Y our guide to Google+ Community etiquette
One of the most common complaints lobbed at Google+ is that it’s a “Ghost Town.” As the second most active social network on the web (surpassing Twitter’s 241 million active monthly users), that claim has lost a lot of ground. Even more importantly, anyone who still believes this has clearly never participated in a Google+ Community.
Communities offer a wealth of resources, and – more importantly – allow you to build real connections and trust outside of your own circles. That said, a good Community is also a highly moderated Community. If you’re not playing by the rules, you probably won’t be part of it for very long.
This might seem like a harsh truth at first, but think of it this way: what would a sport be without rules?
Communities are similar; play dirty, and you’ll get benched, or even banned from the sport. Play well – with grace – and you’ll build a passionate following.
If you’re new to Google+ Communities, or you’re looking to improve your experience, consider this article your handbook to proper Google+ Community etiquette.
Read the Community guidelines
I really can’t stress this enough. This should be the first thing you do before you even hover your mouse over that “Join Community” button. Any Community worth its salt has guidelines, and they have them for a reason: to keep the quality and focus of the Community on track. If you skip this, and just post as you see fit, chances are you’ll alienate the moderators, have your posts removed, and maybe even be banned from the Community.
It only takes a minute or two, so find the guidelines and read them before you do anything else. Typically, they’ll be linked in the right hand Community description, or posted in a specific, clearly labeled category.
Focus on just a few Communities
There are a lot of Communities to choose from on Google+, and realistically you only have so much time in the day for social media. Just as a business should select a few social networks to focus on (global brands with major social management resources excluded), you should select just a few Communities to get active in.
For those in the social media and digital marketing industries, my personal recommendation goes to the Social Media Hangout network of Communities. After spending several months in a number of social media communities on Google+ (first lurking, then commenting and occasionally posting), these folks have both the most aggressive moderation, and the best quality of content I’ve come across.
Whatever your industry is, you’ll find yourself faced with similar choices. Try on a few Communities, see what fits, and focus on those. The sharper that focus is, the more time you’ll be able to devote to establishing a quality presence for yourself as a member.
Refrain from posting right away
Unless the Community in question is brand new, realize that you’re the new kid in town when you join. Think of it as joining a homeowner’s association. If you waltzed in on your first day telling everyone how to spruce up the neighborhood, chances are no one would take you seriously – and you probably wouldn’t last as a member for very long, either. Instead, spend some time getting a feel for the sort of things other members post. Interact with other members’ content before you start posting links. Speaking of which…
Provide value when you comment
“Thanks for sharing!”
It’s incredible how many words you can say without actually saying anything. Sure, this can be considered engagement – but it’s also fairly empty engagement. If that’s all you say in response to someone’s post, there’s no indication that you’ve actually read it. For all the poster knows, you didn’t. Still, it’s easy to do, so you’ll see it often.
Want to stand out and become a valued member of the Community? If you like something that someone shared, say why. Add your perspective to the discussion.
It takes more time, sure, but remember: everything you post publicly on Google+ is indexed by Google, and popular Google+ posts are showing up more and more frequently in search results. If you want people to think of you as an individual or brand that has something of value to add, then you need to present yourself in that manner. You can’t just go around peddling empty words – people will recognize that, and question your authenticity.
Don’t just drop links; learn to craft a good post
Posting to a Community isn’t so different from leaving a good comment on someone else’s post – if you’re doing it right. Essentially, you want to add value to the link you’re sharing, and explain why it’s worth the time it takes to read. You can also offer a unique perspective of your own, or generate new discussion surrounding the topic.
For tips on crafting a good Google+ post, Dustin W. Stout has an excellent overview:
It also goes without saying to check your spelling and grammar. We all miss a typo here and there, but if you’re consistently making mistakes in this respect, again, people will question your authenticity.
Post in the correct category
Most Communities have more than one category, and often this serves as a pretty clear spam filter. By default when you post to a Community, you’ll post in the first available category. In many cases, that’s labeled as “Moderators Only,” or “Spam Filter” – and anything posted in these categories will quickly be deleted by moderators. Beyond that, there will often be a number of specific categories. Try and choose the one which suits your post best. For example, if there’s a category for “News” and you’re posting an article about social media tips, posting that in “News” just shows that you don’t care enough about your post to leave it in the right place.
Consider leaving the hashtag behind
When you’re just sharing content to your circles, hashtags are fine (in moderation). But when you’re posting to a Community, consider omitting hashtags altogether. Some might disagree with me here, but this is the way I see it:
In a Community, you should be trying to engage with the other members. Chucking several hashtags into your post dilutes that goal, and gives the impression that you don’t really care where you’re posting as long as you can get a lot of views on your post. Leaving the hashtag behind shows that you’ve come to that Community specifically to engage with its members.
Don’t post duplicate content
This one’s a twofer. First, when you’re considering posting a link in a Community, scroll down a bit and check to see if someone has posted the same item recently. Obviously you won’t be able to tell if an old link was posted months (or even years) ago, but it only takes a moment to check recent postings, and avoid a duplicate.
Second, most Communities don’t want you posting the same link a number of different Communities at the same time; that’s known as crossposting. It’s lazy, and it shows you’re only in the game to promote your own content or page.
That’s not to say you can’t ever (tactfully) share the same content in multiple Communities. However, if your profile shows the same exact link with the same exact accompanying text – posted to several similar Communities at the same time – chances are a moderator will note that and remove your post from their Community.
Promote yourself rarely
By now, you’ve probably heard of the 80/20 rule for professionals in social media. It means that 80% of your interaction on social media should be – well – social, while 20% promotes your business or brand. In practice, this means sharing articles that aren’t your own to Communities more often than articles that can be attributed to you, or an affiliated company.
This is a good rule of thumb, but you don’t necessarily need to enumerate your shares and say, “Okay, I posted one of my articles, now I need to find four other articles by other people before I post one of mine again” – that’s mechanical, and the point of social media (even when interacting as a brand) is to act like a human. Use common sense when it comes to self-promotion; if it feels like spam, it probably is.
Although this is specifically in regard to sharing in Communities, you can also apply this to what you share with your circles. If all you ever post on your page is self-promotion, how long do you think the people that have added you to their circles will follow you?
Yes, social media marketing is about marketing – but it’s also about being social. And that means not trying to sell everyone on yourself or your products/services every moment.
If you post as a brand, be genuine
We’re living in an era where social media is essential for brands, and Google+ has become recognized as one of the most valuable platforms for a business to be active on. Recognizing that, one of the most common asked questions is this:
Do I interact on behalf of my business as my own personal page, or as the business page itself?
Ideally, you’d do both. However, if you don’t have a large social media team, and you’re running your business’s social media on your own, you’re going to find that your time is well spent posting as your brand page. This can be tricky, but if done right, it can be incredibly beneficial.
One of the most important aspects of a social media presence is trust, and that’s won by humans, not by faceless brands.
If you’re posting to a Community as a brand page, try using “I” when you speak. Also consider occasionally tagging your own personal Google+ page so people understand that they’re speaking with a person behind that company, not just the mouthpiece of a brand.
When you participate in a discussion as a human being behind that logo, you take steps toward humanizing your brand.
Conclusions about Google+ Community etiquette:
Read the rules. Bring your A-game whether you’re posting or commenting. Act like a human (even if you’re posting as a brand). Don’t try to sell everyone’s face off every five seconds.
These points might all sound like common sense, but a lot of people still get them wrong.
In the end, understand that a Community on Google+ is a lot like any local community in real life; you get back what you put in. Show up to push your spam, and the only thing you’ll receive in return is a ban.
Put in your best, and you’ll find a valuable experience ahead of you, populated with real connections, a wealth of information, and the crown jewel itself: trust.