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One of the greatest foundational features of Google+ was and always will be circles. This fundamental shift in approaching your online connections makes Google+ a powerful networking tool that can help you grow your audience and discover highly valuable connections.

I want to give you a firm foundation to help you understand and manage your Google+ circles. In this post I’ll go over the basics and share how I manage circles effectively.

Most people don’t understand the power in well-managed circles. This was evident when many freaked out over the new +1 feature. Anyone who was worried about their Home stream being cluttered was probably not effectively using circles to their full potential. So lets start by going over the basics of circles.

What Are Circles?

In everyday life we have different circles that we are a part of. Circles of friends, colleagues, neighbors, church members, etc.. These connections don’t always overlap. So instead of lumping all of these people into one category (such as “Friends” or “Following”), Google+ allows you to organize them into different lists called circles.

Our social networks have always been a place where we share our lives in a way that may not be relevant to all of those that are connected to us. So with circles, Google makes it easy to only share the right things with the right people. This makes context and privacy simple and effective.

Every time you write a post on Google+ you have the option to post it publicly or only share it with circles (or communities) of your choice. That way, you can, for instance, freely post pictures of your trip to Disneyland (from when you called in sick to work) to only your friends and not your colleagues circle (which may include your boss).

So what circles boil down to is essentially contextualized relationships and privacy control.

You can create as many circles as you like and name them whatever you want. It’s also good to know that the people in those circles never know the names of the circle(s) you put them in.

Circle Management

Once you understand circles, it’s essential that you be intentional about managing them. Here’s a few tips on managing your circles well:

1. Not too many

Don’t be too specific so as to create more circles than you want to manage. For instance a “Family” circle may suffice as opposed to creating a “Immediate family”, “Aunts/Uncles”, “Grandmas/Grandpas”, “Cousins”, “Cousins I actually Like”, “Relatives that Never Spell my Name Right”, etc..

Have just enough circles to keep your relationships contextual. That’s all. Once you’ve mastered that, then you can move on to more specific circles.

2. Create notification circles

There are certain people who’s posts you never want to miss. Your significant other, your kids, influencers, celebrities, or that special someone whom you’ve been stalking for the past 6 months.

Google+ allows you to set the “volume” of each circle. This is the amount of posts from that circle that will show up in your Home stream.

You can choose to see more or less posts from each circle and you can also choose to subscribe to or turn notifications on for certain circles. This means that any time someone in that circles posts something, you will get a notification. Use this sparingly and only for those people you really want to hear from.

subscribe circle

[Hint: this is great for following influencers whom you want to connect with.]

3. Arrange your circles by priority

Through your circles page on Google+ you can drag and drop your circles in whatever order you want them to be in. Arrange them by the priority in which you want to hear from them. This will make it easy when you’re browsing through your streams.

From your Home page you are automatically shown the stream of all posts from those you have circled. You will then see your first four circles listed in the top navigation bar and then a “More” option that drops down a menu with the rest of your circles. When you click on a tab you will only see posts from people who are in those specific circles, filtering our everything else.

This is the most efficient way of reading social media updates. Period. It makes reading the general stream (or social streams on other networks) seem like a complete waste of time IMHO.

Share your circles

my circles

Google+ also has a fantastic feature that allows you to share your circles. Doing this allows whomever you share with to easily add all the people included into their own circles. This is like jet fuel for social networking. But at the same time, this feature can be abused. Here’s my recommendations:

1. Share specific circles

Curate circles that are specific. For instance a “colleagues” circle would be great to share with other colleagues so that everyone can easily add each other. Or if you have a circle of Coffee Addicts who you’d like to connect with other coffee addicts.

The more specific you are with shared circles, the more beneficial they will be to everyone who is looking to add people.

Another idea you’re welcome to steal is what I do every Monday. I personally curate a circle of people who have thoughtfully engaged with me over the previous week. In other words, I share a circle with all the people who have intelligently commented on one or more of my Google+ posts from the week before.

Why do I do this? Because one thing people need when they first get started on Google+ is connect with people who are actively engaged. To obliterate the ghost-town rumor, I want to connect new people with highly active people that are thoughtfully engaging in conversations.

2. 500 limit

Shared circles have a limit of 500 people. If you have any more than 500 people in a circle you’re trying to share, people will be left out. So try to curate circles of less than 500.

Personally, I try to keep my circle shares far under the 500 limit because it leaves room for people to add more to it, once they have added the circle.

3. Resist the temptation of a circle chain (aka #CircleJerk)

There are a bunch of well (or not so well) intentioned people creating what I call “circle chains”. Here’s what it looks like– they share a circle with something like this in the message:

“If you want to be added to this circle all you have to do is:

  • add this circle
  • +1 this post
  • publicly share this circle
  • leave a comment below

If you do all this I will add you to the magical circle the next time I share it and you will gain obscure amounts of followers!!!!”

Essentially, these people are only looking for one thing– promote me several different ways, and once you do that I’ll try to promote you!

This is the digital equivalent to chain mail. It’s like the pyramid scheme of Google+. Don’t waste your time. These circles add zero value, because they’re not out there to grow relationships. These circle shares are solely to fluff following numbers.

They don’t work. The people adding/sharing them will dump you a week later to make room for the next round.

If you’ve participated in, or create these types of circles let me just say I’ve done it too. And let me then say– stop it.

Okay, I’m finished with my circle chain rant. I feel better now.

Conclusion

The world of circles can make connecting with your network more efficient and keep context and privacy simple and effective. We could dive in deeper (and maybe we will at a later time), but until then, do you have any questions about Google+ circles? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Comments

  1. says

    Great explanation of circles Dustin. I think a lot of people still have trouble understanding that circles are who they follow not the other way around. I would be interested on your insight into how to effectively use your circles to promote your interests. I typically share just about everything public, unless I go into a specific community to share a niche related article.

  2. says

    Thanks Dustin, this helps! I did not know about a few of the things you covered. I have been seeing a few of those circle chains lately, they seemed a bit fishy. Thanks again.

  3. says

    Hey Dustin,

    Yet another great post from dustin.tv

    Have you seen this line of thought from +mike Elgan?

    If you address it to “Public,” it’s a blog post.
    If you address it to “Your Circles” it’s a tweet.
    If you address it to your “My Customers” Circle it’s a business newsletter.
    If you address it to a single person, it can be a letter to your mother.

    I thought this was a great way to get your brain around using circles more effectively. Couple this line of thinking to your strategy for circle management and you’ve got a very effective way to use circles.

  4. Owen Wylde says

    I blocked strangers with whom I have no common interests, but who added me to their circles. How can I make sure that people can only add me if I allow it?
    Being in someone’s circles may imply a connection that does not exist.

  5. says

    I have to admit – I have pretty much treated Google+ like a ghost town. I’m on there. I’ll add people who add me (most of the time). I’ll put links to my blog up there, but that’s about it. Part of it is because of time (I have too much on my plate to maintain another social media account) and partly because I haven’t fully understood the benefits of Google+.

    I’d be interested to know the list of Circles you have on your account. I have a few that I started when I got onto Google+, but haven’t really curated anything.

  6. John Dorner says

    Jason, you might want to watch Martin Servington’s “7 tips for magnificent Google+ circle management” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7vxTKvi3e0

    I’ve adopted his idea of having the volume on most of my circles turned off, then put individuals into one of four circles “Show More”, “Show Standard”, “Show Fewer” and “Notify” to control that individual’s incoming volume.

    My circles are more for limiting outgoing information to those who may be interested.

  7. Neil Ferree says

    I agree with 99% of your Circle Mgmt views except, I find it useful to get a bit more specific in my Circle naming convention so that I can filter the stream. I use the Temp Circle to add new Plussers along with a 2nd the Topic Circle. I like to see how long and how many interactions is required to get a noted thought leader to Circle me back?

  8. says

    Thanks Dustin, I appreciate that you that you got to the circle rant. I had my suspicions when I first encountered a chained circle, but I opted in anyway and there wasn’t any value. What’s worse was that when you try to engage the author of the circle, and the people in the circle, they just never responded. Not even a +1, dito. That’s my pet peeve, I’m on Google+ to engage with real people and network. If I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall, I’ll uncircle, and I think that’s what most people do.

  9. says

    Thanks Dustin, I appreciate that you that you got to the circle rant. I had my suspicions when I first encountered a chained circle, but I opted in anyway and there wasn’t any value. What’s worse was that when you try to engage the author of the circle, and the people in the circle, they just never responded. Not even a +1. That’s my pet peeve, I’m on Google+ to engage with real people and network. If I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall, I’ll uncircle, and I think that’s what most people do.

  10. says

    Thanks so much Dustin!
    Although I’ve been using google plus for about a year now, I’m only just now starting to realize some of the potential.
    I didnt realize all you could do with circles.
    Thank you!
    I look forward to more in depth posts in the future.
    Samantha

    • Jack Bobeck says

      Debi,

      That is a great question! Why would Google allow us to add the same person to multiple circles? If we have the volume on different levels for different circles, why have multiple circles for the same person?

      Jack

  11. Roxanne Davenport says

    Thank you for talking about the way people are wanting to add themselves to circles. I thought I might have been doing something wrong not wanting to do that. I feel bad not wanting to add everyone that I was put in a circle with. Is that bad?

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