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You've got to give it to Google. When it launched Google+ over a year ago, it said it was the real deal. Something the company was going to really invest in. And that's certainly been the case.

Whether or not you share my enthusiasm about the potential of Google Hangouts, the importance of Google+ for SEO or the impact of AuthorRank on thought leadership, you'll likely be intrigued by Google's latest new feature coming to a Google+ page near you soon.

I am, of course, talking about Google+ Communities, which launched late last week.

What is it?

Think of Communities as Google's answer to Facebook or LinkedIn Groups. They are discussion streams centred around topics or common interests, aimed at helping users engage with others on the platform that might share similar passions.

You post in the same way you would elsewhere on the network (in fact you can cross post in Communities right from your main stream). You can also have public and private Communities - yet another step towards full-scale enterprise social networking.

As with many features that Google has 'copied' from other networks, there are a number of places where it has attempted to add improvements. For example you can filter streams by topics or categories.

And, of course, all the other Google+ features - from Hangouts and photos to events and +1s - are seamlessly integrated.

What does it mean for brands? 

Well, if you've used Facebook or LinkedIn Groups then you'll probably see the potential pretty quickly. Google+ has already been embraced by many brands but often - as on other networks - a 'branded' page isn't the most natural place to reach out to other users. Common interest groups - structuring your discussions around themes - allows brands to talk in a less commercial way.

But I think the power of Communities extends beyond this in a way that is massively important for brands and PRs. I've banged on enough about the importance of AuthorRank for thought leadership and I see Communities as another step by Google towards building authority around individuals related to particular specialisms or topics.

If you are an expert in a particular area, then Google is giving you another way to demonstrate this and connect with others that share this view. From a commercial standpoint, it's not hard to see how Google can tap into this interest graph to sell even more targeted ads. But there's also little doubt that this information will be used to optimise search as well.

And, for me, that extends the influence of Communities far beyond what is possible with Facebook and LinkedIn Groups. If you search for tinsel and are then shown relevant communities that are related to this topic, what effect will that have on your buying decisions? Particularly since we all know peer recommendation is so important.

Google has invested a lot in Google+. But the company hasn't just invested in the platform itself, it's invested in integrating it throughout its products and services. That's the true power of Google+ for those of us working in PR.

And Communities is just the latest part of the jigsaw.

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Published 10 December, 2012 by Danny Whatmough

Danny Whatmough is Head of Digital, EMEA Consumer at Weber Shandwick. He can be found on TwitterGoogle+  and blogs at dannywhatmough.com.

21 more posts from this author

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Jonny Rosemont, Managing Director at Rosemont Communications Limited

Great piece Danny. There's no doubt that Google+ has rolled out a product that includes some great functionality for users and brands alike, and because G+ works seamlessly with other Google services this should be a strong draw. Google is doing everything right, but mass usage is yet to materialise, especially in the UK. Did Google launch G+ too late or is the complication of another social network too much for users to take on? Moving into next year it will be interesting to see whether Google+ becomes more popular. Google needs it to be a success and Facebook users might become increasingly frustrated with FB's attempts to monetise at their expense. I also think the G+ is not without its functional frustrations. These need to be ironed out if the platform stands any hope of proper mass user adoption.

over 3 years ago

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Danny Whatmough, Associate social media and digital director at Ketchum

Thanks Jonny. Agree, users aren't there yet (despite the impressive registration figures). I just don't think Google is going to let this die and I think increasingly we will all be encouraged to use G+ more and more. Whether or not we actually realise we are using G+ is another case in point. It'll become embedded throughout everything we do. Hangouts and Communities in particular are strong products. And I don't think they will be the last to appear...

over 3 years ago

Tom Howlett

Tom Howlett, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

It will be interesting to see where these communities lead. So far I have seen quite a lot spring up on the feed. Whether this is a question of users registering certain groups to secure the name (to take advantage of the search function) or if it is the start of many useful resources - we will see.

over 3 years ago

William Seabrook

William Seabrook, Managing Director at Seabrook

Google+ is becoming ubiquitous isn't it? I'm also looking forward to getting more involved with the Google Local aspects of search too.

Good stuff Danny, and a decent post to end the year on!

over 3 years ago

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Danny Whatmough, Associate social media and digital director at Ketchum

Thanks William!

over 3 years ago

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Josh McCoy

When Google plus first came out, most people more than likely thought it was not going to live up to their expectations. In my opinion, it has superseded that. It's really neat how a small percentage of my Facebook friends have actually came over to Google, but most of them still remain on Facebook. It's obviously not a place for friends. :-)

over 3 years ago

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