Update January 2016: This epic article was first published in March 2014.
I have since given up on Google Plus, and I do not recommend putting any time or money into G+ marketing.
I’m pretty sure the service will shutdown within the next 3 years. User engagement has been a problem even at the best times of this fading service.
Now, since Google has separated the most popular features from G+, it is more than ever a place for Big G’s hardcore fans. Also, the recent massive user interface change has confused many.
Instead of hoping for this patient on life support to come back to life, rather invest your time and marketing budget into this professional but underrated network, and into this proven-to-be-successful marketing channel.
Don’t hesitate to connect with me on these two places.
And here’s the original article: “Google Plus Circles Tutorial – How To Use Circles For Your Business.”
Circles, and especially shared circles, are Google’s innovative tool to network with people and to manage your connections on Google Plus. Once you understand how circles work, you’ll fall in love with Google Plus. You’ll quickly see that no other social network offers such detailed and sophisticated networking possibilities.
This is a long post. 5000 Words, 29,000 Pixels long! 23 Images, Screen Shots, and Videos.
It’s NOT A QUICK START TUTUORIAL. To master Google circles, you’ll need 3 to 4 months of using them day by day. You’ll need time experimenting
- how to find the best people to add,
- how to manage circles and ‘circle shares’ technically,
- and how to actually engage with people for best results.
Don’t be discouraged about the learning phase. You’ll make good use of your time!
While learning how circles work, you’ll build a strong presence on Google Plus, you’ll get followers [probably lots of followers], and you’ll increase your engagement rate.
I focus on using Google Plus for business, but if you use it just for fun, you’ll find a lot of the tips below helpful as well.
It’s worth noting that activity, time on site, and niches on Google Plus are still much less than on Facebook – despite what Google Plus enthusiasts are telling you.
You may not immediately find great activity in your specific niche on g+, so treat it strategically. Also, you don’t have the advertising opportunities Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter offer.
Why is it important, then?
Because 5 years from now Google Plus will be more important than Facebook. 10 years from now Facebook will be forgotten. Google will still be the biggest player on the internet.
If you haven’t yet, now is the time to position your business on Google Plus. If you’re one of the first in your niche to take it seriously, you’ll have an advantage. You can claim a leadership position for your business.
What Are Circles And How Do They Work?
A circle is a list of people who you follow on Google Plus. To ‚circle‘ someone means to add a person [more precisely a person’s g+ profile] or g+ page to such a list. It’s also called ‚adding someone to a circle.‘
From that moment on you’ll see this person’s posts in your ‘home’ stream.
If you’re new to circles, get started with this entertaining circle video by Google, named ‘What are circles?’
Throughout this post I’ll mostly talk about ‘adding people’ but it means ‘pages’ as well. The post covers how you can use circles with your profile to market your business.
- A circle can contain up to 5000 people.
- You can have many circles.
- All your circles combined cannot contain more than 5000 people. If you hit that limit, you need to remove people before you can add new ones.
- One person can be in many circles. It counts as 1 person towards your limit of 5000 persons.
- Updates from people in your circles will show up in your main newsfeed.
- You can exclude certain circles from your main newsfeed, or reduce the amount of content that’s shown from a circle in your main newsfeed.
- Each circle has its own newsfeed. You can switch between newsfeeds to only see updates from people in one specific circle.
Circles are a lot like Twitter lists and Facebook lists for friends, but they do have important features, that neither Twitter nor Facebook offer.
Now for the truly awesome things you can do with circles!
- You can publish posts that are only visible to people in specific circles. Depending on their settings, those people might get notified or even emailed about your post. Learn more: Google Help: Who Can See Your Posts
- You can share circles as Google Plus post. Such a shared circle can be visible to everyone, or only to people in selected circles.
- Everybody who can see a shared circle can add all or selected people from the circle to her own circles.
- You can embed shared circles into blog posts, i.e. on your own web site. Technically you embed the Google plus post that displays the circle. The circle post is functional within your blog post.
Here’s A Shared Circle Embedded Right Into This Blog Post!
In this ‘Circles for Business’ tutorial I’ll focus on more on social media networking strategy than on technology. It’s less about ‘where to click’ and more about ‘why to click.’ It’s less about ‘how to circle’ and more about ‘who to circle.’
We’ll start with an introduction to the circle management page, and then follow up with the best tips how to organize your circles, setting business goals, who to connect with, and how to find these people.
You’ll find the page for circle management by clicking ’People‘ in the left hand menu, and then clicking ‘Your circles’ in the top menu.
You can alsoaccess your circles page by going to this URL: https://plus.google.com/circles
A list with all your circles will open. Once you click one of the circles, the upper part of the screen will show you all members of this circle.
How To Name Circles?
Here are some ideas how to name your circles systematically. I’m sure you’ll come up with your own ‘naming system’ while working with circles.
Use Short Circle Names.
A few weeks ago I had several long names like:
Bloggers of G+ v1
Bloggers of G+ v2
Bloggers of G+ v3
The problem was, on my circle management page they showed up like this:
I had no way to see which was which!
I’ve since chosen to use shorter circle names. You can see them in the screenshot above.
Prepend Circle Names With Meta Info.
That sounds weird, I know!
It’s like sorting several circles together into categories or groups.
I put my own shared circles together in one category. I put other people’s circles that I added in one category. And so on…
To categorize I prepend circle names with a prefix that shows me what type of circle it is. I will also sort these circles together on the circle management page. You can reorder circles with drag and drop.
When I add other people’s shared circles, the circle name starts with SC [short for Shared Circle] followed by the name from whom I got the circle, or by the date – in case I combined people from several circles.
SC Robby Ball
SC Feb 28
All my circles related to our community Bloggers of Google Plus start with the prefix BoG+. You can do the same when building your tribe.
You could also separate private and business circles by adding B or P.
The Circle Management Page
The top of the page shows all people you’ve circled. The bottom shows all your circles.
#1 – This is what a circle looks like when you hover over the circle icon.
#2 – This is what the circle looks like after you clicked it. The upper part of the page will now show only the people inside this circle.
#3 – This is the ‘normal’ state of circles listed on your circle management page.
You can click the icons within the circle icon to
- edit the circle name [click the pencil icon],
- share the circle to public, to selected circles, or to the members of the circle itself [click the arrow icon],
- and to delete the circle [click the trash bin icon].
How To Set Notifications And Menu Order For Circles
If you want to know more about managing circles, check out this video by Mark Vang.
What Are Reasonable Business Goals For Marketing On Google Plus And Mastering Circles?
Before you start filling your circles, be clear about your business goals on g+. What can your reasonably expect to accomplish? How does your specific goal govern the specific circle strategy you use to connect with people?
I’ll establish 6 business and marketing goals, and throughout the article we’ll keep coming back to those goals, and see which circle strategy is best for which goal.
- Building your authority or brand.
- Building social proof.
- Connecting to potential clients.
- Keeping in touch with existing clients.
- Connecting with niche peers.
- Connecting with influencers.
When I talk about ‘clients’ I always mean ‘customers’ as well. I use ‘clients’ more often because a lot of my readers are agency owners, consultants or freelancers.
Goal 1: Building your authority or brand.
Building your authority means shaping what you stand for [if you’re a micro influencer or Youpreneur], or what the brand stands for [if you represent a brand other than yourself].
The more people view you as the go-to-person for a given topic, the easier it is for you to get new clients. Higher authority means more clients and higher prices.
People as well as search engines and influence measurement tools judge your topical authority based on 2 things:
- What content are you posting?
- Who do you connect with? [Who’s in your circles? Who circles you?]
The more you focus on your niche with both points, the easier it is for people to put you into the matching business category inside their heads.
On Google Plus, more than on other networks, there are people who present themselves as authorities in a given niche, but when you read their stream, you have a hard time finding out what niche they stand for. Their content is all cats and bacon, animated gifs, and stunning images of nature.
They have chosen to go for popularity by posting viral content that is NOT related to their actual business or niche. Viral content is great for being seen as a likeable and popular person. But it does not establish you as an expert in your field.
If you were to hire an expert with an hourly rate of $ 1,500 to help you, in whom would you make this investment?
- Would you hire the self-proclaimed expert who posts topically irrelevant, funny and entertaining stuff all day?
- Or would you hire the industry thought-leader who stays on-topic and publishes helpful, insightful, and respected content in her area of expertise?
Here are 3 social media experts combining highly relevant content with enormous likeability. They rarely post off-topic, probably 10%. Use them as role model for excellent positioning and networking.
I’d love to give you examples for #1, but obviously I’d hurt people’s reputation. Highly motivated, likeable people – but they fail to position themselves as full time expert. They value ‘popular’ posts higher than relevant posts. They focus too much on likeability, and not enough on showcasing their expertise.
For the goal of building your authority and influence, focus your content and the people you add to your circles almost exclusively on your area of expertise! To increase likeability while being relevant, focus on relationships instead of posting cats and bacon.
Goal 2: Building social proof.
Increasing social proof in the context of social media means: increasing vanity metrics. Having lots of followers makes you look successful. Lots of plus-ones and comments also increase perceived success.
Some people criticize vanity metrics as being unimportant and meaningless, and they correctly say that vanity metrics can be gamed.
I agree that a follower count is no true measure of importance, influence, or authority.
But here’s a psychological fact: A profile with high vanity metrics at first glance looks more impressive than one with low numbers.
The average person totally falls for that!
This is why some marketers use large circle shares [chain-letter-circles] to increase their follower count quickly. Below you can see how my follower count started to increase once I joined circle shares. The #1 tool to gain Google plus followers fast is the chain-letter-circle-share.
Boosting followers comes with a price, though.
As your popularity increases, your influence goes down.
The more you push to increase follower count, the more the average engagement per person goes down.
It takes A LOT OF WORK to get many followers fast, and increase meaningful engagement at the same time. The work is not hard, it’s actually fun, but lots and lots of hours go into it. It’s the most time consuming marketing task I’ve known in 27 years of doing business.
I chose Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick to illustrate the ‘influence paradox.’ Guy is THE perfect example to show that casting a wide net and amassing untargeted followers results in relatively low influence per follower.
It’s a simplified example – many factors come into play beyond the mere number of followers. For the purpose of circle management remember this: It’s easy to be influential in a small group, it gets harder, the larger the group of followers is.
Despite the low engagement Guy certainly is one of the most influential people in the social media sphere. Analyzing why, and how this fits together with the low g+ engagement is beyond the scope of this blog post.
The screen below shows Google’s search results page for “Guy Kawasaki.”
1. Did you ever notice Google offers the option to add people to your circles even on search results pages? Anybody still thinking G+ will fail?
2. The [social] proof is in the numbers! Announcing 5,829,695 followers next to your name is impressive. That’s why strategies to increase follower count DO have their place in marketing.
Pause For A Moment To Reflect What You Just Read: The Clash Of Concepts!
I spent more time on these 2 goals than on the next 4, because they are the core of your social media presence.
Networking on social media is a clash of 2 concepts – going for max people and max reach, or going for topical focus, less people, and higher influence per person.
These 2 goals define your branding, how you position yourself. The next 4 goals are about networking with people.
Goal 3: Connecting to potential clients.
This goes well with goal #1 above. People find you as authority in a given topic, follow you, and the more often they get in contact with your focused content, the more likely they are to consider your services or products.
Your circle strategy here is to publish and be part in niche or topic focused circles. That way you’ll be seen as connected to that niche or topic.
To then actually find and network with potential clients, you’ll want to circle those who interact with content relevant to your business. I’m not primarily talking about circle shares here. What I mean is: circle people who’ve shown interest in your topics, and start networking with them.
You can find those people who interact with your own posts, or who interact with relevant posts on other people’s profiles, and in communities.
Once you fill your circles with potential prospects, you need a plan how to find and engage those who are most likely to become customers.
Goal 4: Keeping in touch with existing clients.
Connecting with existing clients is one of the easiest and one of the most underused benefits of social networking sites like Facebook or Google Plus.
Unless you sourced your client on g+ in the first place, you’ll probably have a hard time connecting to them here. They are more likely to be active on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.
If you DO have clients on G+, putting them in a special customer’s circle is the smartest thing to do!
Goal 5: Connecting with niche peers.
When I entered business almost 3 decades ago, what I just called ‘niche peers,’ was aptly called ‘competitors’.
It’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of social media marketing:
People working in the same industry, competing for the same customer base, are now forming strong bonds, supporting each other fearlessly. Competitors even build business joined ventures through social media.
The 21st century replaces competition with cooperation.
And you’ll find lots of it on Google Plus!
A word of caution …
While you enjoy talking with your peers on social media, don’t forget to connect to potential clients. On social networks it’s easy to get carried away and spent time on the less important activities – like chatting with fellow business owners instead of marketing to your potential customers.
For most markets you should keep industry peers and prospects in separate circles. There are some ‘incestuous‘ markets, however, where peers and customers are the same people. That makes networking so much easier! For example,
- Social media consultants selling social media programs to social media consultants.
- Make-money-online gurus selling make-money-online advice to the people who also want to make money by selling make-money-online advice.
So, stay aware who in your network is a potential customer, and who ‘peer’ only.
Goal 6: Connecting with influencers.
In recent years an entire industry was born with just 1 goal: to connect brands to influencers.
Here are 3 reasons why you want to connect your business to influencers:
- For business opportunities / joint ventures.
- To get your business in front of their audience.
- To [learn how to] become an influencer yourself, if you aren’t yet.
Influencer marketing agencies and influence measurement tools are making good money by helping brands to take advantage of influencers. Like with any young industry, we’re seeing some stupid developments, and unrealistic expectations.
On social media, you can do the work of finding and networking with influencers yourself. Naturally, the relevant influencers are a small sub-group of ‘industry peers’ mentioned in goal #5 above.
- Most influencers built their influence on expertise and strong content. They have published books, built a major blog, or written blog posts on high profile web sites. They are speakers on industry conferences. Those are the popular people in your niche. They are the gurus, super stars, thought leaders.
- Some are primarily networkers and connectors and deal brokers. They might be less popular, but they are in touch with many big players in your industry.
It’s a good idea to have [at least] 1 circle with the most important people in your industry.
How To Buil Your Circles For Business? And Who To Add?
Let’s start filling your circles with relevant people.
- Decide which of the above business goals are most important to you. I know you love them all, but trying to make them all work at once will require insane amounts of time.
- Based on your goals, decide which kind of people you need to find for your circles.
- Create empty circles with appropriate circle names.
- Start searching for people and add them to your circles.
Over time you will find out your very own circle style. To get you started, here are some suggested circles.
- Niche Experts (peers).
- Niche VIPs (influencers)
Identifying The Most Likely Prospects
A prospects circle can be further broken down into several circles based on how intensely someone is following and interacting with you.
- Followers (no engagement yet, tiny likelihood of becoming a customer)
- Engagers (Low quality or infrequent interactions.)
- Fans (High quality, or high frequency engagers)
For the 2 engagers circles (engagers & fans) add only people who interact on relevant posts. If someone shares or comments on funny gifs you posted, this does NOT indicate she’s interested in your business topics.
What do I mean by low and high quality engagement?
Low quality means little engagement effort on the part of the follower.
- A plus one.
- A very short comment, like ‘great post.’
- Sharing your post without adding an introduction.
High quality means the follower makes the effort to reflect on your content.
- A comment that adds thoughts to your post’s topic.
- Sharing and adding a meaningful introduction to the share post. Here, too, ‘A great post by xyz’ does not establish a high value introduction.
Find Your Prospects From Other Social Media Sites On Google Plus.
An important point in increasing top-of-mind-awareness is getting in front of your customers more often. That’s why it’s worth the effort to connect to your prospects on several platforms.
Here are 3 groups you might want to add to your prospects circles.
- Your email subscribers.
- Your blog commenters.
- Important contacts from your other social media platforms.
Identify Your Influencers And Multipliers
The influencer circle can also be broken down into 2 circles.
- Industry experts, thought leaders, authorities.
- Multipliers (Power Sharers / Ripplers)
And industry experts circle can contain people who are recognized experts, no matter how active they are on Google Plus.
The Power Of A Ripple
Finding the influencers is the most rewarding work you can do on Google Plus.
To do that, you’ll use a tool called ‘Ripples.’
The Ripples Tool is a page on Google Plus that answers 3 crucial questions:
- Who has re-shared a G+ post on G+?
- Who has shared a web URL to G+?
- Who created the most re-shares for any given post or web URL?
Let that sink in for a moment.
Using Ripples you can find the sharers for ANY Google Plus post AND the shares for ANY web page on the internet.
You’ll get influencer information not only for your content, but for anybody’s content!
This is powerful stuff!
AND you can find who has the power to create LOTS OF RE-SHARES for you.
How cool is that?
There are a few more fancy features in the tool, but what counts are the 3 questions listed above.
Ripples is the feature that truly sets Google Plus apart from other social sites, in terms of networking. It’s an influence measurement tool for each and every post on Google Plus.
Here you can see the Ripples for a shared-circle-post of David Leonhardt. In this example I am an interesting ‘influencer’ for David, because I created lots of re-shares.
[The example is slightly flawed, because it was a shared circle that we did together. People didn’t share because of my supernatural influencer powers, but because they wanted to be in the next shared circle. ]
How Exactly Do You Use Ripples To Fill Your Circles?
- Find people who have shared your blog posts to Google Plus.
VERY FEW bloggers actually track who shares their posts.
The sharers are your most important supporters!
- Find people who have shared your G+ posts, and especially those who created many re-shares. [Multipliers]
- Find people who shared relevant posts from your niche peers, and created ripples for them.
They might as well create ripples for your posts, once they get to know you.
There’s even more: in combination with the circle management tool Circloscope [explained below] you can export exactly who plussed, shared, or commented on your G+ posts. Or you can add plussers, commenters, and sharers to circles.
How to find Ripples for a Google Plus post.
Hover over the post. At the top right, click the drop down arrow and chose ‘View Ripples.’ The Ripples page will open.
How to find Ripples for a web URL, for example blog post.
Use this URL example and replace WEBADDRESS with the actual web site URL:
Working example, showing you the Ripples for the blog post you are reading right now:
8 Ways To Find People To Circle
- Visit relevant posts and see who engages with the post.
- Visit profiles of relevant people, scroll through their stream and see who they interact with.
- Search for matching communities.
- Search For Relevant Shared Circles.
- Use Google Plus Search.
- Browse Google Plus Explore.
- Check out Google’s Suggested User List.
- Search on Circlecount.com.
1. Visit relevant Google Plus posts and see who engages with the post.
A relevant post is a post on your topic, targeted at the same people that you want as client. Ideally a more in-depth post.
Once you open a relevant post on Google Plus, you can check who responded to the post. People who left thoughtful comments are interesting for you.
To find influencers, check the ripples of the post. Sharers who created lots of re-shares for this post, might also create shares for your posts – once you are connected to them!
2. Visit profiles of relevant people, scroll through their stream and see who they interact with.
You probably already know some people in your industry. Visit their profiles and check their contacts:
- Who do they mention in their posts?
- Whose content (from Google Plus, not from outside blogs) do they share?
- Who comments on their posts?
- Who shares their posts?
3. Search for matching communities.
Join communities and check who are the owners, the mods, and the most active users. If you’re really lazy, only add those who OWN communities related to your topic. That they created the community is proof that they are positioning themselves in that area.
Most communities on G+ are dead, or they are link graveyards. Don’t bother joining those. Focus on communities with actual engagement.
4. Search For And Add Relevant Shared Circles.
Adding shared circles is one of the fastest ways to find interesting people. You can bulk add up to 500 people from a shared circle.
Why is bulk adding people a good way to find relevant people?
Imagine you’d only search for people by visting profiles 1 by 1. Some people recommend you should do this.
The BIG PROBLEM is: 90% of Google Plus account holders are inactive. You go to their profile, only to find it’s dead. Google is even stupid enough to frequently suggest users to circle who haven’t posted a single post to their profile. Or who stopped posting 2 years ago.
So you’d visit a lot of dead profiles which needs a lot of time.
When adding a shared circle instead, at first you don’t go to profiles, you only watch the stream of the circle.
The stream obviously only shows active users! The inactive people never show up.
5. Use Google Plus Search.
The search bar is at the top of each Google Plus page.
Search for people, keywords or hashtags.
6. Browse Google Plus Explore.
Click through the relevant categories and check for relevant posts. From those click through to the poster and check their profile.
To learn what type of content goes viral, click ‘What’s hot.’
To access Explore, click ‘Home’ in the menu on the left, then click ‘Explore’ in the top menu.
7. Check out Google’s Suggested User List.
When you sign up for Google Plus, Google will suggest a list with users from several categories for you to follow. You can access the Suggested User List anytime at:
Clicking at arrow #1 will open a popup where you can select people to add to your circles.
Clicking at arrow #2 will add all the suggested users from this category to your circles.
On CircleCount you can access tons of information for 25,634,902 Google Plus users. To find relevant people for your topic, use the tags at the top of the page, right next to the language chooser.
For your own circle management it is important that you connect your Google Plus account to CircleCount.com. I’ll cover this in more detail in part II of this post.
One Tool To Rule Them All: Circloscope
There are about half a dozen tools available for Google Plus.
The one you can’t live without is Circloscope. Seriously, there is no way to use Google Plus for business without using Circloscope.
Circloscope is an extension for the Chrome browser, and it’s a tool for circle management.
These are the Circloscope features:
- Add people to your circles in mass
- Remove people from your circles in mass
- Export people information to CSV format
- Get the list of people in your circles
- Get the list of your followers
- Get the list of inactive Google+ users in your circles (i.e. inactive in the last X days)
- Get the list of people in your circles who follow / don’t follow back
- Get the list of duplicates (people in 2 or more circles of yours)
- Get the list of most relevant people in your circles
- Get the list of members from any community
- Get the list of people who have re-shared a post
- Get the list of people who have +1’d a post
- Get the list of people who have commented on a post
- Get the list of people in a shared circle
- Import the list of Google+ users from a web page (e.g. circlecount.com)
- Search the lists by name, email, location, education, employment, etc
- Include/exclude some of your circles from various lists
- Profile and Page accounts supported!
Circloscope is about to get a MAJOR Facelift soon. Once updated it will be completely different from the current version, so there’s little use in adding an extensive how-to-use-circloscope today. I will add that once the new Circloscope has been published.
You can see a preview of the upcoming Circloscope in the video below.
RECAP: What We’ve Covered In This Post
- You’ve learned what G+ circles are, how to create, rename, and reorder them on the circle management page.
- You’ve got some ideas how to name and categorize circles.
Business Goals For Being On Google Plus?
- Building your authority or brand.
- Building social proof.
- Connect to potential clients.
- Keep in touch with existing clients.
- Connect with niche peers.
- Connect with influencers.
Who To Circle?
- Fans [High quality/high frequency engagers.]
- Your email subscribers
- Your blog commenters
- Social media contacts
- Industry peers
- Niche Experts
- Influencers [Ripples!]
8 Ways To Find People To Circle?
- Visit relevant posts and find engagers.
- Visit profiles of industry peers.
- Search for matching communities.
- Search for relevant shared sircles.
- Use Google Plus search.
- Browse Google Plus Explore.
- Check out Google’s Suggested User List.
- Search on Circlecount.com.
- Google Plus Ripples
- Find Sharers And Influencers
- Who has shared a G+ post on G+?
- Who has shared a web URL on G+?
- Who created the most re-shares?
- Circloscope [Indispensable!]
- Powerful Circle Management
- Find and remove inactive people.
- Create shared circles in minutes.
- Add and remove people in bulk.
- Circle And Profile Statistics
- Rankings for people and pages.
- Your connections.
- Your Shared Circles.
This Is Part 1 Of A 2 Part Circles-For-Business Tutorial.
Part 2 is about ‘How To Master Shared Circles.’
I’m also preparing a series of Google Plus Posts titled ‘Circle Mastery.’
To stay updated add me to your circles!
Now It’s Your Turn …
What are your tips for Google Plus For Business?
What are your questions?
Should I add anything to this tutorial?
Let us know in the comments below.