Monday, November 25, 2013

Google+ for Writers – Why You Should Join and Where to Start

As independent writers in this brave new age of publishing, we now know that we must promote our work by ourselves, and to do that we must engage with others on social platforms. Lately I've begun doing just that, and after filing a report about my acrimonious relationship with Facebook, I went off to try my luck with Google+. I am here to report that the results were better, much much better. In fact, I think I'm in love.

I love google+
Cuddling up with Google+
This post will try to explain what's so great about Google+, how it can benefit you as a writer, and how to start. The last part will mostly be links to other sites, since I get the impression that the issue of getting started on Google+ has already been explained quite well by other people. I'll be linking to simple, easy to follow guides for beginners.

Why Google+ is great and how it benefits writers

1 - Ease of use: First of all for me it's very easy to use. Where Facebook frustrated the heck out of me, I found Google+ to be intuitive and reasonable. Things react and behave as I expect them to, more or less. I know that there are people who feel the same abut Facebook and people that feel frustrated by Google+, so I guess you should try it out and judge for yourself.

2Searching is easy and fruitful. On Facebook I had trouble finding people who I knew were on Facebook, and finding people or Pages that addressed my interests was simply impossible. In fact, to find someone on Facebook I normally search for them on Google (I can't be the only one, right?). But Google+ uses Google search and that is a world of difference. I quickly found other people with the same interests, some of them quite esoteric (zen or veganism for instance) and then I also discovered the shining jewel of Google+, namely its communities.

3 - Communities: There are communities for everything, probably. As writers you'll be interested in communities of other writers, of which there are many, and readers, of which there also many. For starters you can take a look at the Indie Readers and Writers Community, with almost 3000 members, or the Writer's Discussion Group, with over 15 thousand(!!). If you write science fiction, then perhaps you would like to join the Science Fiction Community, with over 21 thousand members, and so on and so on. How far does this go? Well, for instance, if you happen to be interested in Myrmecology (the study of ants), then there's a community for that too.

4 - Intelligent discussion: The communities are fantastic because of the high level of engagement and the surprisingly intelligent  discussions. This is a quite a difference compared to what I've experienced on other social networks. Apparently, I'm not the only one who has this impression. Here is what Wasim from Nazereth wrote in his recent post: Why Google+ Haters Are The Best Thing For Google+:
Over the past 2 years, what I have found in my experience is that Google+ caters not to the short attention-spanned ‘look at me look at me’ narcissism that has been the crux of most other social media platforms. Instead, Google+ has done a really good job of weeding out the meaningless and forgettable in favor of the meaningful and unforgettable.

5 - No barriers: As many have already documented, Facebook has put barriers in the form of tollbooths between its users. Google+ doesn't do that. On the contrary, you can follow people without "friending" them, you can join all communities that are not private - without any preconditions - and you can comment on posts of other people even if you are not following them. There are virtually no barriers to connecting with other people. This is great if you want to network, and especially if you want to begin a new network in a field that is new to you. For instance, if you are a writer looking to connect with other writers or looking to receive or give advice on writing, publishing, marketing, editing, hiring agents, and so on, or if you are a writer looking to engage with readers of your genre, then you will love Google+.

6 - Sharing: sharing is very easy on Google+ and also on any site that allows you to share with Google+. I particularly like the fact that I can share anything I want with whomever I choose, using "circles". Circles is basically a way to group your contacts into different categories. Thus, when sharing a useful post about writing, I'll share only to my writers' circle, and when sharing a good joke I'll post to my friends, so as not to annoy my other circles and flood them with redundant information.

7- The visual experience: I prefer the blank, white, light-grey expanses of Google+ to the depressing, gloomy, dark blue-gray shades of Facebook. This is a very personal preference but I feel freer on Google+ , which resembles a blank canvas, after all. Also, if you don't like so much empty space, Google+ allows you to choose between a multi and single column timeline (which is called home stream on Google+).

8 - The personal page: I have already documented my frustration with Facebook's Pages. Even the version that I finally settled on is limited in ways that simply discourage me from using it at all. Google+ doesn't have this problem, at least as far as I'm concerned. As an author I want to appear as an individual person, but I also want to allow other people to follow and contact me without having to ask permission or "friend" me . The Google+ personal profile allows me exactly that, and it also permits establishing pages, if you would like to do so in the future (perhaps a page for each published novel?). Here you can read a concise explanation of the differences between a Google+ Page and personal profile, and a somewhat more detailed explanation can be read here. Please note that Authorship can only be enabled for a personal page.

9 - Authorship: Google search is using Google+ to enhance its search results. One way Google is doing this is by tying information to specific people - "authors" - who are then rated in search results by their usefulness to the community. Such search results show up with a picture of the person who wrote the entry, like here:
Studies have shown that people tend to click through search results with profile pictures a lot more frequently than on results without such a picture. As authors trying to market their books, enhancing our search results is important.

10 - Other stuff : I'm not mentioning things I haven't tried yet like Hangouts, the Google+ text and video chat, which is apparently incredible (I don't even have a camera or microphone yet). And there are tons of other stuff - Google+ is a complex construction and there really is a lot beneath the hood. I'm looking forward to learning about it!

 Does this mean that Google+ is perfect?
 No, it does not. There  are many features of Google+ that can frustrate you and seem odd and inconvenient. The worst one is was the profile picture, which was probably the weirdest implementation of images I have ever seen on the net. It was bafflingly bad. However, Google+ changed the profile picture just a few days ago into something very useful. This means that all the explanations and templates for the profile cover picture from before November 2013 are obsolete (Greg Gifford from AutoRevo has provided the new picture dimensions here). The Home Stream on Google+ is almost as useless as the Facebook timeline, with many posts appearing over and over again. About once a day, comments on posts will not load. Many communities are no more than link dumps, and many are inactive. Google+ can really seem like a ghost town if you go to the wrong places. If you have a lot of communities it is difficult to keep track of them, especially since the interface keeps moving them around in my communities page. The timeline does not refresh by itself (what??). And so on and so on. Nevertheless, there is a lot to like, too much for me not to continue. After all, even our spouses are not perfect (just kidding, honey), and we still love them to death.

Links to get you started

1 - Google+ Basics: Killer Book Marketing has made two excellent introductory videos. The first explains the basics of filling out your profile page. Please note that you must upload a clear picture of your face if you want to appear in the Google search results as an Author. The second goes into circles and communities. Mashable has a great, detailed guide for beginners. I think if you'll see the videos and read the guide before you start, then you'll have a good idea of what you need to do to begin and how.

2 - The Home Stream: This is your timeline, and if you add a lot of people and communities it can get hopelessly cluttered in no time. Plus Your Business has an excellent post that explains where all the information is coming from and how to control it. The first thing I did was mute the "What's Hot" flow.

3 - Communities:  Naveen Sivakumaran has some more useful tips about interacting with the community: Remember to put your posts in the right category and use hashtags to increase discoverability.

4 - Tips and Tricks: Bit Rebels has made an excellent cheat sheet that addresses many small issues on Google+ and makes it easier to use and more efficient. I especially enjoy formatting text on my posts.

5 - Google+ Help: I suggest joining a few help communities, at least when you are starting out. You can learn a lot from the questions and answers, and of course if you are having trouble there are dozens of helpful experts who are ready to help. Try the Google Plus Newbie community or the Google+ Help community.

What next?
I've tried Facebook and Google+, and as a conscientious marketer of me I probably should take a stab at Twitter too. However, I tried Twitter once for my day job and found it too hectic and limited. In any case there is only so much time to spend and I'd rather spend it on a social media that I enjoy and relate to. Therefore, I've decided that for now I'm investing in Google+. I intend to learn as much about it as I can, and post, comment, connect, network and, most importantly, have fun. I hope this post helps you enjoy Google+ too.

P.S. Do you know writers who are wondering whether they should join Google+ or want to but don't know how ? If so, you can help by sharing this post with them.

Update February 2014: Here's another nice and clear introduction to Google+, complete with pictures, from Fabulous Blogging.

Update March 2014 : This is another very good introduction that focuses on how to approach Google+ , what you can use it for, and what tools you can use with it: Tips and Tools for Mastering Google Plus from Martin Shervington

About the author
Joab Cohen is the author of the psychological thriller The Jewminator and
the vegan action hero novel Captain Tofu and the Green Team (coming soon!)

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  1. Nice Article, Joab: I agree, I love Google+

  2. Yeah, this is great. I've been really struggling with understanding what to use, and this helps me understand Google + a lot.

    1. Hi, Jeff. I'm glad it was useful to you!

  3. I agree. While I'm still on FB, it's mostly to socialize. Google + I socialize on too but all friends are cyber:) mostly I use it to promote my blog and magazine, but have made good friends there as well.

  4. This is a great post and so helpful! I do think that FB is very different, though. It's more like a "family," with all those crazy conversations thrown in a big pile that everyone can see if you want them to. . G+ really IS a more intellectual place. The interaction style is very different, too.

  5. Hi Sandra, thanks for reading.

    Carol, glad you liked it. G+ does has a different style, which attracts a different type of person.

  6. Ah, have so much to learn with this stuff. Thanks for this post, and for sharing it @Sanda. My project for this frigid weekend.


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