When Google + came on the scene in June 2011, it was the internet giant’s attempt to “compete” with Facebook. To date, Google + has not been able to attract the sheer numbers that have joined Facebook (1.15 billion at last count), currently claiming only 359 million active users.
It has, however, excelled in the area of search engine optimization (SEO) because it is owned by Google. Facebook’s constantly evolving privacy settings have prevented much of its post content from being readily found on Google and other search engines. In essence, Facebook reaches the masses better virally, while Google Plus gets its content indexed and found more quickly in general searches.
The two social media platforms have had an interesting relationship since Google + debuted. At first glance, Google + seemed to be simply a “clunkier” version of Facebook’s streamlined interface. It did offer a handful of features, though, that Facebook hadn’t yet introduced.
One such example was Google + Circles. A circle is a collection of people with whom one wants to connect. While the concept may seem confusing to those who don’t use Google + on a regular basis, the goal is actually to simplify the sharing process.
Much like having separate distribution lists in an email marketing program like Constant Contact, Google + circles allow a user to post certain content that is only visible to specific viewers. Just like in real life, you don’t always want to share everything with everybody. You may want to post photos from a recent birthday party that are only visible to your family, or share a link to a great blog post about industry trends with your work colleagues. You might create a circle about a certain interest, such as Photography. In that case, you would only invite those who were passionate about photography to join.
To tag a certain circle in your latest status update, simply select the appropriate circle from the dropdown box before sharing the post.
Select What to See
These days, almost everyone who uses social media suffers from a degree of information overload. The constant stream of new data, images, statistics, and links to take in everywhere you turn can be overwhelming. A good amount of this material isn’t even pertinent to you, yet you often find yourself sifting through uninteresting information to get to the good stuff.
On Google +, you can choose which circles you see in your newsfeed. This allows you to filter what people are sharing and get notified only when important people in your life make a post. In other words, you can see what your best friend did last night while skipping over what your neighbor ate for breakfast.
Going back to the example of creating a Photography circle, when you are in the mood to read up on how to improve your photography skills, you could pull up this stream to see relevant articles. You would also tag this circle when posting about photography.
Setting Up Circles
When you create a new Google Plus account, it comes with three pre-defined circles: Friends, Family, and Acquaintances. You are then prompted to create your own customized circles. Once you’ve done that, it’s up to you to categorize people. If they are on Google +, you can invite them to join one or more of your circles. At the top of your Google + page there is an option to “Find people”. This allows you to either search for who is already on Google +, find out who is already following you, or view who is currently in your circles.
There’s no limit into how many of your circles your connections can go. You may consider one of your colleagues a friend, so he would go into both your Friends and Co-Workers circles. Conveniently, your followers have no idea which circles you’ve placed them within. It’s simply your own personal or corporate way of arranging followers into definitive categories.
Putting someone in a circle doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll follow you back. It can be a one-way relationship. Google + is similar to Twitter in this way; you can follow people even if they don’t return the favor.
Circles allow you to have multiple levels of privacy when it comes to viewing the “About” tab on your Google + profile or page. People can only see the information you’ve elected to share. For example, you may want to share your address with those in your Friends circle, but not those in your Acquaintances circle. You can also share information with specific individuals rather than with an entire circle.
How Businesses Can Use Google + Circles
While in most cases businesses will want to share their posts with all circles or followers to maximize their reach, they may occasionally wish to post only to specific circles. For example, they may want to reach just existing customers with some posts, or only prospects in other cases. They may have an enticing offer for past customers, or want to share employment information with interested applicants if actively recruiting. Circles will allow them to conduct this kind of target market segmentation.