Email, Guest Posts, Social Media Tools, Email Marketing Advice, Google Plus

Audience Segmentation Lessons from Google Plus

Let me get this confession out of the way first: I’m kind of a Google fangirl. So I was pretty excited when the search giant announced Google+, their foray into social networking.

I’m pretty fed up with Facebook and its constant changes (that don’t really improve my user experience) so I signed up for an invite shortly after Google announced its new project. When I set up my profile and started connecting with friends, I noticed something: Circling friends in Google+ feels a lot like segmenting email subscribers.

Humorous Google Plus Circles from

Circles holds potential for email and content marketers with its unlimited targeting capabilities. Even if Google+ isn’t in the plans for your marketing mix (and we’ll know more about that when business pages are launched), Circles can inspire good audience segmentation practices.

Inside the Circles of Trust

Circles drove much of the early buzz about Google+, in that it allows users to categorize their contacts based on their relationship and how much information they want to share. Your friends go in the “Friends” circle. Your co-workers go in the “Work” circle. Your boss and parents might go in a “Share With Caution” circle.

Once you have your contacts organized, you can selectively share information with all or just a few of your circles. Which comes in handy when you don’t want your mom or boss to know about last night’s crazy bender. Or when you want to send your college friends updates about the 10-year reunion. Or if you have some industry blogs to share with colleagues at work.

Facebook’s answer – the recently revamped Lists feature – works the same way, allowing you to group your friends by relationship and share status updates with whichever lists you choose. Facebook automates the process for its default lists, but you can add or subtract friends from any List you want.

Google+ (like Facebook’s Lists) is all about sharing the right content with the right people, just like segmenting subscribers in a well-targeted email campaign.

Circling Friends = Saving Segments

Google+ has default circles to get you started, labeled “Friends,” “Acquaintances,” “Work,” and “Following.” But you’re not limited to these categories. The beauty of Circles is that they allow you to get as general or specific as you want when classifying your friends and followers.

You can circle people based on their industry, location or special interests to target links and updates to them. Or place them into sharing categories, like “Everything,” “Work Projects,” or “Limited Information” based on what you want them to see.

Think about targeting your email subscribers the same way. Not everyone interacts with your brand on the same level. Not everyone is interested in the same kind of content, either.

  • Grouping your subscribers by loyalty helps you target rewards and surveys. Send loyal “Friends” a special thank-you offer for all their support. Connect with more distant “Acquaintances” through a targeted reengagement campaign.
  • Ask subscribers for some demographic information, either on your sign up form or in an email survey. Knowing who your customers are and where they’re located makes it easier to target your emails to their needs.
  • Survey your subscribers to find out what they want to hear from you. Are they more interested in daily deals or how-to articles? Segment subscribers based on their answers to give them a personalized email experience they’ll appreciate.

The lesson here: Just like you can create special groups of people to share information with in Google+ or Facebook, you can group your email subscribers by segments to target certain emails to in your campaign.

First Impressions Matter

Like Facebook and Twitter, Google+ sends notifications when someone new adds you to a circle. Any updates and profile information they share with that circle are also visible to you. If the person circling you isn’t a close friend, what’s the first thing you do? If you’re anything like me, you check out their profile first and see what they’ve posted recently. Who is this person and how is he (or she) relevant to me? Am I interested enough to follow this person’s updates?

So how does this relate to email marketing? Think of your sign up process (landing page, web form and any incentives you offer) as the notification that piques subscribers’ interest. Once they respond by signing up, your welcome series (or autoresponders) is those first few updates they’ll judge your value by.

If your subscribers don’t find your follow up email series relevant enough to their needs or interests, you might find yourself filtered out of the inbox or relegated to the Junk folder.

The better you segment and target your content, the more responsive your subscribers will be. So take a lesson from Google+ and Facebook’s new Lists. Segment your subscribers in ways that will help you send the best content tailored to their interests and keep your content fresh to stay in their “Inbox” circle.

Guest post by Rebekah Henson, a playwright and SEO writer who blogs about building an online following through email marketing at email service provider AWeber. More of her tips on marketing with email are at the AWeber blog.

  • Aliosha @ MeltingPosts

    Thanks for sharing this post Rebekah, I was looking to write a post about the advantages to businesses of using Google plus circles to segment customers. This post was very interesting.

  • Aliosha @ MeltingPosts

    Thanks for sharing this post Rebekah, I was looking to write a post about the advantages to businesses of using Google plus circles to segment customers. This post was very interesting.

    Here’s my blog

  • nrobins1

    Great connection to e-mail marketing! Excited about the Google Plus Business Pages, and I wonder if we’ll have the same segmentation functionality as circles.

    • Rebekah Henson

      Thank you! I’m interested to see what Google+ has in store for its business profiles, too.

  • WillKriski

    when someone adds you to a circle and publishes something to that circle you get a notification. This is annoying (before I turned them off) because I didn’t ‘opt-in’ to be in his circle and receive notifications.

    I’ve been advocating a tagging mechanism (hashtags perhaps) so we can tag content and people can subscribe to tags they are interested in.

    • Rebekah Henson


      Interesting take on tagging. I haven’t been getting the kinds of notifications you mentioned though. Maybe my notification settings are different?

      • WillKriski

        not sure. I’ve turned them off as well at least for email.

    • justrobyn

      @WillKriski WillKriski I’ve been noticing that even without a tagging mechanism in place, that Google+ the Search function is doing a great job of finding and returning even recent material with only a few instances in it of the search term I used. I love that the search results call up People, ‘Everything’, G+ posts, and Sparks as well. (right now I am unclear as to how an article makes it into Sparks) And then saving the Search keeps that search term updated, so it’s ready to go whenever I open it. Not the same as subscribing technically, and I don’t get notified ( but don’t want to be either) but it has really come in handy while researching particular topics or people.

      • WillKriski

        That’s true. I just did a search for #chordmelody (I tagged one post) and I got my post as well as a lot of other posts on ‘chord melody’. So what we’re saying is people want a way to subscribe to content not just people. Using saved searches can be useful. Even better than just search terms/tags would be tags for specific people since I like to post on multiple topics. I really don’t like the idea of publishing to specific circles as I mentioned.

  • Lisa Gerber

    Hi Rebekah! love the connection of Google Circles and email segmentation. I had my own personal joke at BlogWorld NY at one presentation. the panel participants said audience segmentation enough times, that if I were playing beer bingo, I’d be super hammered. And yet no one actually talked about ways to really do that. Great practical application right here. Thanks!

    • Rebekah Henson

      @Lisa Gerber

      You’re welcome! Glad you found the connection useful.

  • margieclayman

    Hi Rebekah,

    This is a pretty darned smart post, but I keep coming back to the same question when it comes to Google Plus for business (or for me personally, for that matter). To wit, who has the time to do all of that circling? We thought following and unfollowing on Twitter was complex – now you have to see who on earth this person might be, figure out which circle to put them in…what is the ROI of that time? Are we measuring that?

    That being said, if you are able to work all of that sorting time into a measurable scenario, I think that what you are writing about here could be the difference-maker in using Google+ for business – again, as you say, assuming that the business pages don’t shake everything up entirely :)

    • Rebekah Henson


      A very valid point. Google+ isn’t the ideal solution for all businesses or content marketers, but I do think that Circles has some interesting targeting potential that’s been lacking on other social networks. How involved you’ll want to get with that really depends on who and how you want to target.

      That said, this post was more meant to highlight Circles as a reminder for good segmenting/targeting practices rather than prescribe the use of Google+ and Circles for every marketer. Glad it’s gotten people thinking, though!

  • OnlineBusinesVA

    Google Plus is the new invitation-only social media kid on the block that wants to knock Facebook off the mountain. So each day I look for new developments from them…

    Shilpi Singha Roy

  • letstalkandchat

    i am getting annoyed of facebook especially for the new changes right now. so this is a good thing to be excited. i’ll surely try it.

    If you’re looking for webinar software, then check out Evergreen Business System. Its perfect for marketers and let’s you automate the scheduling of your webinars, build your list, and even follow up with your webinar registrants. If you’re going to buy Evergreen Business System, then you might as well get a free bonus! So check out and you’ll get a great bonus that tells you how to create a webinar, what is a webinar, and a blueprint for making a successful one. None of the other people offering bonuses are offering this. Hurry in case the guy (some dude that worked on Lord of the RIngs) offering the bonus decides to pull it down.

  • jonanscher

    I’d also really like to see the circles be integrated back into contacts for their other services. At the moment, it feels like I need to maintain duplicate groups and circles (to some extent). I also wonder if circles could “overlap” or be subsets. I see there could be a lot of specialized identification within circles. So far, I like what I see. I’m interested to see how it develops.