Google discussed Currents during a session at Google Next in 2019.
Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

Currents is Google’s enterprise social network app, built as an enterprise-only successor to Google+. Currents is intended to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information among people in organizations.

Google Workspace includes access to Google Currents, which, in my experience, is news to many people. Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs and Meet tend to dominate the discussion when it comes to Workspace apps–Currents is often overlooked.

SEE: Google Sheets: Tips and tricks (TechRepublic download)

Four ways to use Google Currents

As an organization-wide space for conversation, Currents provides an effective channel for the following four key communications categories:

  • News and large-group engagement: The most obvious use for Currents is as a place to share news and information relevant to significant numbers of people. Announcements, policy and procedure changes, and items of broad, general interest (e.g., new hires or staffing changes) make sense to share as a post as an update.

  • A casual conversation stream: Currents also can be configured to allow informal, non-work related discussions (Figure A). With an increasing number of organizations now supporting remote work, informal streams can help people connect over shared interests in a way that might otherwise be difficult. A stream of hobby-related photos or just weather discussions that might typically be shared during informal breaks might be shared to Currents.

  • Ask for insight: Currents also offers a place to ask a question that is visible to everyone in the organization. That increases the chances that someone with experience or expertise might reply–even if they’re not in your workgroup.

  • Share experience: Another effective approach to using Currents is to make your and your team’s work more visible to other people in the company. Share news when your team reaches a significant point in a project, post a particularly novel way someone solved a problem, or simply share something you find interesting.

When many people in an organization use Currents for aforementioned categories, the app can help flatten formal structures and create a culture that provides a place for everyone.

Figure A

You may use Currents not only for official work-related conversations and announcements, but also to encourage people to share and connect around personal interests as well.

How to get started with Currents

Google’s Get started with Currents support page offers an excellent sequence of steps. Unlike many support pages, this one offers not only the technical steps needed, but also includes many helpful examples and suggestions. The general process, though, distills down to the following steps:

  1. Enable Currents. First, Currents must be enabled for your organization. A Google Workspace administrator can control whether Currents is available to everyone in your organization or only to people in specific organizational units. To do this, they’ll need to sign in to the Admin Console, then choose Apps | Google Workspace | Currents. From that web page, they may adjust Currents settings and controls.
  2. Add Content administrators. Optionally, a Workspace administrator may add a new Content Administrator role, which allows a person to manage streams, tags, and leaders (see the next paragraph). Specifically, you’ll need to allow this role to Access Tools To Manage Streams, Tags, And Leaders. Typically, people with internal communications responsibilities would be assigned these responsibilities. Even in very small organizations, I recommend you place someone other than a technical-focused Workspace administrator in the Content Administrator role.
  3. Select tags, streams and leaders. Next, Currents Content administrators may add upload tags, create streams and add leaders. Upload tags to make it easier for people to add and find posts related to recurring areas of broad interest, such as #StaffingNews or #TechTips. Create streams to provide specific spots for certain types of information, e.g., a stream for new employee introductions, a stream for discussions about home office setups, or streams for conversations about competitors or clients. Make sure there’s at least one stream that encourages informal social sharing (yes, that’s where pet photos should be shared).
  4. Engage. Typically, I encourage that you work with a small set of people to post to Currents for a few weeks before announcing the use of Currents to the whole organization. That way, when people explore channels they’ll encounter content, not empty streams. Of course, make sure people know they may access Currents on the web or with an Android or iOS app (Figure B).

Figure B

Currents also gives each person adjustable notification and engagement controls.

Why not use another Workspace app?

Once people learn that Currents exists, I also usually have to answer a series of questions as people realize Google Workspace offers more than one communication channel.

People may ask, “Why not just email everyone?” Well, email is an excellent way to share direct, private information, but it is a less than optimal way to encourage a broad, public discussion.

Then they remember, “Aren’t Google Groups searchable?” Yes, Groups are searchable, but without a high level of interest, people often tend either to ignore or to unsubscribe from Group messages.

People particularly attuned to Google’s product releases then often ask, “Google Chat is for teams, isn’t it? What about Rooms in Chat?” My reply is that Chat and Rooms are generally best thought of as ways for either individuals or teams focused on specific tasks to share ideas, discussions or files.

Currents keeps discussions out of inboxes, while also making those conversations available to a broad range of people across an organization.

What’s your experience with Currents?

If you use Google Workspace, do you use Currents at your organization? If so, what types of communities, tags, and streams have you found most active and helpful? Let me know any additional tips you have for others who use Currents–either in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber).