Your Community Sucks and Here’s Why

A Guide to Jump-Starting your Google+ Community

We are now on day six of Google+ Communities and people are starting to learn a number of things very quickly. First and foremost, if you missed the opportunity to be the first to create a unique community surrounding one of your interests, don’t worry. It’s not about being the first, it’s all about being the best.

The first thought that crossed my mind when I heard that Google+ was releasing a communities feature was whether or not there would be a community for people that like to manage communities. It seems meta, I know, but it is very likely that the creators of these communities would like a forum to share their knowledge, tips, tricks and questions, while making a few important connections.

Since creating the Community Moderators community, we have had over 1,100 unique members join. We have had dozens of people’s questions answered, some very interesting feedback expressed towards the betterment of communities, and most importantly, a fellowship of people with like-minded interests.

In my last post, I talked about how Communities could be the answer to your biggest circle management nightmares. That theory only works if you are dealing with successful communities. So how do you make your community a success?

Bring the right people into the conversation.

A community is much like a new house, it is not going to build itself. However, it does require some of the same fundamental features of a house. It needs a good foundation, support beams, and protection from the elements.

Abandoned House near Hooper's Farm to Oast House Archive
Photo: Abandoned House near Hooper’s Farm by Oast House Archive (Used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0)

The foundation of my community is a group of people that share passion for a common interest. Without the foundation, we would have no place to establish our pillars for success. Finding the people the are right for your community is tricky. Of course, you could always spam out to all of your followers and ask them to come and join, but what is in it for them? To attract valuable members to a community, you must show them the value of becoming a member.

For the Community Moderators community, the value was easy to demonstrate, if you come and join us, you will learn from other community moderators, have a chance to ask questions and gain valuable insight towards growing your own community. It sells itself, really. However, for some community topics, it may be harder to market value. Regardless, if you can cast your community in a light that shows value to potential members, you are more likely to attract members that are likely to actively participate in the conversation.

Support the conversation and keep it going.

As a community moderator, you will quickly find that you cannot answer every question and stimulate every conversation. The remarkable thing about having a community, is that the members of your community can work with each other to answer questions, create engaging conversation and exchange valuable content relative to your topic.

Initially, it may be difficult stimulating the level or quality of conversation that you would like to see within your community. Just like in a cold room, people are often shy and do not want to be ridiculed for their opinions. Start with some light conversation. Break the ice with your community. Show them that you all have humility and good will and can learn from each other.

As more people become more comfortable with sharing their thoughts and ideas, the conversation will begin to grow. Before you know it, you may have to call for some help to make sure the conversations are headed in the right direction and that people are familiar with your community and its guidelines.

Protect your community from the elements.

The Internet is like any other place in the world. It has good people, it has bad people and it has some people that just don’t know any better. Your job as a community owner is to ensure that you are moderating your community in a fashion that is not restricting free speech, but keeping out unnecessary commercial solicitations, spam and otherwise annoying contributions.

When you begin to protect your community from spammers, trolls and bullies, keep in mind that you are not InterPOL and your function isn’t to control what every member of your community has to say. Your just to to facilitate the conversation, keep it rich, keep it on topic (if necessary) and keep the evil doers at bay.

When deciding how to moderate (not police) your community, you might want to consider establishing a Code of Conduct or set of Community Guidelines. I have worked with the Google+ community at large to create an open-source set of Community Guidelines that you can find on github. These guidelines are free for you to use, interpret, change or use how you would like. If you would like to contribute to the project, please free to do so.

Keep in mind that your community guidelines should be general, light-hearted but also clear and concise. Your goal is not to create a rule for every possible situation, but to express to the community that certain behaviors such as hate speech, bullying or spam will not be tolerated. Set the tone early and remain consistent and your community will respect your efforts.

Most importantly, as you watch your community grow, remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

How to Better Manage Your Circles in Google+

With the release of Google’s new “Community” feature on Google+, you can take a deep breath and stop trying to sort each and every person you come across into the right interest-based circle. The community function allows you to focus on not only who you are interested in, but what you are interested in. As communities begin to develop and mature and you continue to use them, you might find yourself spending less time managing your circles.

Photo By Leo Reynolds used under Creative Commons 2.0
Photo By Leo Reynolds used under Creative Commons 2.0

Communities take the guesswork out of circles.

Up until this week, you were charged with the task of keeping up with people on Google+ exclusively through circles. If you found someone that was also interested in Technology, you might have added them to your Tech circle, but realized they are also passionate about cats. You hate cats. Communities solves that problem. Sometimes we aren’t as interested in the people we interact with as we are interested in the topic at hand.

Now with communities, you can focus on conversations focused around topics that interest you and not just people that may have said something interesting at one point in time. No longer do you need to blindly create circles centered around topics in fear of “missing” something relevant. With communities, you can rely on quality curation of the content you’re really looking for.

So what should you do with all of those topical circles, or the random circle shares you added? Give them a rest. Go into the individual sliders and pull the volume down to ‘Mute.’ Give it a week or two. Notice a difference? Less noise? I guess you can live without that circle after all…

5,000 People, That’s It?

The notion of being able to “follow” 5,000 people is ridiculous and if you claim to be able to do it with any sort of consistency, then you have super-human powers. In fact, a study with Facebook users found that if you follow too many people, you might become unhappy.

“Among the group who read updates, the study revealed that having 354 Facebook friends seemed to be the tipping point after which people were increasingly less happy with their lives.” – Menshealth.com

When you look at the way you manage circles on Google+, ask yourself “Why did I follow these people?” Maybe you thought that keeping in touch with a group of people could lead to a new job. However, if you were following people just because you thought the picture they posted that one time was interesting, you are probably circling for the wrong reasons.

Today I chatted on the phone with Laurie DesAutels, a talent acquisition expert that specializes in connecting with people based on their skills and talent. “If I’m going to be interacting with 5,000 people in my circle, I’ve got to be kind of picky. I want it to be people that post regularly and people that I want to see in my timeline.”

She went on to say “It’s not all about quantity, it’s about quality.”

Use your circles to connect with the people that you care about.

Keeping your topical correspondence and your personal/business correspondence separate has just become that much easier. Focus less on strangers that only peak your interests 10% of the time and start focusing on the people you care about through your circles and the topics that interest you through communities.

Now that you have a degree of separation between relationships and interests, you should be able to better strengthen and develop your relationships while enjoying more relevant content centered around your topics of interest.

Give it a try, hit the mute button on your random circles and leave the Home stream to people you care about.

What do you think? Are Google+ Communities the best thing since sliced bread, or just another distraction? Will Communities help you turn down the noise and turn up the volume on the things you love?

Reactions to Communities: The playing field is being leveled. (Guest Post)

So on the whole, I think most users are finding that Communities are a very useful and, a few tweaks notwithstanding, well implemented feature. But a few users, particularly those with medium to large followings, have been expressing a lot of doubt and negative feedback, and I have an idea why.

When circles were the only method for connecting, the “playing field’ for engagement and audience was extremely uneven: a brand new user had almost zero chance of their post being seen, even if it was of tremendous quality, while some users with (inexplicably) large followings were posting crap like copypasta from chain emails and having it reach What’s Hot. Contrast this to Reddit, where as +Carter Gibson showed a few days ago, a new user with great content can reach the “Front Page” with their very first post.

Communities change this. Suddenly, a new user can join a Community on their very first day and make a post to an audience of thousands of people. And I have a hunch that if it’s good content, it will be seen and engaged with by a great many of them.

So my theory is this: while much of the negative feedback represents legitimate room for improvement, there’s a not-insignificant portion that is the result of a changing playing field. Users that have come to love being one of the select few who have large audiences are inclined not to like that. Most of these users have nothing to worry about, as their followings came about as the result of posting great content. But I have to believe there are some who have either gamed the system through shared circles or posted repeated crap to build a following, and those audiences are going to leave in a hurry for the increased quality and relevance that Communities will offer.

The great news for everyone else is this: Communities are going to make great content king. They offer everyone an opportunity to post to an interested audience, not just those with big followings. And I think that’s a plus.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://petergmcdermott.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/zachaphoto1.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]I’m fascinated by technology, science, and the things that make us tick. My current long-term pursuit is to major in Computer Science and Neuroscience in order to research brain-computer interface technology, particularly the commercial applications it holds.[/author_info] [/author]