Today, Google Plus is filled to the rim with communities that encompass virtually every idea you could possibly imagine, but one thing the majority of them share in common is the fact that most fail to ever take off to begin with, and not without cause. Creating a community on Google Plus is one thing, but actually growing them, building a dedicated audience for them, and managing them is no simple task. While there’s a million guides that show you how to create a community, here I’m going to show you how to actually grow one that’s successful, engaging, has a real audience, and drives monster traffic back to your website!
Meet Coffee Connoisseur!
This is our newest community, and will serve as a prime example of the methods I plan to explain. The community is brand new, and is just a couple of weeks old at the time of this writing and it now has 265 engaging community members. Yes, it has a brand page with 170 followers as well, which you will soon see actually plays a pivotal part in the long term success of the community itself.
Community Creation: (You can skip this part if needed)
Start with creating your branded page, which you can do from the left hand navigation menu by selecting “Pages”, then “Create Page.” Once you get your page setup with a logo and banner, then with your page select Communities from the left hand navigation menu and select “Create Community”, the link will appear at the top right of the page. By creating a community with your branded page, the page now becomes the owner of the community, and people will see a “created by” statement as they enter your new community that displays your page’s name, profile photo, and a link for users to click thru and check out more.
The recommended minimum graphic size for page cover photos is 480x270px (1080x608px recommended, and 2120x1192 max).
Community photo’s fit nicely at 200x250px, and page profile graphics at 250x250px.
Community and Brand Page Integration:
While you may be asking why the community needs a branded page, what many don’t take into consideration here is how they plan to keep their audiences attention on a social network that’s already diluted to the core with content and messages galore. There are thousands of communities on the network already, and the average Google Plus user’s home stream is filled to the rim with so many posts it would be impossible to engage with them all. How do you plan to get their attention and keep it?
One of the biggest causes of community failure and low levels of engagement has to do with the fact that not all your members are going to visit your community on a daily basis. In fact, over time many may forget about it altogether as their attention refocusses to other content in the social space.
This is where that branded page comes into play. In order to keep users in tune with what’s going on with your community, don’t wait for them to come to you, but instead go to them by sharing relevant content each day from your community back to PUBLIC with your page. The key here is to be consistent and share 7 days a week if you can. Then when others reshare your content their followers will see not only the link back to your community in the shared post, but also a link to the original poster, giving you a lot of exposure.
Don’t just share either, but make posts both to PUBLIC and to your community every day you can. For the days when you’re really busy, just reshare posts, this way at least something is going out to your followers. The more activity you have engaging with others as your branded page, the better! More exposure means more followers and more members.
By the way, it’s not odd for community members to follow your page. That being said, expect over time for a majority of your followers to be actual community members, so sharing to PUBLIC with your page means you are effectively keeping those members in tune with what’s going on in the community at present, as well as diverting their attention since they are now reminded you exist.
After you’ve chosen your topic of interest now you need an enticing set of logos for both your community and brand page, as well as a name that draws attention. Keep it simple, and don’t make really long names, or use keywords that don’t accurately describe exactly what it is that your community is about. As far as the branded logos go, unless you’re a graphic designer, then you will probably need to buy some logos. I often purchase graphics from fotolia.com for everything from my latest blog post, to my next community logo, they are cheap from fotolia and you get high quality graphics.
If you really want to stand apart, then put in some muscle and learn to create graphics yourself with photoshop, paint.net, etc. For instance, a lot of the graphics used for this site and our communities are original to them only and were custom created by community members, and others. The idea here is to set yourself apart, while grabbing users attention. Original graphics can go a long way.
Growing Your Community:
Alright, this is where things get tricky. Just throwing up a logo and creating a new community won’t get anyone to it. You have to find a way to get people to not only take notice of it initially, but find a real interest in it. What you do here is, invite people, a lot of people! Take a look at your circles and decide which ones are the most relevant to your new community and invite them, all of them!
Each and every community have both invite and share buttons in their about sections.
Sometimes I create a new community and am not sure if I have any circles that are relevant to it. In this case, even if you can’t find relevant users, invite those in your circles anyway. Again, you have to get people there initially, as they’re unlikely to flock there on their own. While some users may not be the most targeted users, it’s better than nothing.
At present Google allows you to invite up to 500 people from your circles at any given time, but don’t over-do it, as you don’t want to piss Google off! If you have 3,000 people you can send invites too, break it up into chunks of a few hundred a day, giving people time to gradually start flowing into your community. As not everyone is on Google+ all the time, don’t be surprised if people you invited happen to join a month or two from now. Just the way it goes.
As for the page, it’s brand new as well, and it has a serious problem, it has no followers. Remember, there’s no hoping and waiting, you have to take action, or the project is dead! That being said, it’s time to start following new people, engaging with those in other communities, and putting your page to work. I recommend targeting other communities and pages that are relevant to your community, and connecting with and engaging with those people directly. In our case, Starbucks page was the most relevant, so we followed and connected with people there.
While you’re at it, don’t be shy and add some people with your newly branded page. Scour the network and find those who would be the most relevant and likely the best fit for your community and add them to your page’s circles, even if you don’t know them or have never talked to them before. While this might seem a little over the top, thousands of people added me on Google+, in which a majority of them I have never actually interacted with before. People don’t necessarily follow someone because they know them, they follow them because they take interest in them or something they do for some reason. After all, that page needs followers. Otherwise you’re sharing posts with thin air!
If you find 20 people who are relevant, add them. If you find 400 people who are relevant, add them as well. While not all of them will follow you back, many will, and some will likely become dedicated fans of your brand, and not just your page or community. In the case of the new Coffee Connoisseur page, I followed several hundred people over a couple of weeks, all were relevant to my page and community theme, and many have followed back. Those targeted follows have now also turned into engaging members, just another added benefit to adding the right people.
Many people you follow today may end up following you back 8 months from now! This happens. That being said, don’t expect everyone you follow to follow back right away, this takes time, and don’t mass follow people either, take it slow, besides, you want to follow people that are relevant and are likely to have an interest in what you have to offer, and this takes time.
If you think you can go it alone, you better think again. I spent thousands of hours managing brands on social media, many of which I helped create, and if there’s anything I’ve learned from that experience, it’s that you cannot go it alone, otherwise you’re doomed for failure. As you will soon see, it’s best to have a team that works together to run the show, rather than one person who makes all the decisions.
When it comes to people entering a community for the first time, that first impression really counts. If your community is full of trolls, boring content, and moderators are missing in action, you’ve got a serious problem on your hands, as no one is going to stick around.
Another thing you need to understand is that, community owners and moderators are 9/10 of their communities! Yes, you heard that right, you are essentially your community, and it’s up to you to make it what it is, and what you plan for it to become. Do you have a content strategy in place, moderators who understand your subject matter well, and are you getting involved yourself?
While you don’t necessarily need an entire team of mod’s working around the clock at the launch of your new community, you should get at least a couple in place, so as to avoid the issues I pointed out above. One bad experience means another lost community member.
One really good trick here is to keep on the lookout for new members that are knowledgeable and have a real interest in your community’s subject matter. These are the people you want moderating and helping to manage your community and brand page. Often the right people will just show up in your community over time, and it’s just a matter of reaching out to them for help.
If your moderators don’t fully understand your community’s subject matter, then what value do they offer for community members? When we bring on new mod’s, we look for signals of value such as, their expertise in the subject itself, do they own a blog and can they post original content that is unique to your community, are they actively engaging with the community, and what other qualities do they poses that could add value?
As communities grow, they naturally become more difficult to manage, and unexpected problems will often arise at the most inopportune times, in which quick action is needed to remedy a situation. That being said, you need to put trust in your moderators hands, and give them the power they need to get the job done, with or without you! In the case of our gaming communities and pages, one of our moderators is hardly a mod at all, but rather an administrator who can take executive action and make changes to anything, anytime, with or without our consent. It’s a matter of trust, and it’s just one of those things you need in order to make an organization function, much less a single community or brand page.
Also, don’t put all the decision making processes solely in your hands. Our moderators come up with clever ideas all the time, and often changes to our communities are made based on the decisions of an entire team, rather than just one person. Moderators are a community’s most valuable asset. You really should take them seriously.
Keep Traffic Flowing:
Think smart, not hard! You don’t need a paid advertising campaign to grow a community on Google Plus, but you do need to take advantage of what resources you have at your disposal. Don’t just share community posts with your brand page, share with your own profile as well. If your profile has a lot of followers, then it’s likely your new community is going to grow much faster.
One thing we do to drive traffic to our communities is to create custom graphics to market our social properties with. Our Google Plus communities are marketed across many other social networks like Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook, among notable others. When we make posts on those networks, we include branded logos and graphic banners that are symbolic of our brands.
At times, community engagement will fall flat on its face, with people posting, but no one talking. This is one of the biggest complaints from our moderators. My answer, if everything is stalled and no discussions are taking place, then jump start your community’s engagement by commenting on a few posts. It only takes one comment to start a long and engaged discussion that will attract the attention of other community members and keep people coming back for more.
Another way to keep things moving along with your community is to share the community to PUBLIC with both your personal profile and brand page once every month or two, giving your new followers or those who have been offline for a while a heads up that your community exists.
We create graphics that are created purely for marketing purposes and that are representative of our brands. Then we make posts to PUBLIC with them and throw in a link to the community using a URL shortener to keep posts looking clean. You can get a lot of shares this way!
Use Just reTweet! This online social app is used by many bloggers to get their latest blog posts out to a wider audience. The platform works like this, you earn credits by retweeting others posts, in which you use those credits to launch your own posts to be retweeted. Justretweet can get your content out across Twitter quick, fast, and in a hurry! One of the great features of the platform are the fact that, besides extending your reach, you can find awesome content there to curate across your social channels.
So how does Just retweet come into play with communities? It’s simple really. You just tweet out links to your communities using a URL shortener along with short and explanatory descriptions, and others will constantly keep retweeting those links out for you, effectively driving more traffic to your communities. I use just retweet almost every day, sometimes for blog posts, and sometimes to get our communities noticed elsewhere than Google’s network itself.
Believe it or not, links in the about section of communities can drive serious traffic. In the case of our gaming community the very first link in the about section leads to the main online games section of this site, it’s our landing page, and its super important. It also drives traffic to this site from Google Plus each and every day of the year, just to signify its importance.
If you have a website you need to drive traffic too, links in your community’s about section can get you what you need. The problem here is, when people click that link and land on your site, are they going to be compelled by what they see and want to share it? If people are clicking thru and not sharing, then you’ve got a serious problem on your hands.
The real secret to sharing lies in appearance, and including the right graphics strategy on your site can have a huge impact in terms of social visibility. Naturally, if people happen to like what they see, they will just go ahead and share it with their followers. The inability to spur sharing can mean the loss of tens of thousands of shares on social media over time, as well as hundreds of thousands less visitors to your site and social properties!
Just like you want to link your community to your site, you should also create links from your site back to your community, this way you can drive organic visitors to check it out and possibly join. In the case of this site, I write articles about communities giving me the opportunity to bring more visibility to them as people share the posts. I also create graphics that I use as clickable links that lead directly to some communities. And, another method I use is the implementation of Google Badges!
You can create badges for Google+ pages, profiles, communities, and people that can be displayed on your site with a simple piece of embeddable code. To create badges check out Google Developers. With page badges users can +1, add your page to their circles, and they can click thru to your page itself to check out more. They also show users how many +1’s your page has.
Community badges by default show how many members the community has, although the options for badges of all kinds can be changed with the options menu in the developer interface. You will need to be logged into to Google to use these features. Google will provide you with a drop down menu on their developer page where you can select the Google+ property of your choice. If what you’re looking for isn’t in the list, you can copy and paste the Google+ URL directly into the interface and create a badge this way.
An Example Badge:
Either way it goes, you want to integrate your website with your community and page as much as possible, but don’t over-do it! If people are entering your site and immediately being driven elsewhere, then your time on site metrics will plummet and so will your rank. The point here, you want people to enter your site, share its content, and stay for a while, then leave only to enter your community. Integration is a grand thing when it comes to driving traffic.
In order to keep your community inline, create a set of guidelines and create a link to them from your community’s about section. While we haven’t yet posted our guidelines for Coffee Connoisseur, they’re in the process of being developed now, and they are a seriously important aspect of your community. You don’t want a community where people are entering and making posts with no descriptions, to irrelevant content, or members who harass other members.
Today, all of our communities except for two that are brand new have a link to the guidelines directly from their about sections. Another thing you can do to help push people to read those guidelines is to make a call to action warning them they’re a necessary must! Since the link to your guidelines will be posted below your community’s initial opening statement, throw in a statement towards the top that states, “Please Read the Community Guidelines before Posting.” While a lot of people will ignore the guidelines until a moderator scalds them first, this does help to push members to read those rules and take heed to them. It also makes them a lot more cautious about breaking the rules.
In the end, building communities is no walk in the park, but the benefits of their creation and growth are enormous. For one, unlike organic search, communities don’t have to rely on algorithms to rank, they build an audience and often retain it, giving strength to brands and providing them with a dedicated audience they can keep. Since the advent of communities, big media is no longer the sole goliath of the internet, as new brands are created and find their start on social networks like Google Plus. It’s the network where ideas become a reality. All you have to do is imagine it, build it, and they will come.