When it comes to being a photographer, there is no shortage of online networks waiting for you to share your images, interact with others and potentially grow your business. This article is part of a larger series of posts aimed at providing information and awareness for individuals looking to leverage social media and social networks in pursuit of their passion for photography. Titled, “Social Media for Photographers“, the series started as a broad overview that focused on defining many of the options a photographer has to choose from. From there it broke down into focused posts on each network. While this specific post is focused on Google+, I have published editions that focus on Facebook and Stipple, with Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram to follow.
For a much more in depth look at Google+ specifically, check out my latest book, “Google+ for Photographers” which can be found at all major book retailers (e-book version available as well). With that in mind, lets get started…
What is Google+?
Much like other online networks, Google+ is a platform that allows you to connect and interact with other individuals from around the world while publishing and or sharing digital content. However, unlike Facebook where the vast majority of users are on the network to connect with friends, family and co-workers, Google+ is all about connecting with people that share your passions and interests…rather then people you might know in real life. But to truly understand what Google+ is, you have to first understand what it is not. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, G+ is NOT just another social network…atleast according to Google. Let me explain…
In doing research for my book, Google+ for Photographers, I held countless meetings with Google employees (individuals ranged from VP of Product Management to the head of the Google Photos Team) and the consistent message woven throughout our talks was that Google’s vision for G+ was much greater then just creating yet another social network. Instead they envision Google+ to ultimately be the social glue that ties the entire Internet together. Sound far fetched? It actually isn’t. Lets look at the user numbers of the various products that make up Google
- Google+ – 400 million (100 million active every month) (September 2012 SOURCE)
- Google Search – 65.02% of ALL search online (May 2012 - SOURCE)
- Gmail – 425 million users (June 2012 – SOURCE)
- Google Apps – 5 million businesses, organizations and government agencies (June 2012 – SOURCE)
- YouTube – 800 million unique visitors a month – 120 billion videos watched a month (August 2012 – SOURCE)
- Android – 1 million+ android devices activated every day (June 2012 – SOURCE)
While Facebook is touting an astonishing 1 billion active users in its network (Sept 2012), there is one thing to keep in mind. Facebook is a closed network. By that I mean that all of the information, content and interactions are kept inside Facebook. This means that your absolute maximum reach on Facebook is limited to the network itself. Google on the other hand is all about publicly indexing that content so that it is searchable on the Internet. This is an important distinction between the two networks. After looking at the above numbers and realizing that Google plans to integrate G+ into all of its products, the reality of Google+ being the glue to connect the Internet together becomes much more reasonable.
Features of the Network
Google+ Circles are the very fabric for connecting with other users on the network. Unlike a “Facebook Friend” that forces both parties to maintain an equal relationship, a Circle works more like a one way street. By adding you to my circles, I am saying that I am interested in what you have to say. However by doing this, you will not see anything I publish, until you add me back. This gives all G+ users much more control over how they make connections.
Circles also give you the ability to send content only to certain groups of people. For example, I can send a post out that is only visible to my past workshop clients, my family members or a small group of colleagues by simply selecting the appropriate Circle when I go to publish my post. If I want to make my post visible to anyone, I just select my “Public” circle and send it out.
Circles also double as content filters, allowing you to filter down the content you view in your main stream to that that comes from those in a specified circle. For example, if I want to just see what my “Colorado Photographers” circle has been sharing, I can simply choose that circle from the top of my main stream. While this feature might not be of use if you are only connected to 50 other people, 5000 users is much different. Using the Circle filters allows you to have a better control of keeping the content coming at you from becoming overwhelming.
A Google+ Hangout is a video conference for up to 10 people in total (including yourself) that can be from anywhere in the world. While in a Hangout you can share your screen, collaborate on a document or spreadsheet or even watch YouTube movies together as a group. No where else on the Internet do you have the ability to connect with people on this personal level for free. Google, in an attempt to promote the Hangout feature have had a number of large celebrities host their own G+ Hangouts, allowing them to directly connect with fans. This includes Conan, Obama, Dali Lama, the Muppets, Snoop Dog and David Beckham to name a few.
To make this feature even better, Google recently rolled out the new “On Air” feature, which allows you to to broadcast your hangout live to anyone on Google+ while it records the Hangout for you. After it is completed, the recording is automatically sent to your YouTube channel for some simple edits and republication to anyone on the Internet. In essence, this feature allows you to become your very own mini production company.
Many photographers have even started their own G+ Photography Shows. These recordings are then posted to their other websites and other networks from YouTube, allowing them to reach far more then just those on Google+. I have also seen musicians hold live concerts, cooks teach cooking classes and astronomers look at the night sky together. The possibilities are truly endless.
While Google+ is not the only network to offer Events (Facebook Events for example), they are the only one that I have actually seen do it well. Part of this is because of the growing product integration between all of the products and services Google has to offer, with G+ being the nucleus. Creating an event is as simple as a few button clicks from within the network. You can even invite people to your Event via an email address, aside from just their Google+ user name. With the Google Calendar integrating with Google+, any event you agree to go to will automatically show up in your calendar and even send you notifications about the event.
One of the best features of Google Events is the “Party Mode”. If you have this feature enabled on your mobile device, all images you take while at the Event in question will be automatically uploaded to the Event page itself, allowing you to share those images seamlessly with everyone around you. While this feature might sound gimmicky, as a photo educator, I create an event for nearly every one of my Photography Workshops. Using party mode, my clients mobile behind the scenes photos are automatically being uploaded and showcased to the world about my workshop. Talk about great marketing!
Why Google+ Might Matter to You
One of the most important questions you should ask yourself when thinking about joining or focusing on a new online network is: Why is it worth your time? When it comes to Google+, there are three important answers:
The Growing Photography Community
When Google+ first opened at the end of June in 2011, it was quickly obvious that photographers of all levels found the network intriguing. Between the clean UI (User Interface), excitement of it being a new social network and the fact that our images looked better on G+ then all other major networks, it wasn’t difficult to see why. Over the last year, this community has continued to grow, offering one of the most robust and engaging photo communities on the Internet. While it is not as large as Flickr, it offers plenty of better ways to interact, engage and connect with fellow photographers. For aspiring photogs, this is reason enough to give G+ a try.
Google Product/Service Integration
As I talked about above, Google’s vision for G+ is to have it be the fabric that ties the internet together. For Google, this starts with their current product and service lineup. So which products am I talking about?
Google Search, Gmail, Google Apps, YouTube, Android, Google Play Store, Google Translate, Google Drive (formally Google Docs), Google Alerts, Google Calendar, Blogger, Google Analytics AdWords, Google Maps, Google Places, Google Latitude, Google Webmast Tools, Google Wallet, Google News, Google Image Search, Google Offers and much more….
In early 2012, Google simplified the access to their produces and services by revamping their internal systems to allow a single GOOGLE ACCOUNT to access everything they have to offer. This means that if you have a gmail account, you also have access to Google Drive, a YouTube channel and yes…a Google+ account. As Google continues to integrate these products into G+ and G+ into these products, the functionality of being an active Google+ user will continue to grow. This has already happened with a few key products, such as Google Calendar. On Google+ when you receive an “Event” invite and you accept, that event will instantly show up in your Google Calendar and subsequently on your Android phone. Think bigger and more creatively and you get a glimpse of where G+ is headed.
Changing the Rules of SER
One of the most important reasons to be active on Google+ is because your engagement on the network can drastically effect your SER and the SER of those that connect with you. SER stands for Search Engine Results and as I stated above, Google Search currently equates to over 65% of ALL Internet search online…in the entire world.Number wise, this means that of the 2.2 billion active internet users in 2011 (SOURCE) 65% of all Internet search online went straight through www.google.com.
Now when it comes to how search results are altered by activity on Google+, the answer is very interesting. Google, much like Facebook, is an advertising company at heart. This means that their main source of income comes from providing target specific ads to its users, based on a variety of information such as the content you have published and interacted with in the past. While this has been a solid model for years, the reality is that both Google and Facebook ultimately NEED to know more about you in order to continue to provide the best and most accurate ads they possible can. How does this work? Through the idea of trusted content. In your real life, would you be more prone to listen to restaurant advice from a complete stranger that you bumped into while walking around down town or your best friend that you have know for years? For most of us, the answer is our best friend. Why? Because we trust them. While you might think that the idea of trust can’t be quantified by a mathematical algorithm, you would be wrong.
In order for Google to understand the complexities of trust and social dynamics, they have to apply a value to the way you interact online. On Google+ this can be done in one of four ways. By clicking on the +1 button, commenting on a post, re-sharing a post and adding someone to their circles. Each of these interactions hold a different weighted value. The more you interact with someone on Google+, the more Google thinks you trust that person…and vice versa. This allows Google to get a better idea of not only the kind of content you want to see, but who specifically you trust, so that Google can show you their content above the content from other random Internet users. This gets more interesting when you take into account that this doesn’t stop at just one degree of connection, but instead the interactions between two individuals begin to effect the perceived trust between everyone those individuals have connected with and so on and so forth. When it comes to Google Search, this idea of trusted content comes into play. One of the most obvious examples is using Google Image Search.
When I am logged into my universal Google account and I search for “Alaska”, 13 images show up first. Of those, the top four images shown to me are from myself, John Harrison, Joe Azure and Jon Cornforth….all of which are friends and colleagues I have connected with on Google+. Google showed me those results first because it thought I trusted the content from those individuals more then the other 442 million search results online.
This same principle applies for all content you publish online and on Google+ itself. If I am connected to you and I search for “Zion Photo Workshop” and you happened to post about your upcoming workshop…guess whos results will show up over everyone else’s? YOURS! The ramifications of this realization are huge when it comes to developing a strategy to have the most amount of exposure for your photography work on the Internet and not just a single social network.
Pros and Cons
- Google+ is the social layer for ALL things Google, it is not just a social network
- Great UI (User Interface). Your images will look beautiful
- Solid privacy controls
- A thriving Photography Community has established itself on the network
- Google+ Hangouts (Free video conferencing with up to 10 people from anywhere in the world)
- Google employees are very receptive to feedback to improve the user experience
- The mobile experience is gorgeous and fluid
- All public content is indexed for Google search
- Being active on Google+ increases your chance of improving your standing in search results
- Google+ users have the highest amount of customer satisfaction among social networks (LINK)
- Google just purchased NIK SOFTWARE. What this means for Google+ and Android, we don’t know just yet.
- Google+ still has a negative public image. The words “ghost town” are used when describing the network by tech journalists, even though it is far from the truth
- Your friends, family and co-workers will most likely not be on G+
- Google is still very young when it comes to understanding digital social dynamics. AKA their NOISE filters are not as good as they should be
- Google has yet to release the API which allows users to post to Google+ from other applications
- Google+ is NOT Facebook, which means that new users sometimes have a hard time getting their feet wet because they try to treat it like it is
Tips & Tricks
Complete your Profile
As obvious as it may sound, I constantly come across other photographers that have half completed profiles. What many users don’t realize is that your profile is arguable the first and last place you have to make an impression with other users. It is where you have the chance to showcase your personality, your talents, skills and of course tell the world a little about your self.
On top of this, Google actually indexes nearly all of your Google+ profile, making it searchable based on the keywords you choose to include in your bio as well as any relevant links you provide. Include “Colorado” and “Photographer” in your bio and you will show up when I search for other Colorado based photographers to connect with. Google is also doing some pretty amazing things with location based search results, so providing information on where you currently live (city is more then enough), will help others that live in the same city as you connect with your posts.
Participate in a Daily Photo Theme
When signing up for a new network, it can be daunting to find people to begin to interact and connect with, especially as a photographer. On Google+, one of the solutions is to join in on one of the Daily Photo Themes. The idea is simple. Every day of the week there are any number of photo themes running. For example, there is Waterfall Wednesday and Mountain Monday. On those days, you simply upload a photo that is appropriate for a given theme, apply the correct hashtag for said theme (#waterfallwednesday for example) and publish your image to the public. The curator of the theme will then have the chance to potentially pick your image to highlight, giving you more opportunities to get some exposure for your image as well as connect with other Google+ users in the growing photography community present.
Participate in a Photo Walk
When it comes to understanding social media, I feel that most people look at as this foreign concept that they don’t understand. While at its core it is simply about finding opportunities to connect with other individuals, they focus on the digital side of that interaction. In the recent years a relatively new phenomena has grown from with the photography communities around the world, the idea of a “photo walk”. The idea is simple, meet up with a bunch of other photographers in your home town at a specified location and go out shooting. While generally they are much more geared towards the social and networking side of things, many photo walks have taken an educational turn, with more advanced users helping new photographers learn to become better photographers. While “photo walks” are not exclusive with Google+, the photo community on the network has taken a keen interest in the idea. On June 30th, 2012 thousands of photo-walks where scheduled all over the globe in celebration of the 1 year anniversary of the launch of Google+.
At the end of the day, they offer great opportunities for photographers to connect and engage with other like minded people in real life. As a professional, you can get to know other local photographers a bit better, including potential future clients, and as an enthusiast you can have access to plenty of other people that share the same passions for the art that you do. In Colorado, I will be hosting 5-6 photo walks in 2013 to connect with local photogs and keep the local photo community active.
What can photographers expect?
For most photographers, Google+ has the potential to be an extremely viable and important part of their overall social media strategy. Between the fine control you have over who sees the content you publish as well as the content you see (via Circles), the personal interaction available via G+ Hangouts and the growing photo community on the network itself, there is a lot to love. As an aspiring photographer that is looking for inspiration, education and other individuals to connect with that share your passion for photography….it doesn’t get any better then Google+. As a photo educator, the photo community alone is enough reason to be active on G+, let along the ability to use Google+ hangouts to connect with potential future clients.
However if you are a photographer that focuses on wedding, portrait or event photography and you want to find new clients, G+ lags behind Facebook as the best tool at your disposal. If you happen to be looking to increase your print sales, G+ might not be the best choice either, as photographers are generally not customers of other photographers work. Having said all of this, the benefits in increasing once visibility online via the changes to your search engine result might be reason enough to become an active Google+ user. The problem with this approach for many photographers is that it is more of a long term benefit then a short term goal. Not everyone is willing to look a few years down the line to realize that the hard work of today might pay off down the line. Selling a single print this weekend is nice…having your entire portfolio increase in its exposure and searchability down the line might be viewed by many as much more important.
Social Media for Photographers ebook
In Q1 of 2013 I will be releasing a new ebook titled “Social Media for Photographers”. It will not only contain all of the updated information in this post for that time frame, but also expand upon the idea of developing a social media strategy as well as offering in-depth tips and tricks for each of the major social networks. The book will cost around $6.99. Below is a sign up page to be notified of its launch.