Google+ is far behind Facebook in user count – the latter has more than 950 million global users, while the former has roughly 170 million. But Google+ has shown impressive growth since its debut: between November of last year and June 2012, the site’s unique visitor count jumped more than 80 percent in the U.S.

In addition, Google plans to integrate its most popular products (search, Gmail, Analytics, Places et al.) with Google+. The company sees the network as the “social layer” that will tie its entire product suite together – so if you use Google in any capacity, Google+ is going to become increasingly hard to ignore.

Therefore, if you want to promote your business online, Google+ should definitely be on your radar. No matter where in the world your customers are, most of them are using Google. That means they’ll be plugged in to Google+ soon, if they aren’t already.

Image courtesy: Google

But what’s the best way to actually get started with Google+? Here are some tips, adapted from our experiences here at RingCentral.

1) Remember the first rule of business: know your customers

Before launching a Google+ page, ask yourself how your customers (or potential customers) might benefit from connecting with your company. Because Google+ posts and +1’s are now showing up in some Google search results, think about what your clientele is searching for on Google and consider developing Google+ content that’s tailored to those search terms.

We know, for example, that people find RingCentral online by searching for “cloud telephony” or “cloud services.” So we try to surface items on Google+ that are related to these topics. Not only do we establish ourselves as reliable sources of cloud-computing news – our content gets in front of myriad Google search users, as well.

2) Utilize Google+’s unique features

Google+ has some valuable arrows in its quiver. Circles, for example, is an easy and intuitive way of segmenting the people or companies you follow: you can make Circles for customers, brand ambassadors, competitors, business partners and so on.

Also useful is Hangouts, which make it possible for as many as 10 people to connect in a shared video chat. Group chat is a feature you have to pay for with Skype, but Hangouts are totally free to schedule and join – so you can use them for product walkthroughs, “meet-the-team” sessions, media conversations and more.

(If you’re curious, there are some Skype alternatives worth checking out.)

3) Be mindful of social etiquette

By “social etiquette,” we don’t mean politeness and respect (although of course it’s important to be professional and courteous). Rather, we’re talking about the ways you should engage with the people who follow your brand.

When people follow you, for example, make a habit of following them back. That way, you can see and respond to the content they share. And when your followers comment or leave a +1 on your posts, remember to thank them (or +1 something of theirs). Social media is all about building engagement, so keep your interactions positive!

4) Iterate fearlessly, using analytics

When marketing on Google+, don’t be afraid to get creative and see what works. With the help of Google+ Ripples (explained in more detail here), you can see how and where each of your posts is shared – and in so doing, determine what kind of content resonates with your followers.

Google Analytics is also a huge help in tracking clicks and shares (from Google+ and other social networks). To unlock its potential, you’ll need to have an Analytics profile linked to your main website or blog. But because Analytics is a free service, there’s no reason not to sign up.

Hope these are helpful! If you have Google+ best-practice tips of your own, feel free to share them in the comments section below.