Focus your discussions to get through to your audience

JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

Last week I spoke about targeting your conversations online to preserve privacy and to prevent others from being annoyed by things they aren’t interested in.

Instant messages and private messages have their place in social media, but if you (like me) follow lots of interesting people and brands, your private messages can quickly become lost in a sea of information.

This may not be much of a problem for one off communications, but what if you have a series of related messages you (and your contacts) want to keep tabs on?

The solution comes in the form of groups and communities. You are probably familiar with Facebook groups, which anyone can create. There are three basic types of Facebook group, Public, Closed and Secret. Public groups are visible to everyone, whether they are members or not. Only group members can post or comment though. Closed groups are similar, in that anyone can find the group. The difference is that only members can see posts in the group. Finally Secret is just that. As the group is not discoverable to anyone other than existing members, new members must be added manually. There is no option to share a Secret group in a normal Facebook message.

One problem which many people have with Facebook groups, is the ability for members to add new members without consent. If you are a member of a group, please seek consent before adding people if at all possible, or you may risk annoying the very people you want to get involved! The ability to add people without consent is in fact part of the group creation process. Facebook will not allow you to create a group with just one member (yourself), forcing you into adding at least one other. Again, do this carefully or your group may be a non starter.

Every post to a Facebook group appears in that group’s timeline. There is no distinction between posts to differentiate them from one another. If you need to categorise posts, you will need to look elsewhere for your group communications.

In steps Google+ Communities. Similar to Facebook groups, Google+ Communities can be either Public or Private. Unlike Facebook, there is no option to force membership of a Google+ Community onto another individual and you do not need to add members before creation. Additionally, as well as personal profiles (you know, real people like you and me), brand pages can create and join Communities, which appeals to many people.

Crucially, Google+ Communities have categories. There is an ‘All posts’ view which shows everything, but moderators have the ability to add whatever categories they like. This makes finding information really simple. To use an example (and this is a nerdy one at that) you could create a private Community for a team of software developers. Bugs could be posted to a ‘Bugs’ category, feature requests could go in ‘Feature Requests’, important notices could go in ‘Notices’ and so forth. Bugs that have been fixed could be moved to a ‘Fixed’ category, thus leaving the ones that need attention clearly identifiable.

Groups and communities are fantastic places to hold discussions on specific topics. So if you find yourself regularly talking to the same people about a particular subject, you might consider creating or joining one. Communities may be focused to aid workflow, like in the software developer example, or they could be based on an interest (music, games, sport, etc.) or something else. The choice is yours.

Alan Stainer