Google is changing the way it ranks results when users search for key terms.
The search engine giant is placing Google+ at the centre of these changes - meaning setting up a profile for your business/university or even your blog is now essential.
If you rely on SEO, you need to get on Google+. It's as simple as that. Here's a really handy article outlining the changes and how you can get started.
There are a few UK universities that have already staked out there name, and even fewer of them that use the social network regularly. As a first port of call, I'd suggest looking at how these institutions are using Google+ and take down some ideas. The US seems far ahead of the UK in the Google+ game, so looking for universities over the pond would also be a good idea.
Many thanks for sharing and emphasising this Sam. It's an interesting state of affairs with Google+ at the moment. It doesn't really seem to be gaining a great amount of traction right now from a user perspective, but you are absolutely right about its importance to search (specifically Google search, of course). It can also help people think more about a move towards more segmented content engagement, which is absolutely critical (whether done through G+ or other sites) to effective engagement through social media.
For those getting started with Google+ pages, edSocialMedia have a useful guide and webinar published in November last year to help education organisations think about this.
I totally agree that Google+ isn't gaining a great deal of traction at the moment. From the blogs and reports I've read, it seems businesses and individuals are creating accounts but spending very little time on the site and creating very few posts, compared with Facebook, Twitter and most other social networks.
Here's an interesting graphic I just found on www.businessreviewusa.com. As you'll see, Google+ is still trailing far behind the others (and these stats were taken in January this year, apparently). (I have to admit, I'm slightly shocked to see Myspace still eating up on average 8 minutes of a user's time.)
However, Google is not to be underestimated. It is a giant. In June last year, the media went crazy for the latest stats, revealing that Google had reached a milestone of 1billion unique visitors a month. (Here's the Telegraph's story.) Google is finding new and innovative ways to integrate it's social network into its other tools/websites, including the previously mentioned search changes, which will drive up traffic and time spent on the site. I can't see it going away anytime soon.