Since their launch, there are now over 45,000 listed communities on Google+, some with tens of thousands of members, others with very few.
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 ‘community’ space on Google+, 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.
The context matters
This context is created through the following:
- the name of the community
- the strap-line
- the icon image
- the categories, where posts can be ‘placed’
- the number of people in the community (fledgling, developing, flourishing – if the community is of that nature)
- the number of moderators
- the nature of the moderators – based on their profile pic, and also the prior relationships with a person
- the evidence of appropriate moderation occuring within the community, or lack of it (e.g. spam posts, arguments)
- the actions of the moderators to encourage discourse on particular posts
- the ability of moderators to keep the flow going, including helping people stay on topic
- the predominant ‘feel’ of the content in the streams – both in the main flow but also within a sub-categorythe community guidelines and instructions
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.
Tips to help encourage engagement:
- 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’.
- 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.
- 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.
- Regular posting by the moderators so people feel there is some form and structure
- Kindling – ping 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.
- Answer every comment you can and ask questions to continue the flow.
Moderators and community focus
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. 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.
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. People, 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.