If you haven’t been living in a cave for the past few weeks, you know about Google Plus (G+), the search giant’s latest foray into the social networking biz. G+ is not Google’s first attempt at competing with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for your attention span. You may remember Google Wave, Google Buzz, and Orkut – all fell by the wayside due to a slew of reasons. So will G+ get a leg up on its predecessors? Pretty confident that it’s here to stay.

If you want to look me up on Google Plus, simply visit http://gplus.to/eugeneteplitsky and you will arrive on my profile page.

So now that you have activated your precious invite and logged in for the first time, things may seem just a tad… intimidating.

“Huddles? Sparks? Circles? Egads! What sort of devilry is this, and how do I fit it all into my social presence?!”

Hang in there – this tutorial will walk you through everything you need to know to start getting situated with your new online addiction. For the sake of convenience, I’ve broken this tutorial into several sections:

Table of Contents

  1. Where Does G+ Fit In?
  2. Circles & Privacy
  3. How to Find People
  4. Sparks
  5. Hangouts
  6. Mobile Features

Where Does G+ Fit In?

In short, Google Plus is an amalgamation of Twitter, Facebook, and LiveJournal, with some LinkedIn thrown in for good measure. It is a viral engine built around sharing and re-sharing of content to the people who you want seeing it, while offering flexibility in protecting your privacy.

Here are a couple of great videos explaining about Google Plus and where it fits in on the social media map:

RocketBoom Explains Google Plus

Official Video: Google Plus Overview

General Guides & Tutorials:

Circles & Privacy

The primary differentiating factor between G+ and its competitors is its approach to separating contacts into “circles”, and allowing you to decide which circles see each particular post you make.

For example: you might make a circle for your business contacts, and a circle for your best buds. You would then be able to designate that video of you chugging a liter of ale to be visible to just your friends – your business contacts would have absolutely no idea that you’re a functional alcoholic.

Here’s an easy way of wrapping your mind around Circles in the context of other social networks:

  • Bob adds Mary to his circles == Bob follows Mary on Twitter
  • Mary adds Bob to her circles too == Mary and Bob become friends on Facebook

To start setting up your circles, click “Circles” at the top of the page:

You’ll be taken to a page where you can create new circles, modify existing circles, and arrange your contacts into them.

You do this by simply clicking on one or more contacts (each click “selects” or “de-selects” the contact under your mouse), then dragging them over to a circle.

Wasn’t that easy?

If you need to make more circles, click on or drag some contacts into the empty circle area. You will see a window letting you configure your circle. Now you can fill out your circle name and description, and optionally add some initial contacts.

Pro-Tip: Want to have your posts on Google Plus appear on other networks automatically? Add the other networks’ post-via-email address to a designated circle, and share with it every time you want the content to automatically re-post there.

So now that you’ve got some circles, and some contacts inside them, it’s time to share like you’ve never shared before.

There are TWO places you can share from:

  1. Upper-right hand corner of any page:
  2. At the top of your personal “Home” stream:

By default you would usually see the “Public” group in the list of circles to share with. Public means ANYONE can see the post. If you don’t want everyone to see it, click the little “X” on the right side of it to remove it.

Now you can click “Add more people” to choose specific circles, or even specific users.

WARNING: Even if you only share something with your private circles, your friends will be able to RE-share your content with others – unless you explicitly disable resharing. You can do so by clicking on the little circle in the upper-right corner of the posted content, and choosing “Disable reshare”.

Here are some circle-related videos to give you additional perspective on this cool feature:

Official Video: Circles Overview

Official Video: Exploring Circles

Pro-Tip: Sharing with a single user is the equivalent of a Private Message!
Additional Guides & Tutorials About Circles

How to Find People

So now you are feeling a bit more comfortable with circles and sharing, and are ready to make some friends. But what now? How do you find new contacts that you actually want to keep in touch with?

The answer is: search for ‘em!

See that search box at the top of the page?

You don’t need to search for specific people, necessarily (though you could). I suggest you search for interests – ie: writing, literature, gaming, etc. This will pull up profiles that have these terms mentioned, so until there’s a better method, this is the easiest way to find new people.

Another thing you can do is take advantage of user-maintained lists and compilations of users by interest. Here are a few I use (they are all geared towards writerly types).

For more general people searches, try:

Sparks

Sparks are Google’s way of delivering relevant content to you from across the web via saved searches. Visit the “Sparks” page and enter a search term, then when you are satisfied with the results, click “Add Interest” to pin it to your navigation column, for easy access.

Official Video: Sparks Overview

Additional Guides & Tutorials About Sparks:

Hangouts

Google’s answer to Facebook’s upcoming video chat features is the Hangouts functionality – a 10-person realtime video chat room, which you can share with the world or just a select group of collaborators, just like every other bit of content on G+.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about this, as it’s quite self-explanatory, especially after understanding how content sharing works on G+.

To start a hangout, simply click on the “Start a Hangout” button in the right column of your “Home” stream page.

You will then see a popup dialog letting you get ready for the video conference, check your settings, and choose which circles you wish to invite to your new hangout.

Pro-Tip: Use Hangouts for group writing sessions, music jams, or secret gatherings!
Official Video: Hangouts Overview

Where to find great hangouts?

Try http://www.gphangouts.com for a list.

Mobile Features

You can take Google Plus anywhere you go, provided you have an Android phone. There are a couple of rather cool mobile features: Huddles and Instant Uploads.

Huddles are realtime group chats that you can have with a specific set of users or circles.

Instant uploads are exactly what they sound like – take a picture with your phone, and it will be automatically uploaded to your Google Plus account, where it will be visible only to you until you decide to share it with others.

Here are a couple of videos explaining these features:

Official Video: Huddles Overview

Official Video: Instant Uploads

I hope you found this tutorial helpful. I will be sharing more tips and tricks on making the most of Google Plus as I come across them – I’m learning this as I go, just like you! I do appreciate your comments, questions, and suggestions so please drop me a line in the comments below – especially if you have any additional tips to share.

As I mentioned at the start of the article, my Google Plus page is: http://gplus.to/eugeneteplitsky. I’d love for you to stop by!

Update (July 18): Added yet more lists, and a hangout finder.

Update (July 14): Added more writer-friendly user lists to the “How to Find People” section.



About the Author

Eugene Teplitsky
Running the acclaimed Curiosity Quills Press literary magazine and publishing house along with wife and writing partner, Lisa Gus, Eugene strives to give fellow authors a fighting chance in this tumultious age. With nearly two decades of work in the financial and entertainment sectors, Eugene's experience spans the gamut from web application development, to graphic design, to search engine optimization, and social media marketing.