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(Editor’s note: Gary Lee is CEO of mBLAST. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)

It’s something of an understatement to say social media is a moving target – especially for business owners.  Just when you feel like you have a handle on your strategy for one social medium, another platform surfaces and forces you to re-evaluate.  The latest entrant is Google+, Google’s fast-growing challenge to Facebook and Twitter.

There are some basic rules that can guide your business’ strategy on Google+ and any new social platform.  The most important of these is to pause before you jump in.  It’s critical to take some time to understand the conversations, the players and the zeitgeist of the communities you wish to become involved in before joining the conversation.  Too many companies have ignored this approach and ended up with unproductive or counterproductive social media efforts.

Before doing anything:

  • Listen to the voices talking about your market and work to understand their conversations.
  • Measure the impact prominent voices have in the market.
  • Compare the voices.  Find the ones that matter to your market and company.
  • Engage – but only after you finish the first three steps.

Step 2 – measuring the impact of voices – is typically the hardest part to do, especially “by hand.”  For most social media networks you can (and should) use automated measurement tools.  Unfortunately, Google+ is so new that application programming interface (API) access, allowing automated solutions, does not yet exist.

The tools aren’t there yet, but the crowd is.  So you probably can’t afford to ignore Google+, which gained 20 million users in its first three weeks (Facebook reached 30 million in six months) and a lot of mindshare across the Web.  While Google hasn’t begun supporting (or allowing) business “pages” on the service, thousands of companies have already signed up to be there when that feature goes live.  And lots of social media influencers – in all sorts of topical areas – have already adopted Google+ wholeheartedly.

Some, like Internet entrepreneur Kevin Rose, have moved almost entirely to Google+ (Rose has redirected his blog to his Google+ page).

So, without measurement tools, how can you begin leveraging Google+?  Here’s what I recommend:

  • Join Google+ and start listening.  This is a little difficult as there is not yet a topic search within Google+, but you can use a regular Google search (TOPIC, like this one) to begin to find people whose profile or posts contain the words or phrases you care about.
  • Add the people you (think you) care about to a circle and listen.  This is one of the cool features in Google+.  It gives you time to decide if you want to get involved in the conversation.
  • Measure the impact they’re having.  When the people you’ve identified talk about your topics of interest, what happens?  How many +1s are there for each post?  How many comments?  How much impact?  This is hard to do manually, but you can get a feel for how much authority a person has just by observing the number of people picking up their voice and running with it. For example, Robert Scoble is about to hit 100,000 “followers” in just three weeks.
  • Compare.  Once you’ve found a set of voices that rise to the top, listen more and see which voices talk the most about the things you care about on a granular level, which are most involved in conversations and which are most receptive to the ideas you may wish to share with the community.

Once you’ve listened, measured and compared, start engaging.  And don’t worry – the tools are coming soon to make tracking, measuring and comparing voices easier for you and your business.

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