content do you find resonating?

What I learned is that most are defining success by the number of people who have circled them and are testing to see what content resonates with their audiences.    Once they’ve mastered the work flow, the time investment is 1-2 hours per week.

Set Up A Learning Experiment

After you have explored as an individual, you may decide that you only need to set up a presence and be done with it.   You are now ready to set up your Brand account.    Heather Mansfield has a good set of instructions for doing this AND avoiding some common set up mistakes.

If you want to stick a toe a little deeper into the water, the next step is create a simple plan to test the waters for your brand. You are testing to see what works and what doesn’t. Most importantly, determine a focused, but brief amount of time daily that you can spend on learning about Google +. When in the phase of learning a new social media platform, you’ll need to block creative immersion time (a few hours) for set up and learning the daily work flow.

If you already have established an editorial calendar, spend some time thinking through how your Google + can align with your editorial focus, but be differentiated from other channels. (And, not take you a lot of extra time).  For example, what if your nonprofit is launching a new program and you’re holding a press conference.  Why not hold a google hangout to share that news as well?     Google + recently added a feature of doing video status updates, why not a regular video status update thanking a supporter?    Or maybe your audience will respond to a content curation strategy – that you share and annotate the best links on your topic.

You can mix it up with specific content for Google + and content cross-posted from your other channels.   Mari Smith shared an excellent list of tools and suggestions to make this efficient.

Once you’ve internalized the work flow (creating and posting content, reviewing Ripples (the Google + metrics tool), and listening and engaging with your audience), you can most likely get the daily time commitment to a few hours per week.

Mashable published “How To Build An Effective Brand Presence on Google + which includes six best practices you should use in this early stage.

Measurement and Learning

You will waste your time if you don’t pick out the important metrics that allow you to learn whether what you’re doing is working.     I think the most important piece is to figure out what the right mix of content and engagement is – and if that can lead to traffic or conversions.

Google + has an analytics tool that is very basic, called Ripples. It offers a quasi social network analysis to see how your posts are shared: when, by whom, and to whom.
An analysis of Googe + posts against these metrics can help you make some decisions to improve your content, engagement tactics, and identify your influencers.    Debra Askansae wrote this informative piece about what it does and how to get started using it.   Frank Barry shared this piece from Dan Soto that digs deeper into the metrics, but before careful not to collect data you don’t need.

Is your nonprofit on Google +?  What’s your definition of success?  What have you learned?   Have you decided not to invest time?  Why?

11 Responses

  1. Janet Fouts says:

    Great post Beth and I love the idea of the learning experiment before dedicating a lot of time. This should be done with any social network before throwing yourself in headfirst. I knew some of these resources but not all of them, I’ll spend quite a bit of time wandering those links!

  2. Sasha Jones says:

    Google has declared that Google+ platform is strictly for people only, not for groups, corporations and brands. This is advantage and non-profit members can still take advantage of this.

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  4. Marie says:

    Thanks Beth for your detailed info on Google+

    I must admit that I have tried to ignore it in the past, but you make a great case for me taking another look and stop sticking my head in the sand!

    Thanks for the resources, for which I have some training & educating to do (;

    Quick note on Sasha’s comment. While I agree that Google says right now that Google+ is for people only. They are after all a giant corporation, and when Google+ gains much more traction. I believe you will then see their focus change to favor corporations and brands.

    I could be wrong, but that’s how I see it going forward with G +

  5. OrgSpring says:

    Great post with great information. The pages I’ve setup for clients on Google + have been well received by suporters, some which we did not know were even listening, which is great.

  6. Aaron Sachs says:

    Beth, as always, I am amazed at the dedication and passion you have for aiding NPOs in understanding the nuances of social media. I was particularly impressed with your list of G+ resources!

    For the commenters: I am conducting thesis research for my MS at the University of Tennessee. I’d be grateful if you took a few minutes to take my survey at It should take approximately 10 minutes of your time. If you have any questions, please email me at Thanks so much for taking the time to fill this out!

  7. Beth says:

    When Google + initially launched, it was for individuals. In November, they launched brand pages. The first wave of nonprofit folks set up individual profiles and were experimenting while waiting for brand pages to launch. I think that is what many are doing now, trying to figure out the audience and the right mix of content and engagement. Others have simply set up a beach head for now, with a wait and see — and that is also a good approach if time is limited.

  8. Beth says:

    @Janet Fouts – Thanks for the terrific blog posts you’ve written about Google Brand pages for nonprofits.

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