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5+ Reasons Why You Should Be Using Google+

Though it has more than 100 million users signed up, Google+ might be the most important social network you aren't using. Despite its high number of registered users, many of which got Google+ accounts automatically because they had Gmail,  the average user spends just 3 minutes per month actively using the service, over 100 times less than Facebook's 405-minute average. The buzz around the industry is that Google's social service hasn't provided a strong enough value proposition to lure users, that it's little more than a Facebook clone. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While it provides a lot of the same functionality as Facebook, Google+ offers a lot of great features that make it a really important place for people to hang out, work together, read the news, and network. Here are more than five reasons why you need to spend more time on Google+:

1. Google+ is More Professional, Less Silly: Think of  Google+ and Facebook as two different restaurants that attract different kinds patrons. Like T.G.I Fridays, Facebook is an informal place where all kinds of people go to hang out, show off their 50 pieces of flair, and talk about all manner of things: games, family, entertainment and occasionally work.  Yes, professionals can come to this family restaurant for a drink after work, but they act differently when hanging out in a family place that's filled with the sounds of screaming toddlers than one populated mainly by adults in business suits.

Like a high-end steakhouse, Google+ is filled with serious people who want to have serious conversations about serious topics: work, politics, art. When I post about one of my articles on Facebook, I get some likes from friends, but a lot of them say "I loved your article, but I didn't understand what you were talking about." On Google+, I get very thoughtful comments from a world of colleagues, many of whom I don't know particularly well. I hang out at Facebook to keep up with friends and family; I hang out at Google+ to talk ideas with the best and brightest.

2. Collaborative Hangouts: You can conduct group chats on Facebook, but Google Hangouts lets you conduct group meetings, complete with video, text, and screen sharing. Best of all, you can use the sketchpad to draw a whiteboard in real-time with others or utilize the notes feature to work on a document together with your colleagues.

Google+'s Hangouts work so well from a business perspective that the feature's real competitors are GoToMeeting and WebEx, not Facebook. Just imagine holding a project meeting with half a dozen business partners on Google+ and writing the action plan together with them in real-time. Imagine a sales person making a pitch to a group of clients or an academic holding an open lecture in a hangout. 

More:  How to Hold Business Meetings, Show Presentations in Google+ Hangouts 

3. Superior Privacy Features Protect Your Rep: When you're in the work world, your personal brand means everything and you need to protect it. Thanks to its Circles feature, Google+ makes it really easy to decide which users you're going to share each individual update with at the time you post. So, if you do post a picture that's a little too personal for your boss's eyes, it's very easy to limit sharing to family only. By the same token, you can share a business-related post with only your coworkers, not your contacts who work for the competition.

4.  Group Your Contacts with Circles: Though Facebook lets you divide your contacts into groups, Google+'s circles concept makes it easy to divide up your personal and professional contacts by category and then monitor their updates. You can make a circle of your clients, another of competitors and another of your coworkers. When you want to keep an eye on what the competition is doing, just click on that circle and browse through the posts for a while. With the right Circles, it's also easier way to promote content to different groups so you can post a sales video and share it with only your clients.

5. Search Plus Your World Helps Build Your Personal Brand: If you want to build your reputation with clients, coworkers and colleagues at other companies who could someday be your coworkers, it helps to show off your knowledge of the industry, whatever industry you're in. Whether you make cocoa, coats or code, adding a +1 to relevant articles and sites shows that you're engaged. When the hiring manager at that software development company you applied to searches for "Java IDEs" and sees a little picture of your head next to some of the results, it sends a strong message that you're an opinion leader, not just another job candidate. 

6. Notifications Are Everywhere : Because your Google+ notification bug sits in the upper left corner of every screen on the Google service, it's hard to miss updates when someone tags you in a post, replies to one of your posts or reshares your content. If the client you've been pitching +1s your post, you'll see an alert for it while you're using Gmail or watching videos on YouTube.

A Chrome browser extension called Google+ Notifications puts the notification bug next to the address bar so you can get alerts even when you're not using Google. Being able to see and respond immediately to comments from contacts is a huge advantage.