Google Plus Circles – How To Use Them

Google Plus Circles are basically what I’ve been waiting for for quite a long time, now.

Here’s the video from Google that basically explains what they are:

Youtube Link => []
That’s all well & good, and it gives you a basic understanding of what you can do with circles, but if you’re “Internet Famous” or even just a power-user of social media sites, you’re going to need a better plan than “I CAN SHARE MY PARTY PHOTOS WITH MY COLLEGE FRIENDS!!! πŸ˜€ LULZ LOL FTW F2F IRL!!! :D”

You’re actually going to need to employ a 3-pronged attack if you’re going to build successful circles.

“My College Friends” will quickly become a useless category to you if you have a whole lot of college friends.

This is because your college friends are all INDIVIDUALS and don’t have the same interests and don’t share the same quality of content and aren’t interested in the same topics. o_O

Wait.. Let me back up a little…

People Skillz

The reason I’m talking about this is because I’m popular In Real Life (otherwise known as “IRL”). Most people on the internet are not.

In fact, before Twitter, most people that you see with a lot of followers never had anyone listen to anything they had to say ever in life, which is why the service is so popular. You get to feel like thousands of people are listening to what you have to say. You feel popular. You feel interesting.

Meanwhile, I’ve been managing groups of followers since my earliest recorded memories, around Kindergarten (5 years old, in the United States of America).

As far as internet stats, I currently have 2,879 Facebook Friends and 3,127 Twitter Followers if you’d like to check it.

And here’s what the readership to my website, looked like two years ago, in July, 2009:

Bill Cammack Cross-Countries

So, Anyway…

Almost two weeks ago, before I received an invite to Google+ from my friend Jeffrey Taylor, I had never heard of it.

I had never heard of it and I wasn’t even checkin’ for Google as far as social stuff after Wave was WACK and Buzz was WACK, I had pretty much had it with their attempts at social.

Fast-Forward 12 days after receiving my invite, and 970 people have added me to their circles (though the lagging stats on my profile page says that only 692 people have me in their circles), or maybe that has something to do with whether people are broadcasting who’s in their circles or not. \o/

Circle Strategy

I started out using circles the way the video tells you to.. Grouping people by level of acquaintance or things you appear to have in common.

It became obvious, relatively quickly, that this wasn’t the way to go.

I hopped on Google+’s “Hangout” feature (no-cost group video chat for up to ten people) and had a brainstorming session with my friend Baratunde.

Baratunde’s an actual comedian. He’s an entertainer. I have fans, but he has *FANS*. I wanted to know what he was planning to deal with “circles”. He spoke on his thoughts about circles in this public Google+ post, entitled “Will Google Plus let me hang out with Halle Berry?”.

One of the things we discussed in that conversation was that circles needed to be concentric, not mutually exclusive.

Bill CammackFor example.. I might go to a party, and there could easily be 60-80 people that I personally know in the same room.

That doesn’t mean that we all share the same level of friendship, as Facebook would have us believe.

That doesn’t mean we all share the same depth of conversation, interaction or intimacy with each other.

That blip party isn’t a bunch of separate, mutually-exclusive parties.

It’s one large party which contains many, many sets of varying levels of relationships which intermingle with each other during the evening.

Similarly.. When you’re interacting online, you’re not dealing with mutually-exclusive groups.

Some of your friends from college are still your friends now.

Some of your IRL friends are also your coworkers.

Some of your coworkers are your girlfriends. >:D

Some of your girlfriends also like hiking or web design or debating dating situations.

If you group people the way you’re told to, you’re gonna get screwed, because you’re mixing people with differing qualities of content creation.

You’re going to end up with too much noise and not enough signal, and then you’re going to have to write blog posts about how your wife bounced from Google+ because she couldn’t take it anymore.

So.. The first thing you have to know in order to do it properly, is that you need to set up two different hierarchies of circles:

  1. Listening Circles
  2. Sharing Circles

I have people that I’m actual IRL friends with and I enjoy clinking brews with them at the bar and I totally enjoy their company in person, but the internet content they post is absolute DRIVEL! πŸ˜€ – 2: childish, silly, or meaningless talk or thinking; nonsense; twaddle.

It’s complete garbage. I’m not trying to hear that. In fact.. I’m not even trying to have to scroll past that while I’m looking through interesting, relevant material.

If I made a circle called “Good Friends Of Mine”, it would be populated with garbage.

Fortunately, Google+ enables us to *IMMEDIATELY* promote and demote people in pretty much less than two seconds.

As soon as you see something that disturbs your reading experience, you hover over their name and get “Add to circles”, then hover over that and either demote them or remove them from your circles entirely. No muss, No fuss! >:D

After almost two weeks of dealing with content quality interruptions, I realized that the way to go is grouping people by the quality of their content… IIIIIIII HAVE A DREEEEEEAM… THAT ONE DAYYYY…

Listening Circles

So that’s your first set.. Your hierarchy of Listening Circles, grouped in order by quality of content.

What this allows you to do is cascade down levels of relevance.

First, you click on your circle that includes people that you always want to hear from.

This circle is valuable because Google+ moves very quickly, like Twitter does. If you don’t have a circle where you can find things posted hours ago or even days ago from the people you REALLY want to keep up with, you’ll never be able to find them if they’re mixed in with a bunch of other people’s content.

Once you’re up-to-date with the important posts, click on the circle of people that always have something relevant, intelligent, intelligently humorous, insightful or important to say.

This is where you’re going to experience your first round of demotions. πŸ™‚ SOMEBODY in this list is going to disappoint you with drivel and get demoted to a lesser ring.

Next, check the circle with people that post good material, but it’s leaning towards leisure-time reading.

This is where you’re going to experience your first round of promotions. Some people are going to surprise you with insight or relevance, and you’re going to want them to be in a higher-priority circle next time you do this. πŸ™‚

After that, you have the circle with the cat-picture-posting people… The circle with the people that came from Tumblr & Twitter and don’t know to do anything other than incessantly post drivel every hour on the hour… The circle with the people that never, ever, EVER have anything to say for themselves that doesn’t have to do with Social Media, Search Engine Optimization, or shilling for their company or brand… The circle with people that you don’t know anything about, but you’re willing to give them a chance to make it into a relevant circle…..

If you want to do Pot Luck, you click on “Stream” in your sidebar, and you can see material in chronological order from everybody in all of your circles.

Sharing Circles

Second.. You need sharing circles.

“My College Friends” don’t all care about the music you’re working on or your business connections or actually *ANY* one particular topic you might feel like posting about on the internet.

You have to develop lists, groups, sets, circles, whatever, of Passionate Consumers of whatever your blog topic was.

If you post about social media, add the people that +1 or contribute thoughts to that thread to your Social Media Sharing Circle. Same thing if you post about dating or video production or whatever else you normally like to discuss online.

What you end up with is people in overlapping circles which work efficiently in the same way that your IRL interactions with people work. You hear what you want to hear from people when you want to hear it, and you tell (to a degree) people about what they’re likely to want to hear about.

If you have something you want to generically broadcast to everyone, you can elect to share it to either “Extended Circles” (a complicated version of “Friends of Friends” in Facebook-Speak) or “Public” (a complicated version of the main timeline, if you’re used to Twitter).

The one problem I have right now with “Public” is that there’s no way to restrict comments on your post to people that you’ve vetted. You can do that on Facebook by making your post visible to “Everyone”, but having your privacy settings restrict comments to people that you’re actually connected to.

Of course, you can block people for making inane comments in your thread, but I’m more of a Prevention person than a Cure person, Nah Meen? >:D

Hangout Circles

The third set of circles you’re going to need, well, if you’re the type of person to take advantage of group video chatting, that is.. is Hangout Circles.

Google+ Hangout Video ChatA Google+ Hangout is a video chat between anywhere from 2 – 10 people.

well… unless you do it like Facebook press conferences and have 10 people bum rush the show on the same video camera.. then, I guess, hypothetically, A Google+ video chat fits up to 100 people. πŸ˜›

But seriously, folks…

Group Video Chatting is definitely the move, but the quality level depends on the people that you get to join the chat.

When you create it, you have the option of sharing the invitation with individuals or circles (or extended circles or “public”).

If you don’t curate your hangout circles, you’re going to end up with pot luck, which may or may not go well for you.

On top of that, if you have thousands of followers, there are only 10 slots to begin with. It doesn’t make sense to invite 900 people to something like that.

What you need to do is either get your set of 10 people together ahead of time, perhaps using a Facebook Event, since Google+ doesn’t have Events yet, or at least get a core of people together where you know you’re going to have a good conversation once you invite more of your circles to the hangout.

There are way more issues with hangouts that I’ll talk about in another post, but essentially, to me, hangouts are the killer app to Google+.

The only reason I haven’t logged more hangout hours already is that I’ve been focused on figuring out circles.

Long Story Short… (too late)

Google+ is still in a closed format they call a Limited Field Trial, but you should be able to join up at pretty soon.

Most of what I said isn’t going to be useful to you if you know like 49 people, total. πŸ™‚

In fact, most people didn’t bother to read this far, and they really don’t need to.

The people that need to read this are those of us that experience diminishing returns from social media sites because they eventually become popular.

Foursquare was very useful before it became a fad to be connected to people on that particular LBS (location-based service). As soon as the civilians found out about it and were able to add people they already followed on Twitter and Facebook, we had to make a choice between being sociable and using the service for its intended purpose.

Google+ Circles are a good way to deal with posting private and public content from the same account.. Private, meaning sent to people you specifically want to get that communication, not Private as in “Let me send this chick a picture of tha dilznick and get fired from my job.”

I think a lot of people are going to bounce from the service because they’ll feel like it’s Twitter with the 140 character restriction removed.

That’s pretty much what Jaiku was, back in the day.

Google+ is a new game, altogether. It’s an incredible time sink because there’s so much information (though, granted, a lot of it’s reduntant reposting) that you receive from so many people, and then you can actually follow the conversations connected to that content.

It’s not going to be for everybody. Trolls will probably have no presence on G+ at all, especially since their accounts are linked to their government names, like and they’re not going to be able to hide behind fancy screen names and try to act disrespectfully.

Lurkers will be there, silent in the background, as usual. Google+ is the opportunity for ACTUAL thought leaders and aggressive debaters to shine.

The time is NOW! >:D Skynet has been activated. The online and offline worlds have been brought one critical step closer to each other. If you have your listening circles and sharing circles set up properly, you’ll thrive in this environment.

If not, you’ll suffer through a flood of minutiae and drivel from cat-picture and animated .GIF posters and decide that Google+ isn’t worth anything to you socially.

For cyborgs like The Kid, Google+ is gonna be big! πŸ˜€ hehe I’ll see you at the top, or I’ll see you at the bottom.

Welcome to Gladiator School! >:D

Join the Conversation


  1. Yo Bill,
    Great post, man. I’ve been toolin’ around G+ and found it interesting. I love your bifurcated concentric circles concept. I really appreciate your thoughts on this and hope you’re right about G+ being a place for the niche and creative cream to rise.

    BTW – You need to come up to Kingston sometime so we can hook up and chat over a few Brews… We’re 1/2 mile from a bad ass Brewery. $2 pints on Thursdays… πŸ˜‰

    1. Thanks, Ron. πŸ™‚ I’ll definitely have to make a day trip up to Kingston! πŸ™‚

      I think I spent enough time to figure out how it’s going to work for me, Ron. The obvious problem being that Google+ is still in a “Field Test” and they really haven’t let the masses in yet, so there’s no telling how the landscape and style of sharing is going to change once that happens.

      There are also lots of changes that Google needs to make to privacy settings, moderation for Hangouts, etc, that will change the situation as well.

      For instance, if you post something to “Public” right now, anybody that sees the post can comment on it. Posting something to “Everyone” on Facebook doesn’t override your privacy settings that limit responses to people you’re FB Friends with. So, on G+, the only way to have a pre-vetted conversation is to *only* send the post to your vetted circle(s) to begin with.

      But yeah.. I like the system fine right now, and it’s a totally different and refreshing game! πŸ˜€

  2. Bill,

    Great article.

    Quick question…do you know how to set my stream to a specific circle as default…for example i follow some interesting people but they post 1000 times a day and it is cluttering my home stream. I want to keep the information for later but not have it my default on my homepage…i dont know how to do this.

    please let me know if you have a solution. Thanks

    1. Thanks, Brandon. πŸ™‚

      There are Chrome Extensions that will allow you to set your default stream, however, I tend to use my bookmarks a lot, so I would suggest that you click on the stream you want to default to, and then save that URL in your browser’s Bookmarks Bar. It should start with this string:

    3. Cheers! πŸ™‚

  3. “I had never heard of it and I wasn’t even checkin’ for Google as far as social stuff after Wave was WACK and Buzz was WACK, I had pretty much had it with their attempts at social.”
    Exactly how I felt. I’m not convinced. I tried to dive in today and see if I like it any better.

    1. Hey, Najeema. πŸ™‚

      I think you’ll find G+ a lot different from both Wave and Buzz.

      It’s an entirely new game. It will work for the people that are gregarious and the people that are only good at writing blog posts are going to fade into the distance.

  4. Great in depth post. Thank you. You hit the nail on the head for me when you talked about the diminishing returns that happen when social media gets “popular”.

    1. Thanks, Paul. πŸ™‚

      I think that because of the Circles concept, people are going to be able to tailor their G+ experience however they want it, which is going to lead to a much richer experience for those of us that choose to figure out how the system works.

      Cheers! πŸ˜€

  5. Beta vs VHS comes to mind here…

    I’m wondering if it isn’t just a bit complex for regular users.

    But then again, Facebook was once considered ‘too complex’, so…

    1. We’ve been having that discussion over the past week, Ron.

      As-is, Google+ is *WAY* too complex for regular users.

      It’s easy for them to use, but tough for them to use efficiently. They’re not going to do the things I mentioned in the article. They’re going to want to just plug & play and then they’re going to end up with an unmanageable stream, and then they’re going to bounce from the system.

      Hopefully, ease of use for non-early-adopters is one of the things Google’s looking at before they make the system public.

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