A PR Pro’s Guide to Google+ Communities

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Google launched communities in early December. Essentially, these communities allow users to set up a place on Google+ that isn’t a profile or business page, rather a place dedicated for discussions around a particular topic.

The concept of a group discussion site is nothing new (think Facebook Groups, Yahoo! Groups and LinkedIn groups) but what sets Google+ Communities apart is the integration of the topical groups into the social platform.  For example, members of a group can capitalize on the hangout feature of Google+ and take part in a video chat within the group. Additionally, because the communities ‘live’ on Google, the Events calendar feature is enabled within communities, allowing photo sharing and event management to happen more easily.

One of the biggest differences in Google+ Communities versus other discussion groups is that you don’t have to actually visit the community’s URL to take part in the conversation. Users can share links directly with their communities simply using the +1 button that is now integrated into most social sharing technologies.  Another function unique to Google+ Communities is that conversations can be tagged and categorized, so members can find pieces of the discussion that are most relevant to them.

Communities can have four different privacy levels: completely private and unable to be found through search; private but searchable; public but requires moderator before publishing posts; and completely public where all members can post instantly.

What Google+ Communities Mean for PR Pros

Because anyone, including brands, can create communities, there is a lot of opportunity for PR, social and marketing professionals to engage and target niche audiences. And, given the dynamic nature of Google+, marketers can use video and other multimedia in real time to engage on a more personal level.  This changes the game from traditional discussion forums because of the interactive platform on which the communities are hosted.  Also, as with everything Google, there is an SEO value associated with hosting communities on the site. Topics are entirely searchable (depending on the privacy setting of the community) and easy to find in search results thanks to tags.

Aside from targeting key consumer groups, PR professionals can also use communities for personal and professional networking. Communities focused on communications, social, marketing and public relationshave already popped up and are serving as a gathering place for industry participants. The core value here, as opposed to a LinkedIn or Facebook group, is the ability to segment by post and thread, rather than relying on following a discussion in a long-form scroll. Additionally, the Hangout feature creates an easy way for community members to instantly engage more personally with one another.

Will Google+ Communities be successful?

Google+ Communities are still very new, and there aren’t many case studies to support, or negate, their success. However, given the robust platform on which the communities are built upon (Google+), the list of unique features and the potential for them to meet several business and personal needs, Communities seem a welcome addition to the social networking pantheon. And, as reach within Facebook is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain without payment, the cost-free set up of Google+ Communities has a certain appeal to marketers and brands alike.