If anyone could go after the Facebook jugular — and its three quarters of a billion users — it’s Google. The online search giant took aim at Facebook when it launched Google+, a social network that combines old services (Google Profiles, Google Buzz, etc.) with new. But is Google+ strictly for consumers, or can its applications benefit businesses too?

Google+: Best Features for Business

Amber MacArthur, a social media strategist and author of Power Friending: Demystifying Social Media to Grow Your Business, says Google+ isn’t a Facebook clone, though at first glance they do appear similar.

Once you get to know the social network, you’ll likely see it as a hybrid: “It has the advantage of long-form posting like Facebook (but better) and the immediacy of a real-time stream like Twitter,” says Doug Lacombe, president of the communicatto social media agency in Calgary.

Other unique Google+ features that can benefit your business include the following:

  • Photos. Forget the regular online photo albums you’re used to; Google+ arranges your photos into a beautiful one-page layout. “The search engine giant has created a platform that has a better in-line photo viewing experience, as images are larger and the overall design of the page is cleaner,” says Lacombe.
  • Circles. An easy way to share content with friends or colleagues, without being forced to share the same things with everyone. “Your work circle gets different content and conversation than your family circle, and so on,” says Lacombe.
  • Hangouts. A feature that lets you video chat or watch videos together with others.
  • Sparks. A feed of everything you’re following.
  • Huddles. An instant messaging feature for Android and iPhone users.
  • Better integration. If you use Google products regularly, Google+ is a natural extension to your Internet experience, says MacArthur: “The network sits neatly within your Google account.”

How can you use all these features to maximize your business? Get one person from your company to represent your business and manage the social network account. (Google+ is set to launch its business pages later this year.)

“The same principles for building a community exist on Google+ that exist on Facebook — it’s important to be authentic, post regularly and engage with everyone,” says MacArthur. “It’s like going to the gym: If you don’t stick to a regular schedule, you’re not going to see the results you want.”

Google+: Security Concerns

Facebook is no stranger to privacy concerns. Google too has come under fire over Gmail hacks and revealing too much info on Google Maps with Street View. So can Google+ be trusted?

“Yes and no,” says Lacombe. “In the sense that Google successfully and securely runs millions of accounts on Gmail and Google Apps, I think G+ accounts are as secure as any other online service. The weakest link is usually careless users with weak passwords, or those who leave their devices open and accessible to thieves.”

But Lacombe also reminds us that anything posted online can be copied, pasted and shared, so you need to manage information security by being judicious in your posting. “No service can protect you thoroughly,” he concludes.

Google+: Its Future in Business

Like Facebook, Google+ will become an increasingly important social media destination for brands and small businesses, predicts MacArthur. “We’ve seen over the past couple of months how quickly this new social network has grown, so with millions of users, it’s only natural that companies will want to build a presence on Google+ in order to reach customers and clients.”