Google is launching an initial set of Google+ features designed specifically for businesses, and is moving into a full preview mode for Google Apps customers. Google says it developed the new social business features in response to the “dramatic” changes Web-based collaboration and social tools have made in how people connect.

For the past few months, pilot customers including Kaplan and Banshee Wines have been using the new Google+ features.

Here’s a look at what kind of functionality they have been testing:

Restricted Posts -- When business users create a post they can mark it as restricted. Restricted posts are private to an organization and can never be re-shared with anyone outside unless the user selects specific outside partners to share it with.

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Integrated Video Meetings -- Using an Internet-enabled device with a camera, people can now join a multi-way video chat, powered by the Google+ Hangouts feature, directly from Gmail. They can also open a Google doc in a Hangout meeting. And starting today, users can also add a hangout to a Google Calendar event, allowing attendees to join the meeting directly from the invite or Calendar entry.

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Increased Admin Controls -- Administrators can now set company-wide defaults for post restrictions. They can also enable restricted Hangouts to facilitate private meetings within the company.

Google+ Gets Trendy

According to a release from the IDG News Service, Google+ is joining a hot new trend known as Enterprise Social Networking, or ESN, defined as “provid(ing) Facebook- and Twitter-like functionality adapted for workplace use, including employee profiles, activity streams, microblogging, document sharing, content rating, blogging, discussion groups and online communities.”

IDG says gaining an ESN component is “critical” for Google Apps because ESN is now viewed as an “essential element in enterprise collaboration suites.” Specialty vendors such as NewsGator, Jive Software and Socialtext are cited as leaders in the ESN space, but larger vendors like Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP and Salesforce.com are also adding ESN modules and capabilities to their enterprise collaboration portfolios.

Brands Showing More Activity on Google+

Google is enhancing the business functionality of Google+ as brands are increasing their use of the social network for marketing and consumer engagement. As reported by CMSWire, a recent Simply Measured report shows that 64 percent of the Interbrand Top 100 now have an active Google+ Brand page (up 3 percent from December 2011), 22 percent of the brands now have circler counts more than 100,000, up from 13 percent, and more brands are posting more frequently: 43 percent are posting more than three times a week (up from 15 percent in February).

Among the top brands, the study showed that engagement on outbound posts is growing. Circle engagement is up 112 percent since February and content engagement is also on the rise as it increased 65 percent since February. 

During this preview period, organizations that use Google Apps will be able to use the business features of Google+ for free through the end of 2013 while Google continues to add more features and administrative controls designed for organizations.