UPDATED 2/26/12: Please note that the best practices listed below are a work in progress and are updated regularly. To be alerted of when new best practices are posted, please subscribe to the Nonprofit Tech 2.0 e-Newsletter. Also, since the Google+ Pages launched after the release of Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits, please consider this blog post a supplement to the book. Finally, I will be offering a Google+ and Google Products Webinar for Nonprofits on May 15, 2012.

1. Set up your Google/Gmail Account and personal Google+ Profile. 

The process to get your nonprofit started on Google+ depends upon whether you already have a Google/Gmail account for yourself or your nonprofit. If you or your nonprofit has Google/Gmail account, then simply login and click the “+You” link in the upper left and follow the instructions to create your Google+ Profile:

If you or your nonprofit does not yet have a Google/Gmail account, then you’ll need to create a new Google/Gmail account which then also gives your nonprofit immediate access to a suite of Google Products. When signing up for Google/Gmail, be sure to use a real first and last name. Your Google/Gmail Account becomes the basis of your personal Google+ Profile and similar to Facebook, you must have a personal Google+ Profile before you can create a Google+ Page for your nonprofit. For those of you who do not necessarily want to be on Google+ personally (yet), it’s worth noting that your personal profile is not visible to your nonprofit’s Google+ followers and you can have multiple admins for your nonprofit’s Google+ Page.

Finally, once you have either logged in to your Gmail Account or created a new one and selected the “You+” link, do not be tempted to convert your new personal Google+ Profile into brand (for example, first name “Amnesty” and last name “International”) to avoid being on Google+ personally. It is in violation of Google+’s Terms of Service and down the road could result in the deletion of your Google+ Profile and your nonprofit’s Google+ Page. In short, you have to be a real person on Google+ before you can use the community to build a brand for your nonprofit – just like Facebook.

Now, onto setting up your personal profile. You likely entered some basic information when setting up your personal Google+ Profile, but you further edit/enhance your profile by clicking on your first name in the upper-left and then the “Edit Profile” button:

If you currently have no desire to use Google+ personally, then don’t enter any information except your first and last name. If you are ready to jump in and want to maximize your personal profile for the benefit of your nonprofit, then be sure to:

  • Enter a brief introduction about yourself and your bragging rights.
  • Add your nonprofit under “Employment.” 
  • Add your nonprofit’s Twibbon/avatar to your Google+ Profile picture.
  • Upload your nonprofit’s avatar as one (or all five) of your featured profile photos.
  • Add links to your nonprofit’s website, blog, and social networking communities.

2. Create your nonprofit’s Google+ Page.

Now that you are personally set up on Google+, you are ready to start building a brand for nonprofit inside of the Google+ community by creating a Google+ Page for your nonprofit, such as the Nonprofit Organizations Page:

In November I wrote a step-by-step tutorial entitled: HOW TO: Create a Google Page for Your Nonprofit. It’s worth noting that it was updated in January. 🙂

3. Create a Google+ banner that makes a strong, positive first impression. 

You can simply upload five square photos that speak to your organizations’s mission, such as Plan Asia’s page:

Or with some basic photo editing skills, you can creatively select and crop five photos to create a Google+ banner… or you can use GPlusBanner.com provided you have a banner image to start with that is 685 pixels in width by 125 pixels in height. Either way, Save the Children UK’s page is a great example of a custom Google+ banner:

4. Post quality content to the Google+ Stream.

Over time and through implementing the best practices listed below and those yet to come, you will find your Google+ voice. However, in the beginning I want you to ask yourself before each and every post to the stream: Will this content be interesting to our followers? Does it tell our nonprofit’s story? Does it inspire? If your first instinct says no, then don’t post it. There’s way too much marketing happening on social  networking sites and not enough storytelling. Those nonprofits that focus on storytelling for their cause rather than mostly fundraising, event, and volunteer pitches do much better on social networking sites – and consequently and ironically tend to raise more money online, secure more event attendees, and recruit more volunteers. To earn return on investment (ROI) from using social networking sites is a skill that requires an instinct for subtlety.

That said, most posts to the Google+ Stream should include a personal message and thumbnail. In terms of content that inspires and results in higher rates of “+1’s” and “Shares”, a mixture of the following is best:

  • Success stories
  • Photos and slideshows
  • Videos
  • Powerful stats
  • Inspirational quotes
  • Calls to action: sign a petition, call Congress, event announcements, volunteer requests, urgent donation appeals, etc.
  • A unique, authentic Google+ voice

5. Learn to toggle between your Personal Google+ Profile and being an admin for your nonprofit’s Google+ Page.

This is as easily done as said once it is illuminated, however, many new Google+ users have had a hard time understanding how to post to the Google+ Stream from their personal profile and then as an admin from their nonprofit’s page. The default setting is that when you login to Google+ you will be logged in as an individual. To toggle over to being an admin for your nonprofit’s page, simply click the page link under your name from the stream and select your page:

Then, if and/or when you would like to toggle back to being an individual on Google+, again simply click link under your nonprofit’s name from the stream and select “You”:

6. Create a “Nonprofit Resources” Google+ Circle.

“Circling” on Google+ is equivlent to following on Twitter or liking on Facebook. Once you circle an individual or page, you will then see their posts in your stream. You can circle using your personal profile or you can circle as an admin for your nonprofit, or both. In the case of both, you’ll thus have two different unique streams. Circles also help you organize your stream(s). To begin with creating circles as an admin for your nonprofit, click the circles icon while logged in as an admin for your nonprofit’s page:

Next, create an empty circle and name it “Nonprofit Resources”:

Then, add individuals or pages to your new circle. I have created a list of 22 Must-Circle Nonprofit Bloggers and Resources to help get you started, however and unfortunately, when you click on the links of 22 resources listed (or any link to a Google+ Page outside of Google+) Google+ automatically toggles you back to being an individual, so to add the 22 resources listed to your circles created from your nonprofit page as a page admin, you will have manually search for the 22 resources by name.

Finally, notice that you can now click on the “Nonprofit Resources” circle from the left side of your stream and adjust how often you’d like to see the posts from the “Nonprofit Resources” circle in your main stream. It may seem at little confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll see that circles give you complete control over the posts you want to see in your streams(s):

7. “+1” other’s posts as your nonprofit to increase exposure of your avatar and to foster good will.

There’s a phenomenon I have noticed unique to the nonprofit sector on social networking sites – the more you promote and support others, the more promotion and support you will receive from others. It’s particularly pronounced on Twitter and I’ve noticed the same good karma-like phenomenon on Google+. The more you +1 others, the more you’ll get +1’d… and due to increased exposure of your avatar through +1ing, your nonprofit will likely get more new followers as well:

8. “Share” content posted by others on Google+.

Like any other social network, you need to post a wide a variety of content to keep your supporters interested and engaged. Very few nonprofits have enough quality content to share that is only their own. So, if you see something inspiring and powerful on Google+ and you think your supporters would enjoy it, don’t hesitate to post it – even if it doesn’t link to your website, blog, Facebook Page, etc. It reflects well up your brand and helps you build parnerships inside of the Google+ community because the person or brand that originally posted the content will most liekly see that you shared their content. Sharing also increases exposure of your avatar and as a result, the possibility of new followers:

9. Add the Google+ icon to your website, blog, and e-newsletter!

The vast majority of nonprofits do not have Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr icons on their website, blog, and/or in their e-newsletter. That’s a simple oversight that is dramatically hindering these nonprofit’s social media return on investment (ROI). That said, get those icons uploaded and add Google+ to the mix! You can right-click on the icons below to download them to your desktop:

10. Add the Google +1 button to your desktop website, mobile website, and blog.

Google dominates search on the desktop Web and now they are pioneering search on the mobile Web (see also m.google.com). You’d be wise to incorporate their +1 button into both your desktop and mobile websites and blog so Google+ users can +1 your content which can help increase your traffic and significantly improve your SEO. Simply copy and paste the code into your website(s) or blog. For WordPress users, there are also Google +1 plugins for WordPress.org and built-in Google +1 sharing functionality for WordPress.com blogs under Settings > Sharing. Services like AddThis and ShareThis have also added Google +1 functionality. See the Nature Conservancy’s Blog as an example:

11. Download the Google+ App.

The sooner you become accustomed to mobile social networking, the better social media manager you’ll be for your nonprofit. Unfortunately, the Google+ App does not yet allow page admins to publish to the stream, but it’s just a matter of time. You can learn more about the suite of Google+ Apps by visiting m.google.com/plus or download the app directly from your App Store:

Related Links:
Webinar: How Nonprofits Can Successfully Use Google+ and Google Products
Nonprofit Organizations on Google+
Google+ and Google Products for Nonprofit Organizations LinkedIn Group