If you’re looking to get a better ROI from your social media marketing where should your business turn?There are lots of different social networks that can deliver, platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to name just a few, but the scale of choice can actually be off-putting to many businesses. Should they go down the promoted Tweet or Facebook ad campaigns route, or should they take a more measured approach and build strong connections through LinkedIn networking? The choices are limitless and confusing.

So here’s another idea to throw into the mix: why not try something a little different. Join Google+ Communities.

Why go down that route? Well, that’s simple: because the Google+ Communities platform, which currently boasts around 150,000 communities, is increasingly the place to help you to engage, network and promote your business. According to Kristi Hines of KissMetrics, Google+ Communities is a prime medium for business networking:

“Participating in Google+ communities can be a terrific way to gain exposure for yourself and your business. The great thing is that unlike Facebook pages or LinkedIn company pages, you can use your Google+ page just like you would your personal profile to create, join, and engage in communities.”

What type of Communities are you likely to find on Google+?

There are basically two types of community on the platform – Public and Private. What’s the difference? Well, Public Communities allow you to add content that will be accessible to everyone of the platform. They operate on either an open door basis, or you can set the community as ‘ask to join’. Private Communities act in a similar way to secret groups on Facebook. Content can only be viewed by members of the community. The important point to remember is that once a decision on a Community’s status is made, it can’t be reversed.

How do you discover what other Communities are on the platform?

Well, there isn’t a directory as such where you’ll find all the relevant communities, but there are tools to make the search easier. Log on to Google+ and click on Communities and you’ll find a ‘Recommended Communities’ search bar which will highlight a number of communities you might like to join based on your Google+ circles. Or you can use the ‘Community Search’ bar to search for communities based on your particular interests or niche. You can do this by searching for topics your target audience is interested in, or by searching for keywords that are important for your business.

What happens if you can’t find a suitable Community?

If you can’t find the right sort of community, then you could always start your own: one which you think might be more useful for business networking purposes. It will take some time to set up, but it’s no harder or more-involved than setting up a LinkedIn profile. First of all you’ll need to decide whether it’s going to be Public or Private. Then you’ll need to create your community, adding an eye-catching and brand-consistent tagline, a unique profile and a cover photo for your community. When you choose either a community name or tagline choose the sort of keywords that people searching for your business might use. However, it’s worth noting that you can still edit or change a community name later should you need to.

Once you’ve established a name and set up your profile you’ll need to fill in some of the details about your business. Select ‘Edit Community’ and begin by completing the ‘About’ section with a description of your business, with business addresses and phone numbers. Google+ Communities won’t let you insert hyperlinks, but you can still include your site’s URL. If you run a local business you can also add a location, by selecting ‘Add Location’ in the ‘About’ section.

The choice of content you then add to the profile is up to you, but it needs to be engaging, and it also needs to be industry-specific. You could add a business introduction, as well as a new ideas, discussions and chat, tips and tricks, questions and industry news sections. If you do add a discussions section you’ll need to assign a moderator. When you do assign someone as a moderator you need to make sure they are active participants within the community.

Driving engagement and networking on Google+ Communities

Post your own unique content and other industry-specific curated content:

If you want to make an impact and engage with your communities, you’ll need to post your brand’s unique insights and expertise on the topic. Your community will expect to receive new content regularly, so you’ll need to fully commit to the process to reap the benefits.

Use the community resource to offer improved customer service:

Your community forum will benefit from having like-minded individuals on board. They can ultimately go on to become brand ambassadors. If you give them enough encouragement they’ll eventually chip in and provide answers and advice for customer service queries and issues, saving you both time and money. A well-managed and community forum can eventually go on to become a community service platform.

Active discussions:

Discussion is the life blood of Google+ Communities. So you’ll need to actively participate in any discussions if you want to drive engagement and widen your business network. By participating in and joining other communities you’ll get to know other businesses and influencers and broaden your business network. You can let other businesses know you are actively participating and engaging in group discussions by clicking the ‘+mention’ tab.

Give your posts added emphasis:

If you want to make your posts stand out, try using bold or italic typefaces or add strikethroughs. You can even add a bold emphasis to titles to make your content postings stand out more.

Don’t neglect Hangouts:

If you’re looking for creative and more-intimate real-time connections, then make use of Google+ video Hangouts. Google+ is host to some great creative Hangouts and regularly hosts live product demonstrations, concerts, and live discussions. Being more visual can help you build stronger relationships and give you more of a voice. What’s more, because Google+ is now integrated with YouTube you can archive your discussions for reference at a later date.