Trying out Google's social network

Newsday reporter Patricia Kitchen chats with, from left, Newsday reporter Patricia Kitchen chats with, from left, Becky Kopprasch, Hilary Topper, John Doyle, Nathan King and Steve Haweeli on Google+. Steve Haweeli is featured in the large box. (July 25, 2011) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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The last thing Steve Haweeli says he needed in the middle of a very busy year was for "a new social network to land in our laps."

Still, the new kid on the social networking block, Google+ -- with a reported 18 million users -- is not to be ignored, says Haweeli, president of WordHampton, an East Hampton public relations firm. At first, he says, "I was resistant to it. But I don't think you can be resistant to 18 million users."

Seen by some social networkers as combining the best of both Facebook and Twitter, Google+ allows users to group their contacts into circles -- and share publicly with everyone or with only those in specific circles. That option is not available on Twitter and more complicated on Facebook.

"What [Google] nailed was the concept of circles," says Steve Rubel of Westbury, executive vice president in the Manhattan office of Edelman, a public relations firm. "People want to be able to adopt different personas in different contexts -- the business you, the family you."

The new network is intuitive and user-friendly, says Nathan King, digital strategist at Austin & Williams, an advertising and branding agency in Hauppauge. Google+ users can follow others at will -- no permission needed. And conversations can be expanded with links, images and comments, as on blogs and Facebook.

Individuals can participate only after being invited in by a user. At this stage Google+ users are primarily technology and media professionals, but that's likely to change in coming months when Google is expected to allow businesses to set up profiles.

Key features:

Circles. Group your connections into circles for, say, friends, work colleagues, specialized experts, clients. You can share with those in just one circle and disable their ability to reshare outside the circle.

Google+ asks what circle you want to put new contacts in, and it's great to be able to organize them right from the get-go, says Hilary Topper, founder and president of the Social Media Club of Long Island. While contacts on other sites can be grouped, she says, she has thousands of Facebook friends and Twitter followers and "to go back now and segment them would take hours and hours of work."

Hangouts. This is the video chat feature that allows people to collaborate, either spontaneously or by design, be they students forming study groups, professionals conducting meetings, job hunters being interviewed. There's no need to set up a Skype account or download software; "you both click a button and, bam, you're on video chat," says Seth Meyerowitz, who says he's been meeting with clients in hangouts. He's chief executive of UBE Inc., a Bellmore-based website design company.

Sparks. This feature collects content based on a user's topics of interest -- say, news for a certain region or profession, fashion, movies. "It's a great research tool," says Topper, also chief executive of HJMT Communications Llc., which is relocating to Melville. With clients in so many different industries, she says, it will help her keep up with the buzz.

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Tips from participants in a Newsday "hangout" Monday on Google+ basics:

Circles. Double-check what circle you're in before you post something meant for the eyes of one circle only, says Becky Kopprasch of Smithtown, owner of Basically Becky, a social media marketing and design firm.

Profile. In your profile, include hyperlinks to your business, blog and other social media pages, says Steve Haweeli, who runs a public relations firm in East Hampton.

Pay attention. As with other such networks, "listen more than you talk," says John Doyle, director of technology and communications at Alure Home Improvements, Plainview.

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