All About Google+ Communities

Google+ offers two very different kinds of experiences that mimic the way we interact with people in the real world. We, of course, have personal friends and other informal groups of acquaintances we interact with. Circles provide that kind of experience in Google+. Another type of real world experience is provided by clubs, organizations, and other groups that are at least somewhat formalized. The equivalent of those in Google+ are Google+ communities. 

Google+ communities provide a completely different experience than interacting with circles. As with most real-world organizations, you must join a community to participate in it. Some communities allow you to see inside them without joining (more on that below), but you cannot post to a community or add comments to community posts without becoming a member. Part of the beauty of communities, though, is that new members can see all of the history of the community, which makes communities a great way for new Google+ users to start engaging with other people immediately.

Communities are generally organized around specific topics or themes. You can find communities you might be interested in by clicking Communities on the drop-down main menu for Google+. That will take you to a page with the list of communities you are already a member of, a list of communities you might be interested in, and an option to search for communities. Note that you can remove suggested communities that are of no interest to you by moving the cursor over the community icon and clicking the "X" that will appear in the corner of the icon.

Most communities are further divided into categories, which can help you locate posts that are specific interest to you if the overall topic or theme of the community covers more than you want to see. There is also a search bar underneath the community's logo which allows you to perform searches that are restricted to the community itself.

Types of Google+ communities
There are two types of Google+ communities: Public and Private.

Public communities can be viewed by by anyone on the web, even if they do not have a Google+ profile. Non-members can see both the posts and the list of community members for public communities. Google+ members can join some public communities by simply clicking a button at the top. Others have buttons to ask to join because the person who created the community indicated that moderator approval is required for all members. 

Private communities are completely closed to anyone but members. Non-members cannot see posts inside a private community nor can they see the membership lists. The person who set up a community has the option of making the existence of the community itself invisible to non-members. Moderator approval is required to join all private communities. Since everything that goes on within private communities is restricted to the community, it is not even possible to share posts created in private communities, nor is it possible to +mention people who are not members of the community. 

How communities are managed
In addition to regular members, communities have Moderators. Moderators are responsible for managing the communities and managing their content. When you find a good community, you found a community that has good moderators because community moderation takes a tremendous amount of time and effort.

Moderators can remove posts that are inappropriate for the community and ban members who violate the community's rules. As an aside, moderators can see posts and comments within the community that were created by people who blocked them. That is necessary, of course, or malicious people could simply hide what they were doing in communities by blocking the moderators. 

Community rules
Activity in communities is subject to two sets of rules: the Google+ User Content and Conduct Policy (www.google.com/+/policy/content.html‎) and the rules established by the community itself. 

All Google+ users should become familiar with Google+ User Content and Conduct Policy because the rules there apply to everything we do on Google+, whether it is in a community or not. The most important thing to remember about the Policy rules with respect to communities is that communities cannot give license to violate Google's rules. For example, rule #9 says "Do not distribute content that contains nudity, graphic sex acts, or sexually explicit material. Do not drive traffic to commercial pornography sites." That means pornography is not allowed in any communities. It does not matter whether the communities are public or private.

It is extremely important to become familiar with the rules for a community, which can normally be found on the community's About this community card, before becoming active in a community. The rules can vary widely between communities. Failure to comply with a community's rules can result in your being banned from it, sometimes for just a single offense. That decision is totally at the discretion of the community's owner and moderators. Google does not get involved in any way and cannot help you get reinstated in a community from which you have been banned.

As I said, community rules vary widely, but the following are behaviors that are frequently--but not always--prohibited:

* Creating off-topic posts:  Communities generally have specific themes. Creating posts that do not fall within those themes is a form of spamming. Not only can you get banned from communities for creating off-topic posts, but doing that frequently can result in Google treating you as a spammer. In serious cases, you could lose your Google+ account for spamming communities.

* Promoting other communities: Very few communities allow you to promote other communities. Many do, however, allow you to add a comment referring the person who created a post to another community that might be a better place to get an answer--but only if the other community is not on the same topic. For example, it would generally be acceptable to refer a person in a community for authors to the Google+ Discuss community for help with Google+ issues but not acceptable to refer them to another community on writing unless the subject of the question was outside the scope of the original community.

* Self-promotion: Many communities do not allow you to create posts that simply "sell" your blog, your business, your Google+ Page, or the like--but some do. In fact, some communities specifically allow that and a few encourage it. Providing a link to your blog or website is frequently considered a form of self-promotion.

* Link-dropping: Posts that have nothing more than a URL are relatively unpopular with readers anyway but are strictly forbidden in many communities. It is always a good idea to write original content in community posts giving information about what can be found at the other end of the link. The most effective posts generally give readers a significant amount of information of value in the posts themselves and include relevant links for those wanting more details. Note that simply saying "Interesting information" or something along those lines is generally viewed as being equivalent to posting only a link.

* Creating posts in the wrong categories: As previously mentioned, most communities are subdivided into categories. It is extremely important to assign your posts to the right category. Moderators can override your selection, but you should never waste moderator's time by posting to the wrong category. In some cases, doing so (especially repeatedly) can get you banned from communities. Note also that creating the same post in multiple categories in a community is almost always treated as spamming.

Why you can't share a post with multiple communities or communities and circles
Communities are intended to be limited. Posts to private communities can only be seen by community members. Posts to public communities can be seen by anyone but only members of the community can comment on them. If you could cross-post to a community and people outside that community (which would happen implicitly if you could share a post with multiple communities), it would break the integrity of the community because people outside the community could see and comment on the posts. There have to be separate posts to maintain that integrity and, in the case of private communities, to protect the privacy of the community members.

For more of my tips like this about Google+, check: #jmstipsGooglePlus  

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