Google+ never became quite as popular as Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets. So if you're already struggling to keep up with your social media accounts, it's easy to write Google+ off as just one more time waster. But if Facebook is the place to share family photos and Twitter is the spot to spout off witty one-liners, Google+ is the place for grown-ups to network, engage in substantive discussion, and capitalize on the fledgling social network's impressive array of features. Once you get the hang of things, you may just find that Google+ proves almost as invaluable as your electronic lab notebook.
1. Research Opportunities
Google+ automatically adds hashtags to user statuses based on Google's mysterious – and mysteriously effective – algorithms. This means that anything you post publicly becomes a part of the social media network's various hashtag feeds. Even better, this approach means you can click on a hashtag and see all of the statuses associated with it. Social scientists routinely use these hashtags to gather data, and G+ statuses can serve as fertile ground for preliminary research on topics of public interest, as well as a chance to see how the public reacts to life science research and news.
How to get the most out of this feature: Click on the hashtags that Google automatically applies to your own statuses to see similar updates. To see what others are posting, enter the web address https://plus.google.com/explore/ followed by the hashtag of your choice. For example, https://plus.google.com/explore/science yields hundreds of science posts.
2. Life Science News and Gossip
Think of your Google+ feed as the social media equivalent of a peer-reviewed journal. The news items you see are those pieces that your friends, colleagues, or other people you've chosen to follow find most interesting and noteworthy. This gives you a chance to catch up on scientific research your colleagues may be talking about tomorrow, as well as that much-maligned but frequently-embraced laboratory topic of discussion -- science gossip.
How to get the most out of this feature: Add other scientists to your Google+ network, focusing most strongly on scientists who share your interests.
3. Networking With Other Researchers
If you need to network but hate the culture of LinkedIn, Google+ is a better option. You have complete control over who you follow and what you share. Even better, many well-known life scientists maintain active G+ profiles, filled with interesting quips, new data, and links to research tools. If you need to get noticed by these potential mentors, there's no quicker way than following them on Google+.
How to get the most out of this feature: Check out this list of recommended scientists to follow, then see who they're following to diversify your network even further. Take it one step further by initiating Google Hangouts with scientists you know. You can do this by clicking the green button on the other party's profile, then chatting away. This option allows you the chance to effortlessly chat with scientists across the globe, potentially offering you a few more data points to add to your electronic lab notebook.
4. Marketing Yourself
Your Google+ profile gives you a chance to reach not only the scientific community, but also journalists, bloggers, and science fans who may repost your updates, share your research, and help you gain a loyal following. The key is to use G+ as a way to offer useful information, not as a site where you perpetually brag or promote yourself. New and interesting research findings? Consider sharing them on your profile. Your followers will share and comment on things they find interesting, creating an ongoing discussion that can get you to the next level in your career.
How to get the most out of this feature: Capitalize on Google's Circles feature. Create circles according to whom you believe will be interested in various posts. You might reserve family pictures for family and friends, while posting research notes and updates to your professional networks. Just make sure you don't over-market yourself. Most people are not interested in reading an endless sea of scientific ads, so be sure that you offer your followers some real value – not just endless self-promotion.
5. Research Communities
Google+ is home to a number of groups and communities, including several groups dedicated to discussing ongoing research, professional networking, and career advice for scientists. Check the group's privacy settings before joining, since many of these groups allow everyone to see each and every post. If you find a good private group, though, you'll have access to virtual colleagues who can answer questions, field ideas, and point you to research you might not even know about.
How to get the most out of this feature: Check out the communities your friends are joining, which you can see publicly displayed on their profiles. You can also start your own community for discussion among friends and colleagues. To find an existing community, search using this link.
Have you tried using Google+ to assist your research career? What were your experiences? Share your stories in the comments below!