Well, they’re here! Google+ has added communities, which are kind of like forums in every way that matters. But these are forums that really work with the Google+ environment, and after a solid day of being far more drawn into them than I ever expected I would be, I have to say they really change the Google+ game, and for the better.
Note: Google has been pushing out a lot of minor tweaks and adjustments to Communities, and I’ve seen some changes happen just during the time I’ve been writing this article. Be advised that by the time this hits the site, it is possible some information will already be out of date.
When you start out with communities, you don’t belong to any. At this point or any future point, you may want to find some to take part in. You do that from the main Communities page. Note the green Communities icon down the left-hand side; if you don’t see it yet, check under the More icon to see if it’s hidden.
It will show you a selection of communities that already exist, which appear to be randomly chosen. You can search for communities, and you have the option to create a new community.
In order to get anything out of Communities, you’re going to have to join at least one of them. To do that requires one of several things; if the community is open, you can visit the community page and simply click the Join Community button.
If it’s a private community, you can click the Ask to Join button, and the community owner will then be able to approve or deny your request.
Private communities are shown with a lock icon.
You may also receive an invitation to join a community, in which case you can ignore, accept or deny the invitation.
An important note about joining Communities!
If you use the Chrome extension “G+ Extend” to eliminate excess white space from Google+, I have some bad news for you. It can cause your Google+ Communities to look like this.
If you see something like this when you visit a community page, it’s basically impossible to create or join them. If you want to use communities at all, you’ll have to disable G+ Extend until it gets updated to correct the incompatibility.
Communities are pretty straight forward. It’s much like any forum you’ve ever been on. You join, you interact with like-minded people, you get out of it what you put into it.
Inside a community you’ll be able to post under the default topic, or if the community has created any, you can choose a different subtopic, or category.
Posting to Communities
Here’s one of the things I expect people to get a bit confused by with Communities; posting to communities has different rules than the rest of the site.
1) You can’t post to more than one community simultaneously.
2) If you post to people and/or circles, AND you’re outside a community (say you’re on your profile page, for instance,) you can’t also post to a community. You’ll have to do a separate post.
3) When posting from WITHIN a community, you can +mention people even if they’re not members of the community. You can’t +mention a circle, however, only individual people.
4) If you’re in a private community and the person you’re trying to +mention is NOT also a member, you can’t +mention them; it will pop up a notice informing you that you can’t bring them into the conversation. (Sorry, I have no image of that, but I’m sure by now you get the idea.)
I’m sorry if these rules are a lot to get your brain around, but it’s the sort of thing you get adjusted to pretty quickly with practice.
The posting interface is very similar, but when you’re posting in a G+ community, there are sub-categories you can post to instead of using circles and people.
All these extra rules and variants on how G+ usually works work to keep spam to a minimum in most circumstances. I’ll be talking about spam more when we get to creating and managing communities.
Notification spam is a completely separate issue and one that’s easily fixed if you’re getting too many of them.
Every community has a little bell icon underneath the community page’s profile picture. If you’re getting too many notifications from a community, go to the page and use the bell control to turn notifications off.
Even with notifications off, you can tell when there’s activity in a community by visiting the main Communities page. It will show you all the communities you belong to and display a red counter icon showing how much activity has taken place, up to 99. Beyond that, it shows 99+.
Naturally, if there’s activity in a community that is specific to YOU, for instance if someone +mentions you, you’ll get your regular activity notification as you would anywhere else in G+.
Brand Pages and Communities
Brand pages can also have communities, and their communities appear on their profile pages.
The brand page will list any and all communities in which the brand is listed as an owner.
There may be some differences in the permissions brand pages have when using communities, but at the time of this writing, I haven’t pinned that information down. If it turns out that they do, I’ll write a follow-up post on the subject.
Creating a community is quite a bit easier than using one. From a technical standpoint, it’s not much more than hitting a button, filling in a few fields, uploading a picture, and creating some categories. Beyond that, it’s mostly an exercise in community management, which is way beyond the scope of this how-to!
The first choice you face when you create a community is Public or Private. If you go public, anyone can join, but you can optionally set it to require moderator approval before they can join.
If you go private, you can allow the community to be searchable—people can find it and request to join. You can also make it private and hidden, so it won’t show up in search listings. If you go this route, keep in mind that people can still find it by directly accessing the URL, so anything that links to the community can allow people to find it, though they still can’t join without an invitation.
After that, it’s largely like creating a Google+ profile page. You choose a profile photo for the community, set the name and optionally the tagline, fill in the About section, and invite people to join in.
One critical piece of information you must keep in mind: once you choose the privacy level of your community, it is forever. You can not make a private community public, nor vice versa.
Once you’ve completed that, you own a community. So who’s in a community?
There are several levels a community member can sit at:
Owners & Moderators
Owners and moderators can move people up and down the chain. Only an owner can demote another owner or promote someone to owner level. Moderators can appoint additional moderators.
Moderators and owners can approve posts that have been held as suspected spam by the system. Until such messages are approved, they won’t be visible to regular members of a community.
Moderators can edit the discussion topics of a community, set the profile photo, and edit the About message.
Choose your moderators wisely! They have real power. That goes double for appointing additional owners to a community you own.
That about wraps it up for now. How has your experience with Google+ communities been so far? Liking them? Hating them? Let us know in the comments!