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.
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.
[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
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.
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.