I love communities. There are great big giant communities that are social networks themselves, but then there are smaller and more intimate communities where over time you really do get to know people better. These have always been the communities that I end up liking best. Places where you can go and eventually some really cool people end up setting up part of their daily internet experience there. I used to use Flickr groups for these sorts of communities, now I use Google+ (for a lot of specific reasons).
Google+ communities are new though and so I thought I’d take a few minutes to point out some best practices for how to engage, grow and participate in communities.
1. If you are starting a new community yourself, there are several important things to think about. How you manage and grow your community will have a lot to do with the success. For starters, you must be committed to moderating the community. This means showing up, doing a lot of the grunt work (removing spam, managing members, etc.).
I think it’s important to be as friendly as you can and to welcome new members personally even when you have time.
It’s also important that you grow the community. If it is a public community, try and get the word out. Promote your community on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and your other social networks. Be sure to use the invite feature on Google+ to invite your friends — you may have to break down some of your larger circles into less than about 190 blocks of individuals if you want to invite a circle. Did you know that you can “share” your community to your current G+ stream? Consider putting a link to your G+ community on your G+ profile page. Don’t over invite someone to your community though. If you invite them once and they decline that’s probably enough. If you keep inviting them you will feel spammy.
Think about why you are starting a community. Should you even start one? What is unique about yours? Does it make sense to start a new general community for photograpy, or is there some unique area of photography you want to explore (portraits, urbex, long exposure, a specific geographic area, etc.)
2. Communities are best started with a closer group of friends. Find some of your friends who share your passion for whatever your community is about and make them mods. Make sure that they are on board with helping to manage, grow and promote the community as well.
3. Be nice. The worst communities are full of negative people. Try to avoid these types as much as possible — not just on Google+ but in life in general.
As a leader of a community especially it’s your job to try and set the tone. I’m all for free speech, but I’d recommend against allowing bullying and harassment in your community. If you see it call it out gently. If someone is a real problem or trolling consider banning them.
4. As a participant in a community be thoughtful when you join a community. Are there rules? Try to figure out what these rules are. Try to engage with others on their posts first before starting lots of your own. Nobody likes spam. Don’t just show up to a community to post your photos and leave, or to promote some other community and leave, or worst of all dump commercial spam or links to stupid websites. Make sure you are posting the right thing in the right area. Some communities don’t want you to post dumb mind numbing photos in the discussion threads. Maybe there is a specific place for you to dump your photos. Find out where that is first.
5. The best communities are about discussions. Participate in these discussions. Find good ones that you like and get to know people through participation. +mention people specifically by name in community discussions. Unfortunately Google+ communities don’t bump threads yet and so this may be the only way that someone knows you are engaging them in a conversation in a community of fast moving threads.
6. Consider adding the most active members of your community to a specific circle. This helps you look at their stuff outside of the community as well. Circle sharing is also a great way to help promote your community. For the main community that I’m involved in, Light Box, I’ve created a circle for everyone who gets a photo voted into our Light Box. I shared it when it hit 100 members, 200 members and will share it next when it hits 500 members, 1,000 members, etc.
7. Pro Tip (thanks Ricardo Lagos): When you start a community make a separate private community just for your mods. Here you can hash out issues that come up with the community. You can discuss problems together privately and discuss policy issues. While you certainly will want to get the larger community opinion on the guidelines or direction of your community, having a smaller place for those most invested to figure things out is good too.
8. Add different sections to your community. Create an FAQ.
9. Try out different communities, but don’t try out too many. I think it’s a good practice to check out a bunch of communities to see where you like hanging out. Different communities will have different flavors. If you spread yourself too thin though it will be harder to get to know people there. Take some time finding a few communities that you really like and then once you settle in invest more time with those communities. Remember the key to enjoying a great community is individual participation.
10. Remember not to neglect your other participation on G+. It’s easy to get sucked into a community and end up spending all of your time there. As much as communities can become really nice little watering holes where you become better friends with some members over time, remember that the world is big and that one of the things that still is nice about G+ is that there is a whole big network out there without community walls. Some people will not want to join communities. Some people don’t have TIME to join communities. Make sure to take some time keep up with these folks as well.