I have been on Google+ for a while now. That doesn’t mean I am an expert, how could anyone be? But it does mean I can offer a few pointers for how to manage it.

One thing I am not going to suggest is adding plug-ins to various browsers. While these can make Google+ easier to use and can resolve some issues, they can also make it unstable, prone to malware and more difficult for those who aren’t comfortable dealing with plug-ins. So I am going to explore the service as is.

Circles – not Friends or Followers

Google+ runs on circles. Circles are a cross between friends (Facebook) and followers (Twitter.) On Facebook, unless you are using a fan page, if you want to provide access to someone, you have to friend her. It is something of an all or nothing prospect. Sure, you can use lists, but lists are kludgy. They just don’t work well.

On Twitter, if you are public, pretty much anyone can follow you. Privacy is nonexistent. You can block someone who annoys you, or make your tweets completely private, but there isn’t much of an in between.

On Google+ you can circle people, or not, as you choose. That way, if you are someone who is very popular, a lot of people can circle you, and you can pretty much ignore them. You can also choose whether those followers get to see your posts. Simply post to the appropriate circles and make certain to block the ability to share the post.

The number one mistake people make when they first join Google+, I made it myself, is to circle everyone back. I think this is a force of habit from Facebook.

Also, there is some weird I don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings thing going on. At first I couldn’t manage my stream at all. There was so much noise I found myself getting very frustrated. Once I realized it was a mistake to circle everyone back and removed the people I didn’t know and/or didn’t want to read, things became much more manageable.

How do you use circles?

To add someone to a circle you simply drag them into it. You can also choose to click on someone and add them in that way. You can put someone in as many circles as you like. You begin with various Google defined circles, but you can create more or delete those you don’t like.

Currently I have 36 people in my circles. On the other hand, 157 people have me in their circles. You can see how having 157 people in my stream would make it difficult for me to read what everyone has to say.

Streams

How do I decide who to circle back? I look at the incoming stream. Google+ is divided into streams based on your circles and those who have circled you. You can choose to look at any individual circle, all of your circles, or your incoming stream.

When someone I don’t know circles me, I generally first look at her bio; if I am interested I try to look at her incoming stream and decide whether to circle her back. The problem is the incoming stream is extremely noisy. There are people who have circled me who post a lot. For whatever reason, a lot of people on Google+ seem to have rediscovered those annoying moving gifs; those little movies that just repeat themselves over and over again. Also, people post a lot of pictures.

Currently, I have no way to filter out the noise and easily check out what the new people are saying. Since this is a major and common complaint about Google+, I sincerely hope that Google fixes this issue.

I suggest Google remember that one of the reasons MySpace fell apart was due to all the noise and the ability to create nonsensical and annoying profiles.

Speaking of Pictures

On Google+ you can block someone who is inappropriate. And I must admit; I am waiting for the inappropriate to start. Since I work from home, I don’t have to worry about anyone walking in on something they shouldn’t see, but that doesn’t mean I want to see it either. Because pictures show in all their glory, because people can post moving gifs (a no-no on Facebook) and because people can post certain types of html, I am expecting to see something that upsets me sooner or later.

I would prefer it if Google gave me a choice to block out all of this stuff proactively so I don’t have to deal with it. Google+ does not allow children, but children have a way of getting around those rules. But at this point, Google+ is for adults only. Not because I have seen anything, but I am willing to bet there is a lot out there I wouldn’t care to see, and you wouldn’t care your children to see either.

The Quality of Communication

I have been favorably surprised by the level of communication on Google+. I find myself more willing to share, probably because I am not limited by randomly chosen numbers of characters. If I have something to say I have something to say. I don’t want to have to sit there and edit until it fits into 140 or 420 characters.

The people I have chosen to circle are mainly legal professionals, news people and business people. Because what these folks have to say is not lost in the din of numerous people, as in Facebook, I can actually read what they have to say and engage with them. Many people are being incredibly creative on Google+. I am enjoying the conversations a lot.

You can control the level of communication by carefully choosing who you choose to circle.

Editing

Except for a few seconds immediately after someone posts a comment, there is no editing on Facebook. On Twitter there is no editing at all. This means if you make a mistake, you have to delete and start over; very annoying. On Google+ you can edit.

+1

I really like +1. If you are using Google+, +1 is a lot like “like” on Facebook. But if you are searching the Web, +1 is a way to let people know that you find a Website valuable. It is this use I appreciate. People can +1 a site and let others know it is a good, useful site; very useful.

Share

Just like share on Facebook or ReTweet on Twitter. The problem is, when a lot of people share the same thing it becomes very noisy and annoying. Fortunately people seem to have realized it is better to just +1. Creates less noise and still lets people who have circled you know that you found a post useful.

Hangouts

Another unique aspect to Google+ is the ability to engage in a video conversation. Simply create a hangout and allow other people to join. Very quickly a high (or low) level conversation is going on. One of the news people I follow is consistently offering the ability to hangout during her news reports; pretty darn cool.

Conclusion

So there you have it. In a rather large nutshell now you know how Google+ works. Any questions feel free to drop me a line. Or just find me on Google+.

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Jennifer Ellis is the Vice President and a consultant with Freedman Consulting, which assists law firms with a full range of issues, including such things as strategic planning, client development, project management, technology, and more, on the business side of the practice. She spends a substantial amount of time on issues involving social media, including law firm marketing and evidence collection and preservation. Previously, Jennifer served as Associate Director of Media Technologies with the Pennsylvania Bar Institute. She led PBI to two ACLEA awards, the award for Professional Excellence in Technology and Professional Excellence in Marketing. Jennifer is admitted to practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. You may reach Jennifer at jennifer@freedmanlpm.com, Twitter and Facebook.