Google Plus Communities User Guide

…the whole kit and commoogle!

Communities are an incredible feature from Google Plus. Since their launch, there are around 50,000 listed communities on Google+, some with tens of thousands of members, others with much fewer.

No matter whether you are into photography, business, education, fashion, or just about anything…there could well be communities already available for you to join, or you can make them yourself…It is a little like forming or joining a tribe!

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”
Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

You may choose to think about Google Plus communities as ‘destinations’ on the Internet, and in particular within Googleverse itself. They’re a bit like message boards, but socially integrated. These are virtual habitations where you exist for the time in which you reside your attention; withdrawing your attention means you up leave, temporarily or permanently.

Attention certainly shifts from profiles and pages (as well as the stream) to Communities i.e. tribes, focused conversations, silos of content, but connections and relationships within Google+ seem to be standing the test of time.

Communities QuickStarter Guide:

 

Communities in relation to Profiles and Pages

Many of us live by the concept of engagement when it comes to Google+. We post relatable content and people who relate respond with +1s, comments, shares. In turn, our ‘connections’ form within our personalised networks.

With Communities, however, we go somewhere – to a central meeting place where topical content eddies around, as if part of the stream is diverted there. People post directly to the community where they would have posted into the stream beforehand; or new information flows into a community that would not have otherwise been posted. The more engagement, the more energy there exists in that part of the swirling eddie of information.

A community is a place for every member to post.

With a ‘profile’ or a ‘page’ on Google Plus it is YOU, as the owner or manager, curate the content. In a community, however, the content is member driven. Content is then regulated by the a) spam filters (moderators have final say on spam), and b) the owners/moderators. The latter two also have to discern what to ‘keep in’ and ‘throw out’ in terms of both content and members themselves – i.e. delete posts, remove a member and ban a member from the community.

So, when you have people from the community deciding upon the content in the community, quality and relatability will vary.

How to create a community

Here is a complete, step-by-step guide to creating and building up your community:


The first decision you will need to make when creating a community is one of ‘public’ or private.

As such here are a few key considerations:

a) Public community – the content is found in search i.e. they are not private, or
b) Private community – content won’t appear in search, nor can content be ‘shared’ outside of the community as posts normally can be

If you choose Public you can decide whether to ‘approve’ people or whether anyone can join

If you choose Private you decide whether it is ‘hidden’ or can people find the community and request to join.

What’s next?

Once you have made this decision, you will want to consider the context you are creating through the following:

  1. the name of the community
  2. the strap-line
  3. the icon image
  4. the categories, where posts can be ‘placed’
  5. the community guidelines
  6. the number of people in the community (fledgling, developing, flourishing – if the community is of that nature)
  7. the number of moderators
  8. the nature of the moderators – based on their profile pic, and also the prior relationships with a person
  9. the evidence of appropriate moderation occurring within the community, or lack of it (e.g. spam posts, arguments)
  10. the actions of the moderators to encourage discourse on particular posts
  11. the ability of moderators to keep the flow going, including helping people stay on topic
  12. the predominant ‘feel’ of the content in the streams – both in the main flow but also within a sub-category the community guidelines and instructions

For so many communities, it is not a case of the old ‘Field of Dreams’ quote, “Build it and they will come”; some will grow rapidly and organically, but others need a bit more work to get kindled.

When people enter into a Google Plus ‘community’ space, the psychology would appear to change. And as such, so does behaviour. You will often find that the same content that would have attracted heaps of +1s and shares may now attract a lot more comments instead. It is as if the content is contained within the community itself and even though the information is ultimately public (you cannot share posts from a private community) people don’t do so as readily.

The stream, therefore, within a community becomes a more focused stream of information that is contextualised by the community’s nature and feel. People themselves ideally need to know how to engage on Google Plus when posting into communities. If they don’t, they are on broadcast mode not on ‘conversation’ mode.

Once the community is created and rolling

Google Plus Communities can be a lot of fun, but they can also be tricky to run well. Here are a few tips I’ve found useful, including how to get increased community engagement:

  1. Be tough on your community guidelines – e.g. I have removed ‘promotions’ as a category in the United Kingdom to reduce the spammy nature of some posts
  2. Use the strong strapline on the community page name to really grab people’s attention and set the context to the community
  3. Regular posting by the moderators will help people feel there is some form and structure to the community
  4. Make sure moderators ENGAGE, people will feel they are being heard.
  5. Kindling – try pinging people into a thread. Even a +1 in a community may well be enough of a signal to say “hey, I noticed you noticed” on a post.
  6. Answer as many comments as you can and ask questions to continue the flow of threads.
  7. Also consider stating in the guidelines whether it is inappropriate to promote other communities i.e. if people are all eating at a restaurant, having a good time, do you want the restaurant owners from next door arriving and drawing away their attention?
  8. No-one likes a lonely post – if a post has been sitting there for a while with no +1s/comments/shares, then the instant perception can be ‘too big a social risk/don’t go near’.
  9. If the content if ‘good’ then sharing this ‘back out of the community’ through your profile or through a G+ page is likely to ‘kindle’ interest. The content of the post will need to be relatable to the network of people connected to that profile or that page, of course.
  10. In turn, one can attach an additional ‘frame’ when it is shared on saying “Hey, I sponsor this post back out of the community as I think it is great” – you don’t say that exactly but it is in effect what you are saying.
  11. You want to have people keep ‘notifications’ on until auto off at 10,000 members- do everything you can to make people feel welcome
  12. Get rid of unrelatable content before people see it – this could help prevent the notification ‘bell’ getting switched off.
  13. Engage, engage, engage – you can take a lead as owner, moderator or enthusiastic community member and post content yourself that ‘pulls people in’.
  14. Use questions to engage the mind and use images where appropriate as well.

Quick Tip (specifically for Private communities):
Reversing The Flow: With private communities, as one cannot share the content publicly, the energy stays solely within the community. This is interesting when one is used to energy on Google+ coming from +1s/comments and the daddy of engagement on posts, shares. As such, ones metric of ‘success’ of a community may well need to shift inward instead of looking at ‘spread’ outward.

Moderators

It will really depend on the community, but I have been noticing how many communities don’t need the moderators or owner to be self sustaining (possibly apart from dealing with spam). Once the initial context of the community is set up, the members themselves engage freely in posting, commenting, supporting each other. It will really depend, of course, and one question remains as to the ‘intent’ behind having a community over and above a Profile or a Page. They really can bring people together and set the frame of reference for talk within that community.

From a business perspective, how one moves people into a more intimate relationship with the brand through using communities is something that will take time and effort.

I have been scanning some of these communities and believe the key will be engagement. People seek attention and feel positive when their actions are reciprocated/acknowledged, hence why having the circlecentric approach creates intent behind communications i.e. as the community owner one can reward active members of a community by adding them into circles and sharing them/interacting with them more.

Extra quick tip:

If you want to get the word out there more, you can easily create a badge on your website, promote the community on Twitter and Facebook. You can even add it to your email as a link in the signature. Check out this video to show you how!

 

Conclusion

It is still early days for Google+ communities, but there are huge opportunities to develop quality relationships. Especially now that more people can find your key passions or offerings.

I’ve focused much more on the functionality of communities than ‘people’, but it is of course people who will make up and make or break a community.

Some community owners, I am sure, will be setting up systems to enable efficiency in community management, metrics for engagement and even circlecentric flows as people move through an engagement funnel. This will be especially useful for businesses. For individuals, I believe that genuine enjoyment of the engagement itself will be key to ensure people’s attention is kept within communities.

Google+ has a variety of cultures, contained now within these new communities as if they are new psychological spaces and as such each space needs to be considered as unique based upon the context. Interesting, complex but the principles of: relate, engage and connect will always apply. We have some incredible times ahead of us and getting to grips with these fundamental tools will help us for the years ahead when every one in the whole world starts commoogling as well!

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