Google+ is a fun and flexible social network with lots of creative uses, and it gives you a nice boost towards Google finding your content in search results. If you’re creative and regularly active on the network, your Google+ page will be a powerful workhorse for you.
But what about Google+ Communities? Should you have one?
While your Google+ circles can create a simple version of a “community”, Google+ has created a system specifically intended to serve as a forum or group within the larger social network. It comes some handy controls and features that you can’t mimic with a simple Google+ circle, but…it also comes with an added work load.
What Will A Google+ Community Require?
Before you decide if a Google+ Community is worth it, you should first understand what having a community will involve.
Be responsible for what happens in your community.
You are responsible for what happens in your community.
Unlike a circle, a community comes with an understanding of moderation happening. Some communities put up a disclaimer and let it turn into a bit of a free-for-all, but remember that you’re after quality, not quantity. You want the engagement, the conversations, the content, the participants, the ideas–they need to be of quality. You don’t want to chase after the lowest common denominator just to get quantity.
A popular community will always face the never-ending battle with appropriate comments, just like you would on your blog.
I take a pretty dim view of comments that insult or antagonize, though not every community manager would care. It really depends on the community. But, if you do care, you have the ability to remove comments and ban and remove users in a Google+ community. Let them know when they get out of line. Give them a warning and stick to it.
What happens in your community, particularly if you’ve associated it with your brand, reflects on you.
Controlling spam in your community.
Google+ (as of yet) doesn’t let you post or share content in multiple communities. This can be annoying. It’s tempting to be a part of several related communities that you’d like to share your latest blog post in, but so would spammers. They’d love to join every open, public community and mass post at once.
So thank you, Google+.
When you post to a community, you can’t also post it to your public feed. You’ll have to post the same thing twice if you want to see it on your own feed. Still, if the community you’re posting to is public? Anyone who goes to your profile page will see what you’ve posted. Private community postings are only seen in that community by fellow members.
Restrictive, yes. Necessary, probably so.
What else do you do if you’re feeling that community members are abusing your community?
- Public or private. Decide right at the start, when you’re creating the community, if it will be public or private, and how much time you have to manage it, because once you choose public or private, you cannot change it.
- Use blocking and muting tools. Don’t be afraid. It’s hard to “fire” a customer or reader, but sometimes, for the sake of others in the community you might have to.
- Write guidelines. Write clear guidelines for expected behavior, and hold participants to it. Let them know what kind of content they should share, and how they should behave. Be clear. Remove and/or ban members who continually break the rules.
- Be an editor. Remove posts that do not belong, seem spammy, or are purely self-promotional in a community where that might not belong. Some spammers are very clever, and you might think they “meant well” and give them the benefit of the doubt but no. Just remove it.
A community filled with junk content quickly dies. No one wants to be there, yourself included.
3. Do you have the time to stay on top of spam? Y or N
Be the best curator you can be.
A community is a fantastic place to curate selective outside content. Remember, the curator controls the message.
I like to think of it this way: your Google+ page is where you share your content. A Google+ community is where you share other content.
Keep in mind, though, that curation–finding and sharing content–is an art form.
You are not just filling space in your community. You are only sharing the top-notch valuable content that fits with the description of the community. It’s important to get in the habit of of curation, finding great content to share, but it shouldn’t become a sloppy habit. Share what has value. Read the posts you are about to share, don’t just skim and toss in the community to fill a quota for the day. Be purposeful and mindful of what you are sharing.
One way to make sure all of the content you share is up to your curation standards is to create a list of must-have criteria (in order of importance) before sharing. You might require shared content to come from individual blogs only, or it must have at least 1600 words, or it must have unique imagery, or maybe you’ll only share content that has infographics. Whatever it is, create a standards list. It makes it much easier to decide on whether or not something ought to be shared or not.
5. Do you already have a reliable system for finding great content to share? Y or N
Be proactive about building your community.
Once you’ve got a community built up with content, it’s a good time to go in search of some heavy hitters and active users.
It’s my personal preference to allow for a little time to get a stockpile of content–and conversation–in a community before going after any VIPs that I’d love to have join. It’s hard to make a decision to join a community until you see what kind of content and conversation to expect.
Of course, there are more to this world than the VIP’s. You can’t assume you’ll get one Big Name Person to join and your community will suddenly become the hottest ticket in town. You have to build your community from several different directions.
How do you build your community?
- Invite users directly. Invite them from your Google+ circles, and promote the community on your blog or other social media accounts.
- Promote it on your Google+ page. Your community will be featured, but it doesn’t hurt to do extra promotion. You might create graphics or events that point to ongoing conversations happening in your community.
- Share the love. Feature and highlight the content of your community members. Share and intelligently discuss a blog post, a social profile, or a comment they’ve left.
- Always reply. When someone leaves a comment, always respond. Echo chambers don’t last long. If other members jump in, great. But don’t ever leave a community member hanging.
- Join other communities. Take part in other communities. Don’t be a self-promoter, but do take part in conversations. You’ll learn from how those communities are managed, and you might bring some folks back to your own community eventually.
- It’s not about you. Your Google+ page is about you, sort of. But your Google+ Community is about the community. You don’t turn it into another self-promotion channel.
7. Do you have someone to regularly respond and maintain the community? Y or N
How many did you answer “yes” to? If at least five weren’t a “yes”, you may want to hold off on forming a Google+ community until you are better set to manage one. Focus on building your Google+ page for now.
Now That You Have A Google+ Community
What does a great Google+ Community have?
There are the usual things you need to do to set it up, such as getting your graphics and the general look and feel of the community in order. It’s easy enough to find a good step-by-step guide and get started. But I have a few suggestions that you ought to consider while you set up your community.
Buy a custom domain name.
I have a little Google+ Community for North Dakota writers (or any writer, really). I bought the domain name (northdakotawriters.com) and forwarded it to the community page so that I could easily promote the page outside of Google+, and so it would be easier to tell people about it.
No one wants to hear you spell out a Google+ Community URL to them. Get a domain name, and make it super easy to point people to the page.
Choose the best categories.
Google+ Community setup includes selecting the categories that community members will use when they create a new post in the community.
By choosing categories that cover exactly what you want in your community (and absolutely no “miscellaneous” categories, please), you help yourself in moderating, and your members in participating.
Your categories should closely mimic the guidelines you’ve set up for your community. “This is what the community is about” you’ve told them, “and here are the categories for those specific things.”
Community members can read everything, or only what they are interested in, by using categories. Great categories that aren’t too broad really help keep your community from feeling like it’s full of random content. If someone joins my writing community just to be made aware of writing opportunities, for example, I want to be sure to keep that category “tight” and not let any off-topic content in there. I want to respect their time.
Consider unique uses for communities.
Before we officially launched CoSchedule, we created a private community for our CoPilots, those handful of bloggers who helped us with some of the decisions early on. It was handy for discussion, posting links and images and asking their opinion, or hosting weekly Google Hangouts to talk about CoSchedule.
Get creative. Communities can be used for:
- Customer service and support. Put help documentation online as individual posts, in proper categories, answer questions, share links. Easily edit posts if needed. It might be a perfect solution for you.
- Internal use. Create a community just for your team. Discuss, share, and categorize content. Plan events.
- Newsletter or regular content. While not a traditional newsletter, so to speak, you can create a schedule on which you’ll share specific content in your community. Mondays you share helpful gardening articles. Tuesdays you open the floor to member’s tips. Wednesdays is when everyone shares photos of their gardens. Thursday you host a green thumb hangout, and so on. People like routines.
- Exclusivity. Create exclusive invites and access to protected content as a reward for signing up for something on your website. Make membership in the private community its own reward.
Anything you can think of where you might want to get a group of people together online and talk, Google+ communities will work perfectly.
Respond as a person, even as a brand.
Be sure to respond as your Google+ page, even if that’s a brand made up of several team members. It familiarizes people to your brand.
If you do have multiple team members, have them introduce themselves in the community with a post and a link to their Google+ profile. Then consider having them sign off on their comments and responses with their initials so community members don’t feel wary about who they may or may not have communicated with. Anytime I respond under the flag of CoSchedule, I always sign off with ~JN.
The tools available on the Google+ network are, as I keep preaching, very flexible. A Google+ Community requires serious work and dedication to keep it healthy, but if you have the resources, I’d encourage you to give it a try.
One thing to remember: building a community isn’t the end goal. You have to know what to do with that community once you have it.