Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Thing 8: Getting to grips with Google+

Note: Since writing this article, this Tuesday, Google have updated the Google+ interface. Whilst things look slightly different to the screenshots shown, all the concepts still apply.

Google+ What Is it?

Google+ is a social media tool. You can use it to share news, ask questions, share photos, promote events, create communities and have discussions. Although it's difficult to get meaningful stats on social media usage, many are reporting that Google+ has passed Twitter and YouTube in the number of active users.

In many ways, I have found Google+ a better platform than Facebook and Twitter for work-related subjects. Firstly, there are lots of distinct communities of people that share my interests; and secondly you can limit who sees each post. This means you can connect with people at other universities who can help you with your work and also post messages like "Has anyone seen any keys? I think I dropped them near Harry Fairhurst" knowing it's not going out to the general public.

I suggest you skim read this article, picking up the tips and tricks and then just dive in and have a go. If you find you really don't like Google+ it is very easy to disconnect it completely from your York account.

Why Should I Use Google+?

  • It's a great way to keep informed about subject areas and find interesting people and resources.
  • Google+ has a beautiful smartphone app. I mainly use this way to browse Google+ content.
  • Some people at the University are using Google+ to do activities they'd normally do with email, so that everybody email doesn't get flooded with the "wrong" sorts of information.
  • Feedback from students tells us that they often don't appreciate being "in their Facebook" because Facebook is used for socialising and keeping the worlds of social and work separate is helpful.

Mini Case Study

One of the best uses I have seen for Google+ is being done by Jo Tozer and colleagues in Archaeology. She created a Google+ community (shown below) in which the entire department can share funding news, deadlines and new funding opportunities or possibilities.

Google+ Activities

How you use Google+ is up to you. Personally, I use Twitter for fun, Facebook for family and Google+ for work-related activities.

All the initial activities except the last are very easy. They are designed to just familiarize yourself so that you feel comfortable with Google+. These easy activities are:

  • Registering your York account with Google+
  • Adding some people to your Circles
  • Creating a post, or uploading an image
  • Finding and joining communities that interest you

The last, harder activity will take some thinking time. You don't have to rush into this one.

  • Is there a cross departmental interest group that doesn't exist at the University but should? Create a public Google+ Community to support this as yet, non-existent community.

Later in the 23 Things series you will use some of the other features of Google+

Getting Started: Registering

If you haven't registered for Google+ yet, the black bar at the top of your email or calendar will say "+You" ( shown above ). Click this link to register for Google+.

Getting Started: Create Your Profile

The first screen asks you for some details.

Getting Started: Add people

Warning! The "Add People" screen shows people from your contacts who you might want to follow. Annoyingly, each of the people you follow will receive a "so and so has followed you on Google+" email. This, unfortunately, is just the way it is.

Tip. At this point I'd recommend you only add a few colleagues to begin with and then skip this screen and click "Continue »".

There is a similar screen to "Follow interesting people and pages". If there's anything that interests you, follow it, if not skip this screen also.

Getting Started: Fill Out Your Profile

In the last screen you can add a few more details. Add "University of York" as your place of work.

It is a good idea to chose a picture for your profile, it doesn't have to be you, you can change it later.

Using Google+

You will now see a screen similar to the one shown below. This contains random content because you haven't added any people to any circles yet. To begin with your Google+ circles are Friends, Family, Acquaintances. You can create any circle you like. I have one called "Uoy".

Circles are collections of people and once created, using the grey buttons at the top, you can choose to see or share information with just those people in that circle. For example, you might want to share a link to a local article with your "Cake Makers" circle, and family pics with your "Family" circle.

Finding And Following People

If you click the "Find People" button at the left hand side you can search for people that work at the University of York. I created a circle called "UoY" and I add the people I work with to it. Do some searches using the search bar at the top, either for people or for subject areas.

Now when I look at my Home page there is a "UoY" tab at the top and I can see what everyone else at the University is sharing.

Sharing Links, Photos, Movies and Events on Google+

Adding posts to Google+ is pretty much like Twitter or Facebook except you can select which circle of people you are sharing it with. If you have entered "University of York" as your place of work, you can post only to colleagues - OR - you might select a circle of friends. For example, you might post a new recipe to your "Cake Making" circle.

If you write a post that contains a URL, Google+ automatically creates a preview for you (see below). You can also select which circle you'd like this post to be shared with.

Personally, most of my posts are either shared with "University of York" or "Public".

When creating a post, if you type "+" and then start typing somebody's name, Google+ will fill in their details and let them know you've mentioned them via email ( shown below ).

The +1 and Share buttons

At the bottom of every post there are the "+1" and "Share" buttons. These are analogous with Facebook "likes" and Twitter's "retweets". A "+1" is just a way of letting the author of the post know that you approve or support what they are posting. A "share" re posts the post to your profile and let's you add an additional note along the way.

Finding More Interesting People: Google Communities

Assuming you now have created some circles with some people you know or work with in, you can also go looking for Google+ Communities that may interest you. For example, I use a Google tool called "Google Apps Script" and so I can search for a Community for people that also us it, and join -
Tip: I always make sure that I turn off email notifications (shown below). I prefer to check Google+ for new stuff rather than have it fill up my in tray, especially if joining a high traffic community.

Next Steps: Getting the most out of Google+

Like most social tools, you get most from them when you connect with lots of interesting people and have interesting discussions. As with so many things, you get out what you put in. How you go about doing that is completely up to you. Everybody's use of social media is different, there is no "right" way. You might want to lurk and occasionally comment, you might want to share a picture of what you ate for breakfast. Whichever feels right to you is OK.
Below are just some of the Communities I have joined. Some have thousands of people who are members, some have just a few people as members and are private. You can even create your own communities where people can share relevant links, resources and news.

Next Steps: Getting the most out of Google+ The Mobile Client

If you have a smartphone or a tablet, the app is excellent, go download it. I often "catch up" with Google+ using my iphone in those "in between" times. It's also one of the easiest ways to instantly share images online.

OPTIONAL: Creating Your Own Google+ Community

Have had a think about what cross departmental interest group there should be at the University. Is it "Green Issues Awareness"? Might it be "Cake Makers at York"? I don't know, this is up to you.

If you decide that you have an idea for a community, simply create one (shown below ).

Important: When creating a community, you have to choose whether it is Public or Private (shown below). This cannot be changed later.

Add some useful resources to your community, invite some people and see if anyone else rallies to your call. Remember that it can take a while for communities to build traction, so give the process time.

When creating a community, even if it's private, it is often a good idea to allow it to be found in searches so that people can discover you exist and ask to join.

One of the main strengths of Google+ in particular is that you often end connecting with fantastic people you didn't know existed, which is sort of the whole "hard to explain" point of social media.

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