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Google+ Networking: Circles and Communities

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Social networking is all about staying in touch with friends and making new contacts. On Google Plus, you add friends by putting them into your circles. You meet new people by hanging out in Google Plus communities.

In this article, I give you a freelancer's guide to who you should add to your circles, how to meet new people in communities, and how to use communities and circles as a marketing tool.

Let's get started by looking at what circles are.

What Are Google Plus Circles?

A Google Plus circle is a group of friends or contacts. For example, you can have a circle for family members, a circle for business contacts, and a circle for potential clients.

Just like on Twitter, where you can follow anyone, you can add anyone to your circles. By adding them to a circle, you'll see their public updates in your news feed. If they reciprocate, and add you to one of their circles, they'll see your public updates, plus any other updates you choose to share with them.

The main purpose of circles is that you control who gets to see what. If you're posting holiday snaps, and you want only your family to see them, you share it with your family circle. Posting business news that will make your family and friends yawn? Just share it with your business contacts circle.

Circles give Google Plus the edge over other social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. You choose who gets to see your updates. This creates a healthy split between your personal and professional life.

Google Plus has a number of rules around how you can use circles. You can:

  • Create as many circles as you like.
  • Call your circles whatever you like, and it stays your secret. Only you know the names of your circles.
  • Circle a maximum of 5,000 people or businesses.
  • Put each of your contacts into as many circles as you like. You can include the same person in your friends, family and business contacts circles.

Google Plus offers a variety of ways to find people to add to your circles.

If you're anything like me, you'll primarily use Google Plus's suggestions to find your first contacts. These suggestions are based on who's in your GMail address book, and who's in your current network. To access this tool, click "Circles" on the left hand menu, then "Find People". From here, you can drag and drop suggested contacts into your circles, or drop them into the empty circle to create a new circle.

Want to find someone who isn't listed in Google's suggestions, but whose name you know? Type their name into the search bar, click through to their profile, then click "Add to Circles" on the left hand side of their profile picture.

A great hack for finding people with similar interests is to look for those who share the same content as you. This hack works for any public post you share that's also shared by someone else. You'll be shown a map of who else shared the content, and who had the most influence when they shared it. To do this, click the arrow in the top right of any post you've shared publicly, then select "View Ripples".

Another way of finding the ideal people to circle is to look at who the power-players and thought-leaders in your industry have in their circles. While you can't see what their circles are called, you can see the people that matter to them, and many of these will be people that should matter to you, too.

Finally, communities are the perfect place for meeting new people. More on that later.

Lay the Right Foundation

When you add people to your circles, you want as many as possible of them to add you to their circles. That way, you're creating a mutual connection.

Some people, such as your family, will add you back because of who you are. They already know you. But if you're using Google Plus to build a strategic network for your freelance business, you'll also be adding people to your circles who have never met you.

Your profile needs to be up to scratch so they'll be intrigued to get to know you. Your profile is your elevator pitch. Get it right, and you'll be added to more circles. I showed you how to set up your Google Plus profile in a previous article here on FreelanceSwitch.

Once your profile is ready to go, you'll want business contacts you meet in the real world to add you to their Google Plus circles, too. As it stands, Google Plus profiles have long and unwieldy URLs, totally unsuitable for a business card. Google is slowly rolling out better URLs, but in the meantime, you can create your own using the GPlus.to URL shortening service.

GPlus.to allows you to choose your own nickname. If possible, choose a nickname that's the same as your username on other social media accounts. This creates consistent branding across your social media marketing, and makes it easier for potential clients to find you.

Who To Add To Your Circles

You should add to your circles anyone you want to build a long-term connection with, or who you'd like to get to know more. As a guideline, I recommend adding:

  • Your friends and family. These are your core network, and for many people friends and family form the foundation of their freelance business. Many freelancers got an early client from a friend or family member. Your friends and family are also your cheerleaders, and seeing what's going on in their lives is a way of brightening up your freelance day.
  • Other freelancers. No one understands the joys and frustrations of freelancing like other freelancers. Having a network of supportive freelancers is a lot like having co-workers. You can go to them for support and advice, and to ask for creative inspiration when you hit a block. Touch base with the right freelancers, and you can also create a valuable referral network.
  • Potential clients. Whenever you add someone to your circles, they get an email. Adding someone to your circles is a non-intrusive way to say "hi, why not take a look at my services?" If they add you back, they'll get your updates, which will begin to build a relationship, and could end up with them hiring you.
  • Current clients. A circle of your current clients is great for staying in touch. Going away on vacation and want to let all your clients know? Post a Google Plus update to your circle of clients, and select the option to send them all an email about your update. You can also post updates of your latest work or news in your niche to remind them of your expertise, and to stay on the top of their mind when they're hiring for future projects.
  • Thought leaders. Circling the thought leaders in your niche or industry allows you to stay up to date with the latest news and ideas. Even better if they circle you back, and you become someone they trust, so they send work or recommendations your way.
  • News outlets. Just like circling thought leaders, this means you keep up to date. Commenting on news stories can build relationships with new people, too.
  • Interesting people. It's a good idea to circle anyone who sparks your curiosity or ignites your creativity. Creativity is one of the freelancer's most valuable resources, so anything or anyone that gives it a boost is a positive influence.

Google Plus Communities

While in many ways Google Plus is still finding its feet as a social network, Communities are where it already excels. Many communities are hives of discussion, debate and ideas. Find the right communities in your niche, and you'll quickly come across hundreds of people who you can connect with to benefit your freelance business.

They're a great way to meet people and to network. Communities are bit like going to a conference on a specific theme, but they're all year round, 24/7.

The quickest way to find communities to join is to select "Communities" in the left-hand menu. This will bring up a list of active communities, relevant to your business and interests. The more time you spend on Google Plus connecting with people and posting updates, the better it gets at predicting the right communities for you.

You can also search for communities in your niche using the search bar.

When you discover a community you like, click through to visit the community news feed, and click "Join Community" in the top right.

Once you've joined a community, plunge into the discussion!

Now You're Networked Up

Once you've established your circles and joined a few communities, you're ready to start posting updates, joining conversations and networking.

Like everything you do on social media, be useful to others, be interested in others, and always be positive and professional.

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