Google+ has gotten a bad rap. In April, TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotis and Matthew Panzarino called the social network the “walking dead” and a whole slew of other media outlets began publishing their takes on whether it would ever be able to gain any traction among its users.

From the sounds of things, a lot of marketers would rather focus on the host of other networks out there, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on. But when small businesses and marketing firms ignore Google+, they’re actually throwing away a potential gem of self-promotion, says Phil Penton, president of Social Integration, a Chicago-based digital marketing agency.

“It’s absolutely not dead, and I think the key here is Google is integrating Google+, which is really a curation of content into other forms,” Penton says, adding that when a business posts on Google+, that post may also show up alongside both search results and location results. That integration between Google’s search function and Google Maps can be really valuable to small businesses with less advertising dollars, he says.

Penton’s own agency has put Google+ to good use. Back in May, it executed a campaign for a local business offering a “buy one get one” deal on oil changes. Using Google+, Social Integration spent about $250 of its marketing budget and managed to get 83 customers to come take advantage of the offer, Penton says.

To do something similar, local businesses like the corner ice cream store, a car dealership, or a hair salon may want to merge their Google+ pages with their Google+ Local pages. That makes it easy for Google users to find them, and the search engine rewards that.

Still, like most other social networks, Google+ isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. While the platform is useful for local businesses, larger brands may want to focus their efforts elsewhere. For example, while Toyota might want to use Google+ to reach out to consumers, it might not want to reach dealerships that way. In Penton’s mind, Google+ may only be useful to brands that want to educate users by using a hashtag that’s well-known within a certain community.

What’s also key is for businesses to ensure they have strong ratings when their search results come up, Penton says.

“Ratings are a strong metric that can attract consumers, but they can also be a detractor … I see businesses everyday spending hundreds or thousands of dollars for a good, medium-sized business, who are spending money to attract people, and ultimately their star rating on their business is a two-star,” he says.

“And what I explain to them is, you’re not maximizing the dollars that you’re spending on Google+, and all the effort you’re putting into it, because essentially you’re promoting your profile to show you’re a two-star business.”

“So we remind marketers all day that if you’re going to spend money, make sure you have a strong foundation, and that foundation starts with understanding what the business’ reviews are on Google.”

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