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Is your charity ready for Google+?

17 November 2011

Bright One founder Ben Matthews discusses the advantages and disadvantages of Google+

Google+ is the latest social network to grab people’s attention, and is one of the quickest growing in terms of sign ups. Is your charity ready for it? And perhaps more importantly, is Google+ ready for your charity?

Early experiments

Initially only available to individuals, charity communicators could play around with the platform, but brands and organisations weren’t allowed to set up pages (this didn't stop organisations like The Pixel Project creating pages and risk getting the boot from Google).

One of the more successful early experiments with Google+ was by the International Tibet Network, who used Google+'s hangout features as a platform for a press conference. Alison Reynolds, Executive Director of the International Tibet Network, explains how they came to use it on the Fairsay blog: "The occasion was the visit of China's future President, Xi Jinping, to Lhasa for galas and grand speeches to mark a major propaganda event – the 60th Anniversary of what China likes to call the "Peaceful Liberation of Tibet".

The Tibet Autonomous region was closed for over a month so that China could make sure nothing would mar these events, with no foreign journalists permitted to go to Lhasa. Given the impossibility of being either in Tibet or China in person, an online press conference seemed the most practical and flexible way to ensure the media knew about our perspectives on the anniversary and on Xi Jinping as China's future leader.

"Early tests of Google+ hangouts were positive: the platform was stable and there were a number of attractive features, such as the automatic display of the person speaking on the main screen and being able to mute video (to preserve anonymity if needed). Over 50 people watched live and there have been over 2,000 views of extracts of the broadcast since.

"We'll definitely be using Google+ hangout again," says Reynolds. "We are planning on sharing the experience with our 180+ member groups at forthcoming conferences, to try and encourage them to try it too."

Brands on Google+

Google recently announced they would be rolling out Google+ Pages worldwide. Businesses and brands can now have a presence on the platform, and connect with the customers and fans.It's an exciting prospect – particularly with Google pouring so much into the platform – and charities have been quick to establish a brand presence on Google+. Save the Children UK's page was even featured by Google on their list of brand pages at launch.

Is Google+ worth your charity's time and resources?

Wired thinks yes: "With a broad array of services like search and Gmail and Chrome and Android, Google offers tools that are fundamental to the online lives of so many people – and these can be tied to Google+. As Google+ evolves, Google will have the means to promote its social network – and the branded Pages within it – in ways that Facebook or Twitter cannot."Forbes thinks no: "While Google was successful in getting people to go to the site in the first place not much really seemed to happen once they had got there."

What are charities saying?

Roberto Kusabbi from the British Heart Foundation wrote in an article on the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network: "I have made sure we've signed up for Google+, but only so that we can save our page from falling into the wrong hands. We'll continue to keep an eye on Google+'s progress and how our audiences use the site as well as how Google+ integrates with Adwords. Until then, we'll be concentrating on Facebook, Twitter and our other channels, as well as experimenting as much as we can in between.

Rob Dyson from Whizz-Kidz commented: "Social media is another route to having a conversation and the definition of that engagement is owned by the person clicking 'follow' or 'like'. Facebook (for example) has had years of emotional investment put in by a critical mass of ordinary people – so it makes sense to reach out to our supporters there; on their terms. G+ feels a bit a bit of a self-satisfied echo chamber right now."

Damien Austin-Walker from V Inspired added: "We registered and set up as soon as Google+ pages came out. It is important to do I think, but we're not really using it until it becomes useful!"

So while there are examples of charities, such as the International Tibet Network, putting the features that Google+ offers into practical use, many charities are registering their pages as a placeholder, then reviewing the platform as it evolves. While you may get some unexpected results by diving into Google+ right away, it may be better to play the long game with this – and social media in general – to see which new platforms and services win out in the long run.