Secret Tips to Using Google+ Circles
In our Google+ Primer article, we briefly covered Google+ Circles and how they can be used to organize the people you want to be connected to. In today's article, we're going to go into more detail about these Circles. We will review what they can do, and how they can make your Google+ so much more organized and informative, and perhaps share a few secrets that only the most experienced Google+ users have found.
You get to your Circles by clicking on Find People in the left menu. The first screen will be filled with Suggestions of people you may know on Google+. These suggestions are based on any connections you already have on Google+, and any information you may have provided. So if you haven't already, head back over to your profile and get it completed with your work and education history. Once you have, you'll see a right sidebar listing for people who you may have worked with or gone to school with. Google+ will automatically have access to your Gmail contacts, but you can also connect your Yahoo and Hotmail contacts as well. You don't have to circle all these contacts, but it's certainly recommended that you review them and look for friends and connections you might want to circle on Google+.
Most people begin their Google+ Circle usage by setting up Circles around relationships and interests. You might have a "Friends" or "Family" circle, and other circles for different hobbies and topics you're interested in. You can place people in different circles, so a friend of yours might be in your Friends circle as well as your circle for "Fantasy Football." You can set up as many circles as you need, and place your connections in as many circles as makes sense to you.
Simply drag someone into the appropriate circle, or drag them to the blank circle to create a new one starting with that person. Throughout Google+, anytime you mouseover someone's profile image or highlighted name, their profile card will come up and you can add them to any of circles right from there.
You can also copy friends from one circle to another. Just go to the circle's tab, click on the circle you want to copy and select "View circle in tab". You'll see an option for more actions in the upper right corner. Select some or click "select all" all and drag and drop your friends to another circle.
One recommendation that many have suggested, including myself, is to Follow First on Google+ just as you might have on Twitter to gain followers. If you are strategically circling influencers or prospective customers, that's a great technique. If, however, you're circling anyone you can just to ramp up your numbers, you're wasting your time and ruining your Google+ experience. First, circling 100 random people will only gain you a fraction of them as followers, and since they're random, it's unlikely they're going to be interested in you or what you have to offer. Second, as you circle all these people, your Home stream will rapidly be filled with so much random noise it will become useless and you'll hate it. Only circle people whose posts you think you may interested in.
Google+ also offers a number of Circles based around topics like News and Technology and Music where you can follow the Circle and that will automatically add a new Circle for you, containing everyone within that circle Google has picked for you. You can easily remove people from these circles and add more later, creating great information resources for yourself.
When you're on Your Circles you can also rearrange circles in whatever order you wish. This is convenient because when you're on your Home feed, the first few circles are listed at the top, so those should be your most important circles and the ones you might want to view in a stream most often. Similarly, when posting status updates, your circles are again listed in the order you decide. Simply left-click on a circle in Your Circles and drag it wherever you want in relation to your other circles.
Sharing to Circles
When composing status updates, you can specifically choose one or more Circles as your Audience. Once sent, only the people within those Circles will be able to see your post. Now, each one of those individuals will have the option to Share your post to their own audience. But Google+ does give you the option of locking the post, to prevent any future sharing. If you're going to limit an audience because you don't want anyone else to see the post, don't forget to lock it. If, however, you're limiting the audience simply because those are the people you think will be interested, then it shouldn't matter if someone decides to share it later.
+Zach Alcorn shared a great insight regarding the Your Circles option. When choosing your audience, your first option is Your Circles which you might assume includes all of your circles. In actuality, it includes all but your default Following circle. To edit which circles are included to make this feature particularly useful, simply go to your Settings and scroll down to the Your Circles section and click on Customize.
When you're reading other people's posts, sometimes you'll find a comment or article link that you want to save for later reading. One great use of Circles is to create a Circle to share these posts to, and only put yourself in that Circle. You can use a second dummy account, or your Brand Page like I do. When you share such a post, and only select this special Circle, no one else will be able to see the share, and you'll be able to see it on your Posts page.
Once you have people in your circles, you can go to your Home stream and see "all" recent posts from the people you're following. Once you start to follow a lot of people, that home stream can get pretty busy. One of the great features Google built in is that you can modify how many posts from a specific stream appear in your Home stream. To the right of "All" you will see tabs for your first few circles, and a More tab drop-down for the rest of your circles. Click on any circle, and you'll see just the posts from the people within that circle. To the right, you will see a settings that you can use to adjust how much of this activity appears in your Home stream, from Fewer to Standard to More. You can set the frequency to whatever makes sense for you and the people from that group, all the way up to "I want a notification for every post" by selecting the Get Notified About New Posts option. You can also turn a circle off completely and not have it show up in the Home stream.
One organizational trick that +Mark Traphagen suggested is to create actual circles labelled "Notify Me" and "All Posts" and "Most Posts" and "Some Posts", adjust the settings accordingly for each post, and then place the people you follow into whichever circle fits what you want to receive from them. This has helped me tremendously to ensure that I'm getting real value out of my Home stream.
One interesting feature of Google+ Circles is that they can be shared. When you share a circle, other people can follow that circle, adding everyone within the circle. That's essentially what Google+ has done with the suggested topics I mentioned earlier, but you can do it too! You can create a circle of people that you'd recommend for something and then share it, suggesting that other people follow the circle, and these other people. It's a fantastic way to promote people you trust or clients, but like everything else it must be done with care. Make sure that the people within this circle will want to be shared in such a way. And avoid including yourself as a means to gain followers unless you truly belong in the same circle as these other people.
Along the same lines, many people use shared circles to gain more, random followers. They'll share a circle and tell you that you need to add the circle, share it, and then comment on it and they will add you to the circle for others to follow. You can try something like a few times, but generally speaking, due to the complete randomness of who is going to follow you, there's very little value in the technique just like the Follow First method I mentioned above. I would encourage you to be more judicious in who you circle and the circles you add, and let other people find you in more meaningful and organic ways.
Creative Business Uses
Businesses can use Circles in a lot of creative and productive ways.
Create a Circle for Team Members to more easily share content and updates with the people you're working with, complete with making the circle private and locking post sharing.
Create Circles for clients who are on Google+ so that you can share timely and relevant posts and updates specifically for them. One might think that if I'm going to share some content on a social network, I'd want everyone to be able to see it, right? Sometimes that's true, but even when that's the case, there's something to be said for introducing your content and doing so in a way that is unique and customized to your audience. Why will your clients, specifically, appreciate this information?
Further segment clients and followers by location, interest and other demographics if they apply to your product offerings. If you're having a sale in Dallas, there's no need to share that with followers throughout the rest of the country. Similarly, if you have a particular product that's on sale, you might notify followers whom you know have already purchased similar products or expressed an interest.
By segmenting your circles in a such a way, you can also target specific groups of people for Google+ Hangout or Event invitations. You could sift through all of your connections, but being able to select one or more Circles is far more convenient.
It's also a great way to keep tabs on what your clients and prospects are interested in and talking about.
While not a tip for how you will use circles yourself, add to the top of your Introduction a list of the kinds of Circles you think you should be added to. This will help new connections better understand you and what you talk about, and prompt them to add you accordingly.
Questions or other recommendations about how to use Google+ Circles? Post them in the comments below or feel free to connect with me personally on Google+ at +Mike Allton.
Secret Circles image courtesy of Qaanaaq, Flickr.