Google+ Communities, similar in structure to LinkedIn Groups and Facebook Groups, have been around for a while now. Communities have popped up for all kinds of interesting topics, from Science to different music genres and sports, to specific tech areas and social networks. Whatever your interests might be, you can probably find a community you can join and meet other people with shared interests (and here’s a growing list of the Best Google+ Communities if you’re interested).
But what if you can’t find that community you’re looking for? Or, what if there are a few communities related to your interest topic, but you want to start a new one, for whatever reason? Here’s how you can do that step-by-step, as well as how to promote your community, plus 6 community suggestions and 6 community uses!
If You Build It
First, give some thought to why you’re going to build a community. There are some ideas and uses listed below, but the most common example is a community devoted to a specific topic of interest. It represents a place people can join to read and participate in discussions that interest them.
Once you know why you’re building the community, come up with a name. Give this careful consideration as it needs to aptly describe your community. Most people will only see the name of the community in the Google+ Community list and will decide if they’re interested in looking further based solely on the name.
When you’ve got those items in hand, proceed through these steps:
- Log in to your Google+ account and mouse-over the Home menu to reveal the Communties menu item and click it (or go to https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities directly).
- In the upper right corner, click on the blue CREATE COMMUNITY button.
- Decide if this is going to be a Public or Private community. Private communities can be joined by invitation only, so if you want people to be able to find and join your community on their own, make it Public. Select one. (Note: if you’re not sure, give this careful thought. Privacy settings CANNOT be changed once your community has been created.)
- You’re now prompted to enter a name for the community. You must also choose whether or not it should be listed in searches. Again, if you want to be found by others, this needs to be “No, anyone can join.”
- Once you’ve clicked Next, you’re now at the Settings screen where you can finish creating your Community. Enter a Tagline that briefly describes your community.
- Click on “Pick a photo” to upload a logo or image for your community. If you’re branding the image for your business, use your logo. If not, use a nice image that represents the community topic. Along with the Title, this is what appears in searches so make a good choice.
- Complete the “About this Community” section. This is where you can briefly talk about why the community exists, what people should be talking about, and set down any rules and guidelines, like, no promotional links or announcements.
- Add more Categories for different discussions. Unlike LinkedIn and Facebook, Google+ Community discussions can be filed within specific categories (like Labels in Gmail) for easier navigation and community structure. The better you’re able to create and define categories, the more structured your community will be. It’s also likely that defined categories will actually help foster and spark discussion, rather than just a basic “Discussion” category. Other suggestions include Events, Introduce Yourself and Promotions.
- Add appropriate links. Again, if this is a branded community, a link to your website is certainly appropriate. If not, consider links to outside resources, or even “pillar posts” that you want members to be able to refer to regularly – links to specific Google+ posts. Just copy the URL and type in whatever you want in the Title that makes sense.
- Add a location if appropriate.
- Click Done.
- Once saved, Google+ will immediately prompt you to share the news about your new community. I would recommend holding off for a moment and clicking Cancel. We can get back to that later.
- Now you can see your new Google+ Community. How does it look? Make sure you’re happy with the name, logo About and other information, and make whatever adjustments you feel necessary. While it doesn’t have to be perfect, it should be GOOD so that when people first start to look at it, they’re impressed.
- Before inviting anyone else, put some content in there! At a minimum, take the time to compose a Welcome message. But I recommend going a step further and sharing a lot of relevant content and discussion starters, particularly in each of your categories. Use the same techniques we’ve discussed for posting normal Google+ updates – share articles with a nice Title and Image, include commentary at the top and make use of Google+ formatting options to have a nice title and paragraph breaks. Put some effort into it!
- An optional step here is to invite a select group of people to join the community initially. If possible, friends and colleagues and influencers who know you, are willing to help you out, and would be interested in your new community. In the invitation, tell them that they’re part of a Pre-Launch Invitation and that due to their special relationship with you, they’re being invited to see and participate in this community before anyone else. Create a value proposition. Once they’re in the community, you can tell them that they’re free to invite other people.
- Invite everyone else. Click on the “Invite people” button in the right sidebar and you’ll see that share dialogue box again. Make sure that everything looks right and again, be sure to put in a personal message to help draw attention to your invitation. Tell people what they’ll gain by joining your community! And avoid selecting and notifying specific Circles of people. Only invite specific people or Circles if they’ve previously indicated an interest in such an invitation. Most of the time, you’re better off just sharing to Public and letting them see it on their own.
Go The Distance
Now that you’ve built your community, it’s important to understand a few important points.
First, it’s unlikely that tons of people are going to join your community instantly. It’s going to take time and work on your part. You’re going to want to issue invitations to the Public stream regularly by using the Invite method outlined above.
You’re also going to want to regularly be active in the community by sharing content and starting discussions and participating in other conversations – even if most of the time it’s just you. Anyone who chooses to check out your community is going to want to see more than just your first Welcome post.
And with this great responsibility comes great power, and more responsibility. As the community owner, you’re now the first (and initially only) moderator. As spammers and degenerates attack your precious community, it’s up to you to defend it! Use your Spidey instincts, and the moderation tools Google+ gives you, to politely but firmly deal with spammers and offenders.
Finally, make sure that you look for other creative ways to promote your new community. If it’s for your business or blog, write a blog post announcing the community and inviting interested people to join (here’s an example of one I did for our St. Louis Networking Community.). If it’s for clients, send them an email and include an announcement in your next newsletter. Cross-promote it on your other networks, but do be careful not to promote it within someone else’s Group or Community without their express permission.
Ease His Pain
OK, well, there’s no pain easing in this final point – I was just continuing the Field of Dreams idiom. Actually, the last thing I want to address is how businesses can use communities. Being the owner and creator of a thriving community can be a real asset to the right business. It takes work like we just discussed, but having an active audience of thousands who are interested in your industry/geography/topic can be immensely valuable and useful in a variety of ways.
Business Community Suggestions:
- General Industry Topic (i.e. Social Media)
- Specific Industry Topic (i.e. Google+)
- Geographic Area (i.e. St. Louis)
- Public Mentorship
- Private Mentorship
- Peer / Influencer Thinktank
Business Community Uses:
- Share Relevant Content
- Poll and Survey Interested and Influential People
- Teaching and Mentoring
- Premium Content
- Customer Service
So that’s how to build a community, and even what to do with it once you’ve built it. If you have questions, please feel free to leave them in the Comments below, and if you would like to learn more about how to use Google+ and Google+ Communities to grow your business, please contact me. And remember, this isn’t Heaven, it’s Google+.