How to Get Started With Google+

Google Plus logo on iPhone

Google+ has grown to become the second-largest social media platform in the world, with more than 300 million active monthly users. Those kinds of numbers make what used to be thought of as the poor man’s Facebook harder and harder to ignore.

Not that you’d want to ignore it anyway, because Google+ is actually a lot cooler than you think.

The platform itself can seem intimidating at first, especially for those more familiar with Facebook and Twitter. Here’s a look at how to get set up, how it works, and what you can do with it.

Getting started with Google+ is easy, and when you’re done, you’ll be surprised at how much you like it.

Google Account and Profile

Everything on Google+ runs off your main Google account. This includes a picture, name, phone number, email address, and so on.

When you first activate your Google+ account you’ll be prompted to add some more information, so if you have a Gmail account, it’s probably a good idea to use that email address to sign up with.

Window to add a photo to Google+ profile

While some information will be filled in automatically, you’ll still need to enter some more to get going.

Google+ relies heavily on your real name, so unlike on social media sites such as Twitter, it’s easy to know whom you’re really talking to. Keep this in mind when setting up your profile.

Once your basic info is filled in, it’s time to get going with pictures. Just like on Facebook and Twitter, you get a cover photo as well as a user picture. Check out this site for some help choosing the right size picture for each.

You can link your Google+ profile to any websites you contribute to (more on that later). If you choose to do that, take a little time setting up this information since it can actually be seen by people other than just your friends.

As with Facebook and other social media sites, you’ll see that Google+ suggests people for you to connect with based on your email contacts.

And that brings us to Circles.

Circles

Google+ Friends and Family circles

Circles are a way to organize the people you connect with, just as you would in real life. Circles make it easy to share exactly what you want with the people you want. That means your friends see the pictures from last weekend’s party and your family always sees the Thanksgiving posts.

Creating circles is easy. Google even starts you out with a few basic ones. Head over to Google+’s circles page and drag and drop users into the circles of your choice. Just like in real life, you can have a person in more than one circle.

Adding people to Google+ circles

Circles are how you get the most out of posting and reading on Google+.

Posting and Reading

Once you have your circles set up, posting gains an entirely new kind of privacy and security. Google+ allows you to share as broadly or as narrowly as you want on a post-by-post basis.

Posting follows the same idea as following new people. When you post, just enter the people you want to post to and click Share.

Google Plus posting window

The most common ways to post are Public and Your circles. These both send your message to the widest audience possible. You can also enter one or more specific circles.

Detail of To box for posting on Google+

When reading everyone else’s posts, you can view them in the same way you post.

View posts from all your feeds by clicking All in the top Google+ bar, or click on the circle you want to view.

By viewing posts on a per-circle basis, you can follow far more people than with other social media platforms while only viewing the content you really care about.

Detail of Google+ top menu bar

Communities

When it’s time to move beyond circles, communities in Google+ are perfect. There are thousands of communities based on everything from religion to sports to every hobby imaginable.

Communities give you the ability to post images and updates and even have face-to-face conversations in real time, with an assortment of like-minded people.

Stay in touch with a wider group of users while staying on topic. View Google+ communities here, and if you commonly talk to the same people, think about starting your own, too.

Google+ communities

Best of all, you can share to communities right from the Google+ Share box on your home page, just as if you were sharing with one of your circles.

Just start typing the community name in and you’re good. The only caveat is that you can’t share to both a community and other circles or people at the same time.

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Photos

Photos are easily one of the best features in Google+.

Not only do you get a great way to share your photos, but Google+ offers Auto Backup for all the pictures you take with your iOS or Android phone. Your pictures will be saved to your Google account but will be completely private until you choose to share them.

Google+ Auto Backup on smartphone

When you send all your pictures to Google+, sharing and organizing them is easy. What if you take a lot of pictures and you’re worried about missing some when you’re sorting through them? Google+ offers highlights that it considers the best shots in the bunch.

Once you have the pictures you want to post, use Auto Enhance to make them look even better. You can undo any enhancement with a click.

Google+ will even apply some Auto Awesome to your pictures, giving you short animations, automatic panoramic shots, and merged group shots. All automatic and all non-destructive edits.

Example of Google+ Auto Enhance for photos
By pairing photos with your circles, you can share your pictures with just the right people. Pay attention to where these get shared to, so you’ll keep the weekend shots to your friends and the baby pictures to your family.

Hangouts

While photos might be the best feature of Google+, Hangouts are easily the coolest.

Apple might have FaceTime, but Google+ has Hangouts. With Hangouts, two or more people can get together using their computers, phones and other mobile devices to chat via text, video and audio.

One of the most interesting uses of Hangouts is NASA and its Google+ page. It offers Hangouts featuring top scientists and the teams that work on projects like the Mars Rover.

You can host a Hangout, too. Talk with family members across the country and the world. Have a night out with your friends without leaving the house. Add in some Hangout Apps and you’ve got an amazingly powerful tool that Google+ offers for free.

This Google+ post walks you through scheduling a Hangout so everyone is on the same page.

Hangouts are also a great way to stay in touch with your friends via text messaging. You can start a chat with your friend on your computer, then seamlessly move it to your mobile device. This syncing of chats is a killer feature all by itself.

Explore

Google+ is filled with content creators and some pretty interesting stuff. Click More in the Google+ bar and then Explore. (Note: The Google+ bar changes as you click on items, always leaving the most frequently used items available. Others are available via the More menu.)

Under the Explore tab you can see Trending topics as well as popular posts. Click on What’s hot to see some of the most interesting things going on in Google+ right now. If you’re new to the service, this is a great place to start to see pictures, content, and people you might want to follow.

Google+ What's Hot window

Mobile

Google Plus mobile app on smartphone and tablet
We’ve mentioned mobile throughout this post, but the Google+ and Google Hangouts mobile apps are good enough that they’re worth a mention of their own.

The Google+ app for iOS and Android allows you to automatically back up your images via Auto Upload. The push notifications work amazingly well when anyone comments or messages you.

Once you get your account up and working well, download the mobile app for your device. You won’t be sorry.

Wrap-Up

Google+ is a great social media platform that many people write off as an afterthought by Google or a replacement for the abysmal Google Wave. With more and more people using the Google+ service, this hidden gem is really starting to shine.

If you’re on the fence about signing up and using Google+, start using it now. You’ll find a social network that works more like your real life and less like a high school chat room.

(All Google+ images in this post are courtesy of Google.)

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