If you follow the ever-changing world of social media and online marketing, you’ll know that people have a love/hate relationship with one network in particular: Google+ (also referred to as “Google Plus” or “G+”).

Publicly launched in September 2011, it has more than 343 million active users – not an insignificant number, but one that people like to debate: How many use it regularly? Who is using the site? Some people say it’s practically a “ghost town”, outside of the early-adopter techie crowd.

As with most marketing questions, it’s not whether something works for everyone but whether it might work for you. And, despite its detractors, Google+ has managed to keep the buzz going with a set of features that is smart and increasingly impactful on your overall marketing strategy.

Well, it is Google

Google isn’t just the top website in the U.S. – it’s the top site in the world. And with increasingly blurry lines between search and social (what Google calls “Search, plus Your World”), that dominance alone is a good reason to login and make sure your business information is up-to-date.

“Sure, there’s a social networking aspect to it, but Google Plus is really Google’s version of Google,” wrote entrepreneur Dave Llorens in Fast Company earlier this year. “It’s the groundwork for a level of search quality difficult to fathom based on what we know today.”

Part of that broader scope is the slow-but-steady integration of Google’s other products into the increasingly-robust Google+ ecosystem. This means that, even if you can ignore it now, it will be harder to do so over the long term.

An easy way to manage your community

Google+ offers a unique way to organize your contacts: Circles. Circles are more than just a way to sort the people you know and the information they share; they also let you decide who sees the information you post.

For example, if you create a Circle called “Past Guests”, you can send a message specifically to that group asking them to leave feedback on your listing; anyone not in that Circle will not see that post.

Plus, people you add to your Circles don’t even need to use Google+. If they don’t have a Google+ profile, your message will simply be emailed to them.

As with a newsletter distribution list, this isn’t an opportunity to start spamming people! However, Circles can be a simple way for you to reach out on occasion, with information that’s relevant to a specific group of people, without too much extra coordination.

Claim your content

If you’ve spent hours writing blog posts about your vacation property and the local community, you want to get credit for it. The solution? Google Authorship.

Pulling information from your Google+ profile, Authorship links your information to web content you’ve written* (from websites you specify): It adds your profile photo beside blog posts as well as a direct link to your profile.

Authorship also helps prove that you are who you say you are – one more piece of support when it comes to building trust with your guests online.

*Since this post was published, Google has made the decision to no longer support Authorship.

Connect face-to-face

If you already have a tool like Skype integrated into your process, Google+ Hangouts may not seem such a big deal. However, Hangouts are an easy way to connect with your contacts using video, and they’re easy to set up for you and your guests (as long as you have a camera).

Hangouts are such an open platform that the White House has been using them to connect with the public. You don’t need to aim quite that high, but you can use Hangouts to

  • tour people around your property, especially if they have questions about particular features (Hangouts work well with smartphone cameras),
  • chat with your guests face-to-face before they arrive,
  • check-in and troubleshoot problems with your guests during their stay (as long as they have access to a camera-equipped device).

You can even record Hangouts and save them to YouTube – a great idea if you host a Q&A session about broad-interest topic like “Things To Do While You’re Here”, or if you want to get creative and interview a local personality, like someone from the tourist information center.

There are a lot of options when it comes to online marketing, and Google+ is just one of them. But it’s a network that has a lot going for it, with tools you can integrate into your regular marketing and customer service activities.

Are you using Google+ to connect with your vacation rental guests? Tell us about it in the comments section below!