By David PolitisAt 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realized the power - and privacy - of Google+ Communities that we saw this feature as a viable replacement for those outdated lists.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.
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.
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.
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.