On Google+, users have the ability to manipulate their circles to control the groups of people and brands they receive information and content from, but there’s no guarantee those brands or users will circle you to receive your updates.
This is where Google+ Communities come in, Google’s version of a group or forum, built to bring people together around particular topics. Launched in December, the types of Communities available to the Google+ audience seem endless — ranging from science, animals, development and more.
Communities are places where users can share specific questions, comments or content relating to a particular topic with other users who are just as interested in the conversation. For example, if you’re a member of a cooking community, it’s likely each post will contain something related to food. And if there is a user who is posting content unrelated to the chosen topic, a moderator could step in and police that person.
Many of the more than 135 million monthly active Google+ users may have already explored Communities. But for those of you getting your first peek, check out our overview below.
Where to Start
After logging into Google+, you’ll see an icon on the left rail for “Communities.” This will bring you to the Communities homepage, which will give you a sample of the types of public communities available to join. You can choose to enter a community from here or search for a topic that may not be represented on the main screen, using the search bar at the top-right of the page.
Say you’re interested in joining a community focusing solely on Grumpy Cat; you’d be ecstatic to discover there are already a number of communities devoted to our favorite dour feline. While public community pages allow you to access and explore the content, you must join the community before you can comment or post. Many public pages will allow you to join immediately, but some are dependent on moderation.
Private communities work differently from public communities in that they are, ahem, private. When a user creates a private community, as we’ll discuss below, he or she can decide whether a private group appears in Google+ search results. If you’re interested in joining a private community you found through search, you must ask the community’s moderator to join before viewing or interacting with any of the content.
Posting to Communities
Sharing content to a community is much like sharing to one of your circles. While you can post to your respective community directly from the community’s page, you can also post from basically anywhere on the platform. If you find a story you’d like to share with your community, but you’re not on Google+ at that time, use the +1 button from the story’s page and select your respective community.
At this time, Google+ prohibits you from sharing to multiple communities. Also, when you do choose to post to a community, you will not be able to share that same post through the public feed — meaning you’d have to post your content twice for it to show up in the community and in the public feed. If you do post your content to a public community, though, it will still be visible to users who navigate to your profile page. But if you share a post to a private community page, it cannot be publicly viewed anywhere except in that community.
Many community pages have added categories in order to organize the discussion. You will be prompted to choose a category within the community when you share a post. In the Android community, for example, users can post to “Fix my phone!!!,” “Hacking discussion,” “Development” and, for new community members to introduce themselves, “Hello, world.” You should determine which category is the best fit for your post.
While discussing a particular topic may be your life’s passion, you may not wish to be notified every time a new post has been shared in one of your communities. Or maybe you do. Either way, notifications can be toggled on or off by clicking on the bell icon on your community’s page.
If notifications are on, you will get a notification by email, on your mobile device and by the Google toolbar when someone posts something new in the community. For public communities, notifications are off by default. For private communities, public communities where membership is moderated and communities that you created, notifications are on by default.
Create Your Own Community
So you’ve browsed all the public communities and you didn’t find that exact community you hoped to join. Or maybe you want to create a private group for your old high school friends, for example. Google+ gives you the option to create your own community, and it’s a breeze to do. When you’re on the main Communities page, you’ll see a red button on the top-right that says “CREATE A COMMUNITY.”
You can then choose to create either a public or private community. On its FAQ page, Google notes that users cannot change a community page from private to public, or vice versa, once it has been created, so choose accordingly.
If setting up a public page, choose what you want to name the community — names do not have to be unique — and then decide if you will allow anyone to join, or if you’d like to moderate memberships. For a private page, you can decide whether you want to hide the community from search or allow people to find the page and ask to join.
Once the page has been created, there are still a few things to complete: You should choose a tagline, pick an appealing photo that describes the community, complete your About section and then add a few discussion categories.
Now that your community has been created and set up, all that is left to do is invite users to the page and start the conversation.
Last Word on Being an Effective Community Member
Much like how Reddit has become a great resource for content discovery and conversation, Google+ Communities are for users who are more interested in vibrant conversations around topics than they are about self-promotion. Quality community members are those who share relevant content that sparks conversation or debate, and who participate in conversations by leaving comments and +1’ing posts. Users whose intentions are to promote themselves or spam the community will most likely be removed by a moderator, so be careful how you approach your communities.
Are You Ready?
Hopefully you have enough information to effectively navigate your way through Google+ Communities, or even to create your own community. If we’ve left out any important details, let us know in the comments below.