What makes Google+ truly different from Facebook? Besides the lack of ads, game spam and privacy issues, Google+ has two excellent features that are worth paying attention to: Sparks and Ripples.
When you’re just starting out and growing your circles of influence (like I am), these two items are invaluable in finding, connecting and sharing with the movers and shakers in your niche. Here’s how to use Sparks and Ripples to their full potential:
Google+ Sparks are like an advanced combination of Google Alerts and Google Reader – without the dashboard and inbox clutter. Sparks let you use Google’s own query language to set up improved filters for the information you care about. You can then save your searches and have them appear under “Sparks” when you’re logged into Plus.
For example, let’s say I’m interested in European travel. I search Google+ for ‘travel europe’, and it shows me Everything – From Everyone – Everywhere:
Now, I could save this search – but it would likely clog up my Google Plus dashboard in a heartbeat. Instead, simply click the “Everything” down arrow and choose Sparks. Currently, Sparks only let you see the most recent posts related to your search. If you click “Save this Search”, you will see your sparks listed under the “What’s Hot” section of your Google Plus stream.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. You can use Google’s own search language to filter your Sparks more efficiently, for example:
You can also +1 (share) any Sparks you come across, to people within the circles you choose. It’s a great way to not only filter information for your own knowledge and use, but also a way to keep participants in your circles “in the know”.
While Google+ is still rolling out new features and tweaking its user interface, I would personally love to see a way to further refine Sparks by selecting to get updates only from specific websites, people or places.
Ripples are an appropriately-named feature that lets you see who the biggest thought-leaders and influencers in your industry are, as well as who they’re sharing with, and how large their audience’s “ripple-effect” is.
Case in point – Guy Kawasaki, of Apple Marketing and “Enchantment” fame, has a huge circle of influence. Like tossing a pebble into a pond, whenever he posts on Google+, it gets noticed and picked up by other people who have him in their circles.
For comparison sake, here’s Brian Clark’s (of Copyblogger) circle of influence with two major re-sharers and a handful of consistent re-sharers. The post was in reference to a potential sequel for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (which anyone around in the 80s would immediately sit up and pay attention to!)
Although ripples only tally and track shares between Google+ users, it’s a great way to see who’s promoting your posts, and how far your reach can spread. This is also a great way to add other influencers to your circle who may not have the name recognition that the original poster has – but are more likely to share posts.
As with most types of social media, the more you use these features, the quicker you can build up your network of circles and potentially get the attention of the fire-starters in your industry. The fact that Google is finally starting to bring together all of its services into one cohesive strategy means that you can expect features like Ripples and Sparks to play a more active role in search rankings. Now if only Facebook would roll out something similar!