How to Create a Community on Google+ for Your Hobby
To kick-start a community for your hobby or interest on Google+, you'll need to take the following steps: 1) create a central database for members to sign up; 2) spread the news about this database; 3) maintain the database; 4) recruit members from outside Google+ to your new community; and 5) generate content that will get your community to interact.1) Create a Central Database for Members
The easiest way to create a central database is to make a Google spreadsheet with a Form interface for people to enter their information. The advantage of this method over sites like www.group.as
is that you (as a community) can decide what information you want to collect for your members. This will be different for every community, and I recommend crowdsourcing what fields to put in your spreadsheet before making it - if you change your mind halfway through collecting the information, the first batch of members won't have a chance to input the new information. The two essential fields are full name as it appears on Google+, and Google+ profile link. You'll also probably want a field for "websites" where members can add links to blogs etc., if they have any. To give people the option to fill out only a minimum amount of information, don't make any fields compulsory other than the full name and Google+ profile link fields. You need the name as well as the Google+ profile link - I'll explain why below, under step 3 (Maintenance).
Creating the form is simple - see here for basic information on how to create and then edit it:http://docs.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=87809http://docs.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=141062
Once the form is ready, test it on yourself. Ensure that all the data is being collected accurately and there are no glitches in the form.2) Provide Easy Access to Your Database
Now that you have your form up and running, you'll want to direct as many people as possible to it so they can fill out their details and also use the resulting spreadsheet to connect to members of their community on Google+. Instead of having long, cumbersome Google links for your form and spreadsheet, go to a URL shortener website such as tinyurl.com
and pick a short, snappy keyword. For instance, I used "gplusknittersform" for the form and "gplusknitters" for the database of the knitting community. Then create a short, to-the-point post which includes those two links. Here's the one I posted for the Google+ Knitters Database:https://plus.google.com/u/0/104527616393300959037/posts/EtCvTEafZWC
Make sure you request comments to be disabled when people re-share the post. This is essential for you, as self-appointed community manager, to be able to keep up with requests and issues related to the database. You don't want to have to click through to each person's profile to check if anyone has commented on a re-shared version of your post (to give you an idea, my Knitters Database post has been re-shared over 140 times in less than a week). You will get a lot of requests for modifications, and you need to keep track of them (see next step). Make sure you also link to the original database announcement post in your Google+ Profile, so that when new members of the community add your to their circles (or you add them), they know where to find more members.3) Maintain the Database
I can't stress the importance of this step enough. As manager of the community, it is your responsibility to ensure that the information added to your database is accurate. Your first step is to spend a few minutes every day going through each and every new entry in your database and, at the very least, clicking on the Google+ Profile link to check that it takes you to the right profile. This is where the full name field is indispensable - make very sure that the link takes you to that person's profile. Google+ doesn't make it very easy to locate the correct profile link. You'll be surprised, but often the link will take you to your
profile instead. If the link is incorrect, search for that person's name and try to find the correct link. To keep track of the checking you're doing, highlight the rows you've verified in green and the problematic rows in red so that you know you have to go back to them if you can't find the correct profile link by searching for that person's name (this will happen). While going through the database to check each individual link, you might want to add each new member to your own community circle so that you can keep the community entertained and engaged with interesting content (see step 5, Generating Content).
Finally, make sure your members know that it's you they need to contact to make a change or remove themselves from the database: enable the "Send an Email" button on your Profile and put a note in a visible location on the spreadsheet explaining that you are happy to make corrections and removals, and sign it with your name - don't expect everyone to know who you are.4) Recruit Members from Outside Google+ to Your New Community
You might get a huge surge of new members the first day or two after you post details of your database, but sign-ups will inevitably dwindle once the initial excitement dies down and your announcement post gets buried. To really grow your community, you'll have to reach outside Google+ and talk to people on other forums about why they should come try it out. Be prepared for a variety of reactions, ranging from indifferent to hostile. People will be legitimately concerned about participating in yet another social network. This is where your members come in: have a conversation about why they're enjoying the new community on Google+, and how it's different. Encourage them to post their views on these outside forums. While Google+ is still invitation-only, get current members to volunteer to give out invitations to those interested in joining (thanks to +Kate Forde
for this suggestion) .5) Generate Content that will Get Your Community to Interact
Once your community membership starts to grow, don't just leave it at that. What's the point of a community that doesn't really do anything? The success and sustainability of your community depends on high-quality content and discussions. Try out some regular features for your followers: a "Photo of the Day" related to your hobby, if appropriate; a newsletter/bulletin of some sort summarizing the top news of the day (make sure the content is fresh). Start interesting discussions. This will all take some time and legwork on your part, and some content and topics won't catch people's eye, but don't give up - try new things. At the same time, try to balance new content with posting judiciously, as people might start uncircling you if they feel overwhelmed by your feed. Constantly monitor the quality of your content, so that people who've made the effort to encircle you are rewarded, and new people in the community get to you know your Profile as a good starting-point to engaging with the rest of the community.This guide was written based on my own experiences of creating a community of knitters, which was entirely modeled on the photography community, and the invaluable comments of +Christina Trapolino +Thomas Hawk +Colby Brown +Ryan Estrada and +Alida Brandenburg. +Natalie Villalobos - keeping you in the loop, as promised.