When Google announced that schools, businesses and organizations could create their own Google+ Pages, several colleges and universities signed up within hours of its launch. But, why? What could Google+ Pages bring to an institution that a Facebook Fan Page couldn’t? Well, increased engagement, visibility and search traffic are three factors that immediately spring to mind.

“If colleges have an established marketing plan and goals that include connecting with their community, sharing relevant content and boosting their SEO, starting a Google+ Page is a good choice,” said Mike Petroff, web and enrollment technology manager at Emerson College.

Google+ Pages have opened a new door for schools, whose approaches have been widely different. While some are using their page as an advertising tool to prospective students, others are using it to express school spirit and engage with their students, staff, faculty and alumni outside of their institutional walls.

Through three main features — Circles, Direct Connect and Hangout — colleges and universities have been able to spark conversation. And with Circles, schools have not only been able to spark conversation, but they’ve made it more specific. Through the use of Circles, posts can be targeted and separated, and in the future, colleges can continue to create Circles for their various audiences, including prospective students, parents and alumni. By doing so, they’re making the search process easier by filtering through the content, say, parents or professors might not want to see.

Out of the three features, however, Hangout could have the most networking potential, because now pages can interact with other Google+ profiles. OnlineColleges.net came up with 18 ways teachers can use Google+ Hangouts. From facilitating group projects to sharing lesson plans and ideas, the group video chat feature can be used in numerous ways and create a level of engagement that’s only expected to be enhanced within the following years.

Petroff, who created Emerson’s branded page, claimed setting up and maintaing a Google+ Page is similar to creating a Facebook one, but, for him, it’s that level of engagement that’s still the one big difference.

“The engagement, in my experience, is not there yet on Google+,” Petroff said. “But, as Google puts more effort into sharing, and [creating] recommendations in search results based on +1’s and Circles, schools will have an edge if they start early.”

Social media has continued to play a large role in recognition for colleges and universities. At this point, signing up and syncing in has become more a means of survival than anything else. So why not add a Google+ Page to your college’s social media dashboard? With Direct Connect, you’re going to see increased traffic, and with the higher the traffic, the greater the competitive edge.

“Google+ may sneak up over the next couple of years if Google figures out a way to blend in the engagement, sharing and conversational experience on Google+ with the way we search for, and find content, on the web,” Petroff said.

Don’t know where to start? Take cues from some of the local colleges and universities, including Emerson, Harvard and Boston University. They’ve already jumped on the Google+ bandwagon, and your school should be, too.