Communities gather together in order to share unique experiences and insight, or to solve common problems. Within each community, there may be various types of individuals, with vastly different interests and experiences, some people participating primarily by reading and sharing content, and others with an intense interest in generating, guiding, or participating in discussion.
Google+ communities are great for starting conversations around particular hobbies, interests, groups, or organizations.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It is not easy to create a successful community on Google+, but if you follow this guide, you will at least be a step in the right direction. As you read, think about how future members will use your community, and what kind of content both they and you will share.
Oh, and get ready for some hard work.
Please excuse my broken anchor links. Fixing them soon, I swear.
Preparing for a Google+ Community
• Doing your Research
• Types of Google+ Communities
Building a Google+ Community
• Optional Pro Tip: Google+ Community Page
• Preparing Community Materials
- Community Name
- Community Tagline
- Community Description
- Community Image
- Community Policy
• Step-by-step: Creating a Community
Moderating a Google+ Community
• Introduction to Moderation
• Moderation Examples and Guide
- Blatant Spam
- Investigating Spam
- Repeat Offenders
- Comment Spammers and Trolls
- Beginner’s Mistake: Cultivating New Members
• Wielding the Banhammer
Promoting a Google+ Community
• Phase 1: Brand New Community
• Phase 2: Encouraging Growth
• Phase 3: Maintaining Growth
Preparing for a Google+ Community
Doing your Research
Before you create your community, it is important to see if there are other similar communities first. You may find one you enjoy, and can deliver consistent value to it, possibly even contacting the owner and joining as a moderator down the road. Investing in a community that already has a members and some activity is a much easier proposition than starting from scratch. If you prove yourself valuable, you could even ask (or be asked) to join as a moderator, and even split ownership in the future.
Of course, if ownership from the start matters, create your own community. However, you cannot ignore those other communities on the same subject. Join them and look around. What are they doing that works? What doesn’t work? Is there a niche that isn’t represented?
As public communities are indexed for search, the most important thing you can do to ensure a popular community is to focus on a popular keywords or phrases that best describe your community. Take some time to do keyword research, much like the type you would do before starting a new website, or writing a new blog post.
Types of Google+ Communities
If you read our guide to community membership, then you are well versed in the types of Google+ communities. This is very important, as you cannot change this once your community is created! I know several communities have regretted moderated membership in a public community, as the community became popular, and now over a hundred people attempt to join each day. Please be sure review all the options first by going back and viewing community types with the link above if you aren’t sure yet!
Building a Google Plus Community
Optional Pro Tip: Google+ Community Page
This is something only a few people seem to know about. If you are a business or organization starting a community, start the community using your page as the owner! Any community members that join will count as a +1 for your page. If you don’t have a page to promote (or even if you do – as you can have multiple owners), you should create a page for the community.
Benefits of a Community Page
- Use your community page to get organized. Draft your tagline, description and even community policy/guidelines within the page’s profile before you create the community. Create and set a profile photo that will match that of the community. <liUse your community page to moderate and make community announcements. This is helpful as sometimes people don’t have the… best reaction to moderation and well, authority in general. It is nice to have a layer between your business or your personal profile and your community moderation and ownership responsibilities.
- Use your community page to indirectly promote your community. Connect with users, pages, and within other similarly themed communities. This way, you can motivate people to check out your profile, and hopefully click through to your community as well. This is a great way to promote your community as a thought leader, and you dont have to resort to spamming or inviting complete strangers!
- Use your community page to expand your community. You can use a great service like CircleCount to track community posts and engagement, do a weekly round-up post of the most popular posts to the community, perhaps circle shares with the most active members within the community, or even use the great built in Google+ features, like hangouts and events, to promote your page! Host a thought-leader or expert on a subject in a hangout-on-air through your community and as your page. Become the central hub for discussion on your subject matter.
Preparing Community Materials
One suggestion would be to prepare everything you need to start your community before beginning the process. You might sit down to write your community description, and decide that a different community type would be more ideal for your purposes!
What you need to start your community:
- Community Name
- Community Tagline
- Community Description
- Community Image
- Community Policy
Pick a unique name that clearly communicates the purpose of your community. Google+ community names can’t be changed after 500 members have joined! Naming is a public community is something that really needs to follow the K.I.S.S. method. KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID! Stick to something that people would search for. Unless of course you are building a private community, in which case, bonus points for creativity!
Use the tagline to grab people’s attention, and give them a quick way to understand the goals of the community. Think of the tagline as your first greeting to a new member. What is the most important thing they need to know? The community tagline has a maximum size of 140 characters. Be sure to take advantage of that, as these taglines are also indexed by Google, and will help users come across your community. Think of this as a mission statement the size of a tweet.
Focusing on social media marketing as well as other ways to use social media for businesses and non-profit organizations.
The About section is the primary place for new members to learn about your community, so use this opportunity to describe the purpose of your community, set clear expectations around posts and discussions, add any additional information or relevant links. The Community Description has a maximum size of 3000 characters.
This is the Social Media Strategy Community on Google+. Although this is a heavily moderated and curated community, we are open to any and all that would like to talk tips, tricks, news and business strategies centered around social media. That is not only marketing, but can include risk management, media, product life cycle management, customer care, HR, market research, and innovation…So much to do and learn! English language only please.
Your photo will be the first thing people see. Choose a photo that represents the purpose behind your community, or create a logo especially for this community! The minimum required image size is 250×250, but the way the image is set up, the image is cut off on the sides. We created this Google Plus Community Image Template in Photoshop that you can use to create your community image. Just make sure your design is centered, so that you can use the same on as your Community Page image!
Here are examples of a community page profile image (left), and a community image (right), showing the portions of the image which are cut off when viewed by users.
Each community has use of up to 20 categories, not counting the “Events” tab, where Community Events can be started and viewed. You don’t have to have a final list of cat egories before you start creating your community, as many times the community will evolve and new needs will present themselves, however, take some time to jot down a few ideas for categories. Think about how you post on your subject, do you tend to focus on certain details? Maybe you can use them to filter content within the communities. Categories are really dependent on the focus of the community, but here are two categories that every community has to have, and one category I highly advise against:
Spamcatcher (Select a Category):
The first category, “Spamcatcher,” has a distinct purpose: instantly weeding out spam. The default category for anyone posting to the community is the first one. What happens, is you get a TON of miscategorized posts in whatever your first category is, mixed in with legitimate posts. To combat this, we instituted a rule: if you post to this default category, the “Spamcatcher,” it means your post will be deleted. This rule drastically cuts the amount of time you need to spend moderating the community. Each morning, you can just open up this category, clear out all the posts at once, and end up taking care of most of the spam, without even breaking a sweat. Of course, this rule has it’s gray area.
Announcements (Mods Only):
This category is self-explanatory. Give yourself a category for posting community notes, the community policies (and subsequent updates), as well as any other announcements you may have for community members. Of course, this category is for moderators only (perhaps Google will eventually give us the ability to limit posting to certain categories?). Any posts by non-moderators should be deleted or moved.
This category seems like the most logical category to include, doesn’t it? I mean, communities are about conversations, right? Well if you are creating an open, public community (anyone can join), unless you want to wade through tons of “Hi, my name is ______, check out my ” posts to get to real content, I would suggest NOT including this category. After all, we have (hopefully) set up our profiles, along with taglines, introductions, and links. They are our “introductions.” Motivate your community members to share good content and interact on existing posts. When they do that, other members will be interested to find out who they are, and head to their profiles to learn more.
The next step, after creating your community, is to post your first community policy. Here is a sample community policy similar to the one we use in the Social Media Strategy community. You can see it in action here. I suggest making a post similar to ours within your community, and you can post it to the “Announcements” category, before you even invite your first member.
Feel free to use this and modify it any way you like:
Welcome to the «INSERT COMMUNITY NAME HERE» community, a great place to talk about «INSERT TOPIC(S) HERE». Please read the following rules and take them to heart when interacting with the community.
1. No link-litter.
If you’ve found or written an interesting article, or found something to re-share that you think the community needs to see, please share it! But we want to know why you think it’s share-worthy. Not all of us have the time or inclination to click through and see if it means anything to us personally. So write a paragraph or two (yes, paragraph, not sentence) that summarize why you were intrigued.
2. No ads or spam.
It’s very OK to cite your own work as examples, however this isn’t a place to shout BUY MY E-BOOK! over and over again. If you’re not sure, ask yourself this question: Will what I’m about to post encourage discussion within the community? If not, it’s spam. Please ask a moderator before sharing outside hangouts/events/communitis as well.
3. Play nice.
Expect your thoughts and ideas to be challenged by others online. No ad hominem attacks allowed.
4. Categorize posts correctly.
If you think we are missing a category, contact a moderator. You’ll find us pretty accommodating.
5. Interact with others.
Instead of only posting something new, engage with existing posts, answer questions, +1 and comment on other posts. Don’t just broadcast to the community, be a community member.
6. Create the best posts you can.
Check for duplicate news. Think to yourself, is this something that most of this community would already know? If so, then it is probably not good to post.
Please remember, all user activity which takes place here is also subject to the Google+ User Content and Conduct Policy (www.google.com/+/policy/content.html).
By taking part in this community, you agree to abide by these guidelines. If you do not, the following actions may be taken against you or your posts (in ascending order):
• A warning from a moderator
• Removal of your post
• Banning from the community
In some cases, a moderator may decide to apply a higher level action against your or your posts immediately, without prior notice or warning.
Again, if you are unsure about any part of these community guidelines, please contact a moderator before posting your content, they can advise you.
Step-By-Step: Creating a Community
Moderating a Google+ Community
Introduction to Moderation
What is great about Communities, is the moderator’s ability to shape the conversation in positive ways, interacting on posts and sharing to the community as thought-leaders, welcoming new members, ensuring that members post on-topic, as well as removing spam and other rude/disrespectful posts. The Social Media Strategy Community, for example, is moderated at a higher level than many other communities, with moderators acting as curators, only allowing the best content to remain within the Community.
Moderators have to constantly use their best judgement to apply the guidelines in a fair way, in order to ensure the overall health of the community. Moderators are under no obligation to explain their decisions to members, however it can be helpful to do so, as it can teach newer members how to post well. But in all seriousness, in the larger communities, if you had to tell someone every time what they did wrong, you’d waste away all your free time doing so. It’s not worth it. You need to pick and choose the posts to help, and those to just remove or ban and move on from.
To help, Google also has implemented an automated spam detection system to identify unusual posting patterns, duplicate, low value and thin content. This spam detection system works quite well. Any posts or shares to communities which possibly include links to sites with malware or maybe non-trusted merchants are flagged immediately, invisible to any community members but you. Google is not a fan of any website that tries to infect computers. Another reason something would be marked as spam is because you previously marked it as spam. Persistent messages from the same user, identical text, stuff like that. So remember, report bad content in communities as spam! The more you report, the better the automatic spam detection will get! Google+ also works to analyze patterns and predict what types of messages are fraudulent or potentially harmful. This includes the typical spam language that we see daily, (adult, get rich quick, mail-order brides) or perhaps messages from accounts or IP addresses that previously sent reported spam messages, for example.
Moderation Examples and Guide
- Here are a few examples and guidelines on how you can follow up on posts, how to recognize spam, and what to do about it!
- I have no idea how some posts make it past the automatic spam detection. But every once in a while, it happens. Here’s one we got just the other day in the Social Media Strategy community:
Simply use the drop down menu on posts like these, and select “Remove, report and ban.”
I was worried I wouldn’t have examples of spam. For some reason I always underestimate the tenacity of internet spammers. No matter how hard you try, they will continue, in a merciless attempt to get your clicks. There are several clear red flags here:
1. He posted to the spam-catcher. Already the post is one on track for deletion. I know moderators have the ability to move posts, but in our community we institute a zero-tolerance policy. If posters can’t take a moment to categorize a post, they don’t deserve to broadcast to tens of thousands of members. Obviously with smaller communities moving a post from time to time is not difficult. However, the spam-catcher category is not this post’s only problem.
2. Lacking post description. There is almost no description of the link, apart from a short title-style blurb, which I assume is just a shortened English version of the original post in Spanish.
3. This is an English-only community. Our community simply doesn’t have the moderation staff to be able to review content in languages other than English. There are fantastic tools out there, like Google Translate, however, as owning and moderating a community is a volunteer position, owners can’t be expected to review content in languages they are not comfortable with. It would simply take too much time.
4. A clear history of spamming and link littering in communities. By right-clicking on his name in the post and viewing his profile in a new window, we can see why Google has automatically flagged his post as spam. He has already shared this post with many communities in a very short period of time, and this is something he has been doing for quite some time. He is a serial link litterer. This one is a rather safe ban. By safe, I mean, he fits the profile of a spammer and his primary language does not match that of the community, therefore there is little chance he will provide quality content for our community in the future.
By selecting the middle button, we can remove the post from the community,report the post as spam, and ban the user from the community, all in one click!
This is someone, who, time and time again, continues to ignore guidelines. You have asked them several times to read the community policy, you have warned them and even deleted posts, and still no change in their activity. Or worse yet, they argue with you about it. Feel free to ban them, immediately, if you feel they are disrupting your community.
Comment Spammers and Trolls
Ah, the internet troll. In online communities, a troll is someone who starts arguments for no reason other than to start an argument, or simply acts in a way that is upsetting your community members. A troll either posts to your community or comments on posts with off-topic material, or inflammatory and extraneous messages, with the intent of provoking members into an emotional response or argument. This is the worst type of person on the internet. For these people, skip below to Option 2!
The second worst type of person on the internet is of course the blatant spammer. This is someone posting in your community or commenting on your posts only to promote their content or business, with no connection to the discussion taking place. Thanks to Google+, dealing with these people is easy.
There are several ways to get rid of these guys. Of course, if Google flags the post as it did in the “Investigating Spam” section above, you can just click “Remove, report and ban,” and get it done in one easy step. But perhaps someone is spamming or trolling in comments within your community? What can you do?
Option 1: A chance for a new user to learn. Reply to the comment. Let the user know that it isn’t a good marketing technique to just link litter in comments. Maybe they will learn their lesson and move on. Just remember to delete their original comment before continuing on your way. Mouse over their comment, and select “Delete Comment.”
Option 2: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Mouse over the comment. Step one, ban comment author. Step two, report comment to Google.
Beginner’s Mistake: Cultivating New Members
Sometimes… people really just don’t know better. No matter how well written your about or community policy may be, there are those who just won’t read it before they start posting.
Often these come in the form of “Thanks for the invite” or even more simple greetings. Though it may be innocent or with good intentions, it’s certainly not a post that should be broadcasted to every member in a community.
As a new community, you certainly don’t want to turn away future content creators. Moderators have the ability to move posts; instead of deleting those good posts from the spamcatcher, you can always move them out. Of course, this is to be done on a case-by-case basis. It may seem like a bother, but if you get link litter from someone that doesn’t look like a serial spammer, take the time out of your day to say hello, and just politely point them to the community policy, or even to our community member guide. You never know, you might find a diamond in the rough. Sometimes people just need help with the basics. Also, you can stress to them that including more text and an accurate description can help them promote their link, as it will be easier to find through search!
Here is an example of a greeting (feel free to use a similar one):
If it’s a case of link litter, you can also ask them to add a bit of a description, so as to avoid moderation. If they don’t respond or change the post within 24-48 hours, go ahead and delete the post.
Wielding the Banhammer
You are in charge. This is not an excuse, however, to ban anyone you want. Just because you dislike a person, doesn’t mean they should be automatically excluded from an otherwise public community. Only ban people who deserve it, and only for breaking the community guidelines.
Everyone on Google+ should have the right to join an open public community on a certain subject… so long as they follow the rules of that community. Once a reasonable member breaks the posted rules, and they have been warned? All bets are off, feel free to wield the banhammer of community justice with no reservations.
Promoting a Google+ Community
Phase 1: Seeding Content and Asking For Help
Yes, your first step to promoting your community is to ask for help. A strong community has a strong team behind it. No one person should run a public community on their own (private moderated membership communities can be easier to manage on your own, as they tend to remain small and focused). Ask a few friends with the same interest, or even approach a thought-leader or expert in the field, you never know, they may be interested in joining up. Obviously you will have better luck with people whom you have existing relationships with, but it’s worth a try.
While hunting for moderators to join your new community, start sharing some original content into your community, at least one post per category. Not only does it give people a better idea of your category structure, but it gives new members something to interact with, leading them to believe this is a community worth joining and staying in. To be invited to a completely blank community can be off-putting, and you’ll find you just have a high bounce rate! (Yup, it’s just like web design! No content means there is no point in sticking around!)
Ask your moderators to try and visit at least once every day or every other day, and interact on a few of the posts, as well as removing posts or banning spammers as necessary. It will be hard to find a moderator who is as devoted to your community as you are, but that is a relationship that can grow over time. In the future, you can even reward your most active moderators with part-ownership in your community, ensuring that they stick around, as they will be more invested in the outcome. Many large, successful communities run on the concept of a democracy, with each owner and mod getting a voice in the direction of the community (and although sometimes the original owner can pull rank if necessary, it is always good to work together and compromise).
Phase 2: Encouraging Community Growth
Once you have your team ready, and you’ve seeded some content within the community, it’s time to make your announcements and invitations. Before we start, I am going to say one thing. NEVER, I mean NEVER, share your community link to another community, unless it is something that is expressly stated as ALLOWED in the community policy or description. Otherwise, it is an easy way to get banned and blocked.
Draft a community announcement, use a few relevant hashtags, and share it publicly. Be sure to mention and thank the moderators on your team right from the start. Not only is it polite to do so, but they will be motivated to share the post to their circles as well, expanding the reach of your announcement.
Invite relevant circles to your community, however, don’t overdo it. If someone doesn’t know you, and you have never spoken to them before in your life, it is likely not appropriate to send them a community invitation. You’ll get blocked by more people than you’ll have joining.
One way to promote your community without stepping on toes is to use your new Community Page. Interact in other communities with similar topics just as you would as yourself. Comment on posts, +1 and share while mentioning and thanking the original posters; make new connections. This is an easy way to motivate people to not only check out your profile (as they will be curious who you are), but to hopefully also continue on to your community.
Phase 3: Maintaining Community Growth
The #1 best way to maintain community growth is to keep your community well-moderated. No one wants to join a community full of spam and cross-posting. Feel free to be strict – the majority of people will thank you for it (although the spammers and affiliate marketers may be upset). Especially as a community grows, you will come across more and more daily spam. Continue to grow your moderation team as your community grows, ask your most active members to join in as moderators, you’ll find they will be very willing to help grow the community they already take part in!
I would suggest adding at least one moderator for every 500 or so members while your community grows. Once your community hits a certain size, there are diminishing returns on spam increases (i.e. from 5,000 to 25,000 you don’t see much of an “increase” in spam relative to the user count), so once you have a team of 10 moderators, I wouldn’t worry too much about actively adding more moderation staff, unless your community size starts to get higher than 25,000. Obviously there is never a limit on the number of moderators, if people are interested and approach you, let them join! The more people moderating posts, the less work for each person to do.
Along with maintaining your moderators, be sure to continue sharing a community link publicly. Do a share of the community link once every two weeks publicly on your own personal profile, and post a community link publicly every two weeks on your Community Page as well, but alternate the week you send it out with that of your personal profile. This will expand your reach over a longer period of time, without annoying your contacts on either profile. Remember to post politely, and using the Six Keys to Google+ Etiquette, come up with your post. Not sure what to say? Copy your community description and put that in the post! Being descriptive will help ensure that your community and these public posts come up in search regularly.
Another optional pro-tip is to create a shortened version of your community URL for easy sharing. Those URLs that Google+ assigns to a community are horrendous, and impossible to remember. You can use a shortening service like bit.ly, or a customized URL that you purchase specifically for this (we have www.socialmediastrategy.info for our community). You could even use an existing URL to point to your community: www.website.com/community.
Don’t forget to use CircleCount to keep track of your community. Like was mentioned in the Community Page section above, you can use CircleCount to track posts and engagement in your community. This will enable you to sort posts by popularity, discover and analyze the most active users and sharers in the community, see what your average post engagement is and even find out your most active days and times. This enables you to cater the community better to the users, as well as see what works and what doesn’t. You can use this information to put together and share circles of the most active members as well as post weekly or monthly post round-ups (similar to our “The Week In Science” posts) from your Community Page. Be sure to re-share posts like that on your personal profile, as well as using relevant hashtags to help expand the reach of the posts!
Derived, compiled, written using several sources, including:
• Moderation Guidelines for Online Communities from +Paul Maplesden
• User Guide to Google+ Communities from +Martin Shervington
• Official Google+ documentation
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below, and I can always add it in afterwards! I plan to keep these guides updated so long as they keep updating communities!
Google+ Community Owner Guide by Andrew Harasewych