Google+ came on the scene in 2011 and many people questioned the need for another social network that was so similar to Facebook and Twitter. However, people started using it anyway and since its start, the site has grown by leaps and bounds, boasting 235 million users.
Setting Up An Account
Setting up a Google+ account is really easy, especially if you already have a Gmail account. In fact, if you already have a Gmail account, you’re automatically in Google+. You just have to set up a profile and start using the network. But let’s assume that your e-mail is not through Google and you need to set up an account – it’s still pretty straightforward.
1. Visit plus.google.com and select Create an Account. Enter some basic information about yourself, add a photo and presto, you’ve got a Google+ account.
2. Once you’ve filled out the basics, you’ll be redirected to your new Gmail account, where you can start adding friends, family and business contacts to your circles.
The first time you access your account after setting it up, you’ll be asked to add people you know, as well as make suggestions for people to follow, all based on the information you provided. These contacts get added to circles and you can have circles for different things. The key to Google+, and the thing that makes it stand apart from Facebook and Twitter, is that you can share content with specific circles. For example, you can just share photos from your vacation with family, rather than bombarding everyone on your contact list with photos from your Mexican cruise.
Similar to Twitter, on Google+, you can see publicly published content from people you are following. There are four default circles you can add people and brands to: Family, Friends, Acquaintances and Following. If you want to add someone to a new circle, there’s options to create other circles, depending on your needs. For example, if I were more active on Google+ and wanted to follow authors, but only allow them to see specific content, I could create a circle called Authors and only allow them to see writing related content I publish.
People are notified when they’re added to a circle, but not the name of the circle or who the other members of that circle are.
Once you’ve added people to circles, Google will ask for a little more information. You can fill out as much or as little information as you choose. You can also edit the visibility of specific information, allowing only certain people (or nobody at all) to see that information. Google+, similar to Facebook, allows you to have a profile photo and a cover photo. A profile is limited to 250 pixels by 250 pixels, while a cover photo can be 2120 pixels by 1192 pixels.
Navigating the Stream
The Google+ home screen has a variety of photos, posts and products for you to look at. It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but be patient and take your time exploring the site. There’s a lot to learn, but you don’t have to learn it all in one day.
On the left side of the platform are 10 options, including Hangouts on Air, Events, Profile and more, but we’ll talk more about some of those things later on. On the right side of the platform is Hangouts, which show the individuals and brands in the various circles you’ve created. This is where you can text and video chat with the individuals in those circles. In the center of the platform, you’ll see posts from the individuals and brands in your circles, as well as posts Google believes are most popular and might be of interest to you. You can filter these posts by navigating through your circles.
As with Facebook and Twitter, you can like, comment on and share posts. On Google+, this is called +1ing. Giving something +1 is the same as liking a post. Each post also has a drop down menu of options, including embedding a post, checking the stats of a post, linking to the post and more.
Once you’ve learned how to interact with a post, you’re ready to make posts of your own, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
Posting to Google+
Besides being easy to do, the beauty of using Google+ as a social media platform is that you can determine who you share your posts with. You can share them with an entire circle, a few people or just one person. You can also make posts public, so that even people outside of your circles can see what you’re sharing.
Similar to Facebook, you can tag people and/or brands in a post, but beware of how you’re sharing the post. You can share with the person, the brand, the circle, or you can share it publicly. Tagging people and/or brands in a post also acts as a sort of private message to the person or brand you’re tagging. It guarantees they will get a notification they were mentioned and will be more likely to see the post.
Communities: Hangouts & Events
Launched in 2012, Communities are the forums or groups of Google+. Within them, you will find people and brands with similar interests, eager to connect with folks who enjoy the same things they do. Find the communities you’re interested in and send a request to join.
Sharing content with a community is just like sharing content with your circles. It’s public information and anyone in the community can see it and share it. If the community is public, the content will also be shared to your personal page, so your circles can see it and share it. On the flip side, there are private communities, too. You have to be approved to join and anything shared is private, visible only to members of that particular community. If you wish to share it publicly, you’ll have to do on your own.
There are three types of Google+ Hangouts: the text chat version, which is essentially messaging back and forth with an individual; private Hangouts; and Hangouts on Air.
With a Hangout, an individual or company can host a group of up to 10 accounts. These are private hangouts and are only viewable to those invited. Hangouts can be initiated in two ways: from the Hangout box on the right side of the platform or from an individual profile page.
Hangouts on Air are very similar to Hangouts, except that they are public (hence the On Air part). They can be viewed by others and are archived as YouTube videos for future reference. You can start a Hangout on Air from the left side of the Google+ platform, but your Google+ account must be connected to a YouTube account in order to move forward.
Hangouts on Air allow for up to 10 users, including yourself. Here are a few tips to make a Hangout on Air a little easier to handle:
1. Host a Hangout on Air in a place with a good Internet connection.
2. Have headphones in case there is feedback on your end.
3. Host the Hangout in a room with good lighting.
If you can’t achieve all of these things, that’s okay. It’s still possible to host a good Hangout on Air. There’s also an audio-only option in case you don’t have enough bandwidth to use video.
Google+ Events is mainly geared toward individuals and brands who want to promote a product or company. Everything is fully integrated with Google Calendar so that when you invite folks to an event, it will automatically be added to their calendar.
Events can be found on the left side of the platform. Just click “Create Event” to get started and follow the steps to create your event. As with most other facets of Google+, events can be public or private.
“What’s Hot” is a standout of Google+ as a social network and can be found on the left side of the platform. This section shows posts, topics and Hangouts that are trending at any given time. This section also shows you suggestions for Communities you may be interested in.
Hashtags are very popular on Google+ and they use them liberally in all things. The biggest thing about using hashtags is that they can improve the discoverability of your posts, which is important, but Google+ goes above and beyond that by suggesting related hashtags that will help further increase the visibility of your post.