In early September, Governing's sister publication Government Technology questioned whether governments would adopt Google Plus -- the most recent and buzzworthy social platform that's described as bringing together the best parts of Twitter and Facebook.
The answer so far is yes, governments are on Google Plus, which allows users to better control their online relationships through customized groups or "circles." The platform is also integrated with Gmail, Google Docs, Picasa, YouTube and Google search. With 50 million users, joining Google Plus was a no-brainer for some.
On Nov. 7, Google Plus began offering brand pages for businesses and groups. It took just a day for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to obtain the first official mayor's office page on the platform. A few presidential candidates already are using Google Plus for their campaigns, as are other public entities.
Florida's Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which joined the platform in early November, initially hesitated to join, says department spokeswoman Cristal Bermudez. "And then we thought, 'We'll go ahead and just push it forward, even though it really doesn't have the same amount of people using it as Facebook or Twitter."
The agency uses the platform in the same way it uses the other social media networks: to disseminate information to the public. The agency's strategy isn't complicated. It just puts information -- such as posts that request help to solve a case or summaries of resolved cases -- out there for anyone to see. And the Google Plus page, Bermudez says, has seen a great response so far. "It may not have the 3,700 [Facebook] fans or the 600 [Twitter] followers," she says, "but who we have now, even if it's 50, we've given those 50 people that maybe aren't on another social network the opportunity to know what's going on in their community."
At other local agencies and groups, though, there's some confusion as far as what exactly to use Google Plus for. For Ohio's Columbus Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia State Parks department, posting what may already be on Facebook doesn't necessarily make sense.
The Columbus Chamber launched its page about a month ago, says Michelle Bretscher, director of marketing and communications, adding that she hasn't yet delved into it to make full use of the platform. "What I'm trying to figure out right now is how to use both [Google Plus and Facebook] and to use them differently, and I don't know what the answer is," she says. Although it's uncharted territory for her, she still finds it exciting. "We want to be there and we know we have to be there -- it's just figuring out how to do it in the best way."
Nancy Heltman, director of marketing and administration for Virginia State Parks, is in a similar predicament. "I'm actually still struggling to figure out how we're going to use Google Plus," she says. "My plan is to pretty much use it like Facebook, but until I have an idea about how people are going to interact with us, it's kind of hard. We have a lot of interaction on Facebook, but I haven't seen that yet on Google Plus."
One argument that exists for cross-posting the same content on Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook is that posts on Google Plus are given search priority, search timeliness and search relevance -- which most governments and business owners seek. But to assist Heltman in figuring out what role the platform will take in the Virginia State Parks social media plan, she says she's taking part in a webinar on the benefits of Google Plus versus Facebook.
Usage aside, some operational difficulties are part of the problem for Heltman. She says there are tools linked with Facebook that allow for automatic posting of blog posts to its page, and multiple Facebook users can be administrators for the fan page. Not so on Google Plus, she says. "You either have to share the account password or have one person do it," she says. "We have several people who are admins on our Facebook page … we're waiting for Google Plus to get all these other features that they say are coming, like the admin capabilities."
As Heltman continues trying to figure it out, though, she says she'll likely turn to the Virginia Tourism Corporation once it starts using its Google Plus page. "Virginia Tourism promotes tourism statewide, and has been one of the leaders in social media in the tourism arena in Virginia and across the country," she says.
Whether the platform becomes integrated into everyday life like Facebook and Twitter has is hard to say at this point. "But I do see a lot of people saying that it does have some qualities other social networks don't have that they absolutely love about it," says Bermudez of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. The ability to divide followers into different groups and the fact that an individual has more control over who sees his or her information are just a few of them.
From the government perspective, though, those varying qualities don't necessarily make a difference, since most use social media primarily to push information to everyone. "This is just the next step," Bermudez says. "With the social networks, if a new one comes out, we'll keep jumping on board because it's another way to get the information out there."
Does your state or city have a great tip or strategy for using Google Plus? We encourage you to share your tips on Governing's Google Plus page, where we hope to compile a collection of best practices.