By David Politis

At BetterCloud, we
usually consider ourselves to be on the bleeding edge of adoption when it comes
to all things Google, so it was slightly surprising that up until last month,
we were still using email distribution lists as our form of an internal social
network. It wasn’t until we fully realized the power – and privacy – of Google+
Communities that we saw this feature as a viable replacement for those outdated
lists.

Enterprise social network

For any business operating on the Google Apps platform,
using a Google+
Community
as your enterprise social network (ESN) should be a no brainer.
Employees already spend the majority of their work day in their inbox, so why
not give them an interactive tool with notifications surfaced in Gmail – and
elsewhere like Google Calendar, Google search results, and Google Drive? While
other providers like Jive and Yammer require users to get used to yet
another new product, Google+ integrates seamlessly with the rest of the Google
Apps suite.

Moreover, we’ve found that the actual Community fosters
sharing. In the past, we experimented with domain-only sharing on Google+, but
found that internal posts were getting lost in the Google+ feeds of our
employees. Instead, the Community provides a singular place for all updates,
milestones, announcements and news items to be shared, commented on and
celebrated.

This
article is also available as a TechRepublic Screenshot Gallery.

Set up

To get started with Google+ Communities, simply visit
Google+, either by clicking +Name at
the top of your inbox or by visiting plus.google.com.

Once there, click the Home
tab, then scroll down to and click Community.

Next, click the button marked Create Community.

Choose whether you’d like your Community to be public or
private. Of course, if you plan to use the Community as an ESN, make the
Community private and then choose a name. We also suggest hiding the Community
from search results. This is a private network that may contain sensitive
company information. It’s important to keep its contents as well as the actual
Community private.

Now that you’ve created the Community, you can begin to
customize it by adding a profile picture, description, and topic categories.
Categories are very important as your users will be able to filter posts in the
Community later on. You should consider creating different categories for
different office locations or departments.

After customizing the community, invite your employees. Once
a member has joined, you can upgrade their status from member to moderator or
owner if you wish. An owner can:

  • Add and edit categories
  • Remove posts
  • Remove members from the
    community
  • Ban members from the
    community

A moderator has all of the above
capabilities except they cannot add additional moderators or delete the
Community. You might consider giving additional rights to your CEO or an HR
manager.

To make a member a moderator wait until they’ve joined the
Community, then view your members. Select the desired member and choose Promote from member to moderator from
the dropdown menu. Once a member has been promoted to moderator, you can
promote them again to owner if you wish.

Your Community is now up and running. Kick things off by
sharing your first post.

Get social

To post in the Community, you have a few options. You can go
directly to the Community and post there. To do so, go to your Google+ profile
then click Home, select Communities and click into your
organization’s ESN. Next, write your message and select the appropriate
category, then hit Share.

You can also post from your Google+ feed, which will save
you some time. To post this way, head to Google+, then hit Share at the top of the page. Next, write your post, select the
Community you’d like to share with from the drop down and press Share.

Regardless of how you share, once you do submit a post,
Community members will receive a post notification and hopefully visit the
Community to join in.

Users can also alter notification settings to change the
number of notifications they receive: standard, more or fewer. Note that users
can turn off notifications altogether. There is no way for a Community owner or
moderator to enforce a specific notification rule.

Keeping employees up to date

Now that your employees are hopefully sharing and visiting
the Community regularly, make sure you’re taking full advantage of everything
Communities have to offer.

For instance, you can directly share and embed Google
Presentations in a Community post. This ensures that your employees have access
to and view the presentation.

To share a Google Presentation in a Google+ Community you
need to first publish the Presentation to the web. To do so, go into File | Publish to the web, and then
select Start publishing.

After you hit Start publishing, a window with embed codes
and options will appear. Click the Google+ link where it says Share this link using.

A Google+ sharing widget will pop up giving you the
opportunity to add a custom note and select where you’d like to share the
presentation.

Once you press Share
the post with embedded Presentation will appear in the Community.

Communities also offer new employees great insight into your
company’s culture and past milestones. Encourage new hires to scroll through
the Community to gain a sense of your culture, past achievements and events. It’s
a great way for a new employee to get up to speed and settled in quickly.

Final thoughts

While it’s always hard to institute something new, we’ve
found the transition from email lists to a Google+ Community to be fairly
seamless. Of course, if you need to share something extremely urgent that you
know will be read almost immediately, there’s really no replacement for email.
But, if you’re looking to create a collaborative environment to bring together
disparate offices or teams, Google+ Communities is your answer.


David Politis is the
founder and CEO of BetterCloud, the maker of FlashPanel, the number one management and security tool for cloud-enabled organizations, and the
Google Apps resource site AsktheGooru.com. Follow BetterCloud on Google+ at bettercloud.com/plus.