Can Google+ Save Discussion Forums?

Mike Allton
Mike Allton Internet Marketing Consultant, The Social Media Hat

Posted on March 14th 2013

Can Google+ Save Discussion Forums?
Google+ Discussion Forums

Forums, Groups, Communities... Bulletin Board Systems... Discussion forums have been around the Internet in one form or another for over 20 years. The concept is simple: give people a place to post questions and discussion topics, and respond to posts from other people. The problem is, virtually every discussion forum has and continues to be inundated with spammers, even on the major social networks. Facebook Groups are wallowing in obscurity, and LinkedIn Groups are so overwhelmed with spam links that it's hard to find value.

It's unfortunate because discussion forums are genuine opportunities to foster online conversations, get help, and demonstrate expertise. Discussion forum participation has long been something Internet marketing agencies have advised their clients to do, but too often, these business owners get so overwhelmed by the spam activity and lack of immediate value, they give up. Once active groups are becoming nothing more than running classified ads, and many boards and services are getting shut down.

Can anyone save discussions forums?

Enter Google+ [cue dramatic music].

Google looked at the discussion forum landscape, saw the struggling systems in place on Facebook and LinkedIn, and said, "We can do better." At the time, Google+ membership was rocketing, so Google implemented Google+ Communities.

So what's different about Google+ Communities?

The basic principles are the same as the other platforms. Anyone can create a community, call it whatever they want, and suggest a general topic or topics for discussion. One you've joined a community, you can post whatever you want, including links to your website, just like a standard Google+ post.

One difference that is apparent right away is the ability to create Categories within the Community. A community for "Business Marketing" might have categories for TV, Radio, Print, Social Media, Blogging and others. This kind of separation helps users make sure that they're posting content that is appropriate and correctly filed. Of course, that won't stop a spammer.

This is where Google gets impressive.

Every community has an owner and potentially other moderators. Moderators have the ability to deal with spam posts and spammers easily.

Google also monitors each individual's activity and if you're seen to be posting the same content in multiple communities, ALL of your posts will be immediately hidden from anyone not a moderator!

These aspects are great, but what really tells me that Google is serious about making this system work is that they have a community specifically for moderators, where discussions and support can be found on what moderators face every day. And Google continues to make investments in the form of changes and improvements to communities and moderators! When was the last time Facebook added an improvement to Facebook Groups?

Google recognizes that there is extreme value in fostering online communities and discussion groups. Instead of using a mindless clicking game to inflate member time on site, Google is helping to create real value for members, and that translates into more content within the Google-verse, higher membership, and increased time spent within Google+.

I can personally attest to how much more discussion, how much more value, I get from Google+ communities as compared to anywhere else. I think that if Google continues to be innovative and diligent, spam content might not be eliminated, but it will definitely be kept at bay, leaving nothing but great discussion in place.

What do you think about Google+ Communities? Do they provide value to you? Do you think they'll last? If you haven't found one or two great communities, catch up with me on Google+ and I can recommend a few.

Image courtesy of James Jordan, Flickr.

Mike Allton

Mike Allton

Internet Marketing Consultant, The Social Media Hat

I love to help small businesses and organizations that are interested in using the Internet more effectively. I provide a comprehensive set of consulting services, which include Social Media, Blogging, website development, SEO and Internet marketing.

I started my own website design firm in 2007 when I moved to St. Louis. Though I had been designing websites for years, it was always side jobs and part time gigs until I started my own firm. I now provide professional web development and Internet consulting full time.

For most clients and projects, we start with a new website. The new site is based on the Drupal Content Management System (CMS) platform so that the client may log into their site and add or edit content any time they need to. Each CMS includes a built-in Blog and other content types like FAQs and Testimonials. The CMS also includes a full compliment of SEO and Social Media integration options so that every time they create a new blog entry, that post is automatically shared with search engines like Google and Bing, and can be easily posted to social networks like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

Once we have a great new website in place, I provide my business clients with ongoing marketing advice and assistance. I can tell them exactly what they need to do, or just do it for them, depending on how involved they wish to be. These ongoing activities can include blogging, creating and updating social network profiles, interacting with followers and readers, and managing online advertising campaigns.

I am the editor at The Social Media Hat (http://www.TheSocialMediaHat.com) where I regularly share articles discussing Social Media, SEO, Blogging, Writing, Internet Marketing and Business Technology.

My goal is to ensure that businesses are able to leverage the power and connectivity of the Internet to promote and grow their business. How can I help you with your own business today?

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Comments

Stephen Tamlin
Posted on March 14th 2013 at 5:39AM

Hey Mike, great post.

I'm a big fan of Google+ Communities I think they're more flexible than Facebook and LinkedIn versions - So much easier to use.

However I still see forms of spam within these communities, not to the extent of Facebook or LinkedIn but I think that's mainly down to the activity levels being lower on G+.

You're right though the only way these work is when moderators and platform 'police' work really hard to remove spam. This does get really difficult when you've got over 1bn members, i.e Facebook. I wasn't aware of the platform wide block for any spammers which I think is fantastic, I just hope this is enforced.

 

Mike Allton
Posted on March 14th 2013 at 12:34PM

You make a good point, Stephen, and one that I debated including in the post. It's possible that spam levels are lower simply because the communities are newer. And I'm sure there's some truth to that. We'll see how these communities look a yeaar from now... if they're still the place to go for real discussions, or if they've been overrun.

Thanks for reading!

socialitesos
Posted on March 16th 2013 at 5:51AM

I totally believe that Google+ communities are a suitable replacement for outdated forums.  The only thing that bothers me is that people use it to just dump a link to their blog post and then leave.  I'm a member of a few communities, mainly SEO ones and occasionally you get some good dialogue and discussion going but more often than not it's another place form someone to post a link.

It frustrates me because you would never do that on a forum.  You'd post your thoughs on the article, give an opinion, really try to elecit some sort of conversation with people you have built a relationship with.

The functionality of G+ is spot on and has all the right ingredients.  The way we share and converse does seem to have changed a little though - or maybe I just haven't found the right places yet.

One of my favourite communites is the SEOmoz q&a page.

mickeyaaaa
Posted on December 5th 2014 at 1:47PM

I can't help but disagree about Google Plus being a suitable replacement for discussion forums.

 If your community is about a single topic or narrow discussion, then G+ might suit your needs, but what if the community you want to create will be quite large, with extensive discussions about every aspact of a topic, lets say a specific model of car.

You would want threads on technical how-to, showing off pictures, performance mods, parts for sale, parts wanted, etc and so on....While G+ allows you to create a menu of topics, it is only 1 thread deep, you cannot do layers of threads which are desirable in a larger community.

If there are a lot of posts in a "thread" on a G+ community, it is hard to sort through all the headings, unlike on a traditional bbs type forum. Honestly, i think the posts in G+ communities look like a dogs breakfast - hard on the eyes, no apparent sorting or organization to them.

Now that more time has passed since you wrote the article, it seems many communities are full of spammy hit and run postings (based on a quick browse look-see).

Additionally, Apple keeps playing hardball, so IOS users (I believe) are alienated from participating fully or (at all?) in G+ communities, where traditional forum sites are functional for everyone.

I've been wanting to create an online forum/community for the industry I am in, which i think is sorely needed. I hesitate because I've been reading that the general trend on these standalone forums is that their popularity is waning - less and less participation.

Would you agree/disagree with my comments OP? Do you think its still possible to build a healthy "old scool" PHPBB type forum?