How to Use Google+ Circles and Why You Should Even Care


There’s been a lot of confusion about Google+ and how to manage your Circles… or even what they hell they are. I’ll go over what Circles are and aren’t… and how I use them to manage my Google+ contacts and information.

Google+ is different from Twitter and Facebook both in the way you obtain and distribute information. In Twitter you can follow people to see their updates, they don’t have to follow you back. It makes for an easy one way street for people who are interested in the updates of others. In Facebook, it’s always a completely mutual relationship. If you want to see someone’s updates, you need to request their friendship, and the other person has to accept it. You will then be mutually sharing.

Google+ handles this in a completely new way. You have circles, which are basically categories of people. People can be in more than one circle, but they have to be in at least one circle to be a part of your contacts. When you go to post an update, you get to choose what people will see that update in their stream. But it’s still a bit more complicated than that.

What are Circles?

Let’s go over this one point at a time.

You create Circles to categorize and organize your contacts on Google+, and you can create any that you want. The default ones are actually a great start. You drag contacts into your circles to categorize them. (note: when you add someone to a circle they will be notified that you added them to your circles, but not WHAT circles… for instance if you name a circle “asshats” they won’t ever know… well unless you tell them)

These Circles control not only who sees your updates but also whose updates you see in your stream. When you go to your stream you can see the full stream or you can click to see just a certain circle.

WOC - Google+ Circles

You can also click to see posts from people who you haven’t added to YOUR circles but who have shared something with a circle that they have included you in, these are in the “Incoming” stream. It may sound complicated but in practice it isn’t. I will also show you how to get around dealing with ever having to click on “Incoming”.

WOC - Google+ Circles

When you share something on Google+ you get to choose who sees it. That doesn’t guarantee they WILL see it, it just means that it will be available in their stream if they look at it, and you are in a circle that they include in that stream. Ok so yeah it does start to sound complicated here. But seriously it’s not.


How I Organize My Circles

I have three distinctly separate categories of people in my greater social network. Photographers, filmmakers and new media people. There is definitely some crossover but those are the main categories. Within those categories there are types of relationships… I have friends, acquaintances and followers. So my circles currently look like this:

WOC - Google+ Circles

Every single person I add goes into either Family (blood relatives), Friends (people I’d invite to my birthday party), Acquaintances (people I know or have at least conversed with online or IRL), Followers (people who have added me but I don’t know who they are) or Following (people that I have added so I can follow them, but they don’t know me). That pretty much sums up all the relationships I have in the world. Some of those people also go into Clients. Then out of those people they mostly also fall into the Photographers, Filmmakers or New Media circles.

This allows me to control who sees what I post. My filmmaker friends aren’t necessarily interested in my posts about still photography, and my new media friends might not be interested in the camera gear posts I do… and the filmmakers might get annoyed by all the internet meme stuff I love to talk about. Using Circles when I share something allows me to target specific audiences, and makes sure that I stay relevant to the people who are seeing my posts. There’s no better reason to unfollow someone than to just see a bunch of crap they post that you don’t care about.

This also allows me to control what I have to see. I am interested in a wide variety of topics… and love to see new information in many different categories. Unfortunately I just don’t always have time to watch everything out there. With my Circle system if I’m not strapped for time I just look at the stream. It shows me everything from everyone in any of my circles. If I don’t have much time or am not in the mood for a flood of stuff I will either just look at my Friends circle or my Watch circle, which I set up specifically as a sort of “must see” circle. It’s full of people that I almost at any time would be interested in seeing what they post. If you have a crush on someone, they belong in here. Or if you hate someone… they might belong there too. Anyone whose posts you just can’t miss… put them in a circle meant just for that.

The last question I’ve gotten regarding my choices for circles is about the Following circle. This is where I put everyone who follows me who I don’t know and don’t immediately find compelling to have to see everything they post. This is counter to the way that most people manage Twitter or even Facebook. On Twitter if someone follows you because they are interested in you but you don’t follow them back because you’re not as interested in what they post about… it makes sense. In Google+ it actually makes sense to add these people to a circle so that they can actually see the things you post about. If you don’t have them in a circle then they won’t see your posts… which was the point of them adding you to a circle in the first place. So everyone who adds me gets added back, EVERYONE. That way they won’t miss whatever it is that they wanted by adding me in the first place.

Obviously Google+ is brand new and there are many many ways to handle any given system, so I’m sure I’ll be changing and refining things as time goes on, but a little over a week in and this is what I find works for now. Do you have any suggestions on how to make it better? Share them in the comments below.

Jared Abrams
Jared Abrams is a cinematographer based in Hollywood, California. After many years as a professional camera assistant he switched over to still photography. About two years ago a new Canon camera changed the way the world sees both motion and still photography. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
  • Tommy Butler

    Very useful article!

  • Goforjared

    Great article! Thanks for posting. I’m still working out my G+ but si fatmr I am liking more tha FB.

  • Kip Beelman

    Helful Senor Vu.

  • EricFullerton

    It’s nice to see how you’ve set up your circles. It’s pretty much how I’ve set mine up except for further categories like photography and such. Good idea, great article.

  • Sebastian TR

    +1  – nice Article – I think there is a lot of potential / promise with G+ , at the very least – it’s nice to move away from FB.

  • TheRedOwl

    Good stuff. I like Google+ very much especially the hangouts feature.

  • Asia Cansler

    This helps a lot. Thanks

  • Angus McDecoy

    Given your use of a “Followers” circle, G+ should just provide one automatically, a la Twitter’s capability to see who’s following you.  That would make me seem like much less of an antisocial jerk.

  • Brandon Schaefer

    Google circles have been very difficult to manage and maintain. We started a site that helps keep the circles updated with the latest and best people for specific categories. If you keep the naming convention identical to what we have, you will always be in good shape. Let us know what you think and check out the site –

  • Brad St Clair

    There is room for all 3 social networks in my view – peaceful co-existence!

    1. Facebook – staying in touch with friends and family (sure, you can now “subscribe” to those beyond the realms of your social influence, but for the time being, it isn’t the primary reason people use Facebook). 

    2. Twitter – keeping up to date with those beyond your realm of social influence (news services, celebrities, journalists, etc). On Twitter (for the majority of users), even though the majority of people you follow don’t often know you – you still know them (mainly because, quite simply, they have some level of fame).

    3. Google+ – keeping in touch and seeing content not from friends and family (Facebook) or from the rich and famous (Twitter) but from everyday, ordinary people who share similar interests to you. Keen photographer? Follow a few “circles” of photographers, and in no time you will have a fantastic stream of new images in no time. Keen gamer? Writer? Into the outdoors? Tech? Science? You name it, there are millions of people out there with similar interests to yourself, sharing or creating interesting content in subject matters that you relate to. 

    I have left some further thoughts about this topic at +

  • Maxamillion Blick

    When you add “everyone” to your circle, how can you avoid all of their comments to go into your main stream.

  • Elaine ossipov

    This is a great post, and if you don’t mind too much, I’ll use it as a reference.  Thanks for taking the time to post it.

  • Miaychange

    Hi, I have a question. If I click on one of my circle buddies, and “Add a comment” for them, could my friend’s other buddies (in her circle) see my comment? I’m new to this and don’t want to do anything or say anything to that person if others in her circle can see it too. Would someone please let me know? Thanks.

  • Dpdanniboy3

    I think it’s all so confusing cause you don’t know who’s a g+ member. I don’t see a photo for most the people I add to my group/circle then when i do it tells me to add them, well I already did! so I assume they don’t even know what the hell g+ is. Even if they did it’s still confusing as hell. I love google and all it does but man g+ can seem like c++ at time. Just want to get people I email with into my circle is like trying to figure out how to land a rover on Mars. I’ll keep coming back though cause I know Google will eventually have the right people come in and think tank it to make it more user friendly. Heres and idea. In your gmail you right click on the persons name there’s an option to add them or request them to a circle , in that there’s a red or green identifier that lets you know if their active or not with g+ they can accept or decline, eureka!  

  • Andrewmailloux83

    I appreciate this article. It helped me gain a little better understanding of circles. That said, I seem to keep making people angry every time I share something to a circle. It’s not WHAT I’m saying that seems to be the issue, it’s like I’m launching everyone into some kind of network they don’t want to be in. For example, I have a circle called “Video Game Demons” which is a group of folks who seem to be involved in the gaming industry. After I asked that circle a question about where a good place to start to learn coding would be, I started seeing people in that circle complaining that they were connected or something? I don’t want to drive anyone away, and I’m struggling to understand what difficulty it is I’m causing…any explanation would be much appreciated…

  • Ggmm1903

    Useful. Okay quick question. Im sure you stated that of I don’t add a person to a circle then they can see my content. An ex has added me. He stalks me. I ignored the email request but I am now concerned that he can read comments I post:-/ can anyone give m a definitive answer. Thanks!! Article did help. I know kind of understand g+. Xx

  • willy wonka

    It’s a little disappointing I can’t +1 this article haha

  • icushine1

    how do I know if someones google+ profile is open to public or only shared with circles?

  • guest02

    In the middle of the article, you defined Followers as (people who have added me but I don’t know who they are.)  In the last few paragraphs, however, you say Following is the circle “I put everyone who follows me who I don’t know.  That is confusing.  Also, you commented that “it actually makes sense to add these people to a circle so that they can actually see the things you post about.”  The way I see is that, you actually DON’T need to add them to your circle because you don’t want to share your posts with people you don’t know about – THAT is the point and advantage of Google+ circles.  I hope you agree.  I just wonder if there is a way to block someone from adding you to their circle, but i guess there is no need to do that, as your choice of NOT adding them to you circle equates to blocking or not accepting friend request in Facebook.  I hope this helps.

  • Insurin Us

    Thank you for explaining this, I was really confused! I’m in the process of building my Insurance Agency and this is really going to help us out at! Thank you so much again.

  • lawl

    though someone can’t know which circle he’s in,he can now how many people are in his circle when you post.

  • Spirit

    Hi I also had a question why is it that I added someone to my circle’s and yet I cant chat with her or see her e-mail? Im new too

  • Jess

    So, if i have joined circles, do the people in that circle see my posts?

  • Heather Franks

    Thanks for the info. One more question. After sending something to my cirlces it asks if I want to send it as an email too. So this made me wonder, if I don’t choose to send it as an email, will only those who have google+ get the posts? Or do I need to send it in email so those who don’t have google+ can get it too? I don’t want to send them two messages of the same thing via email and google+ plus.

  • Loren Nelson

    It should only send an e-mail to someone who doesn’t have G+. It will send the update and also invite them to set up a G+ account.

  • Nathan Young

    Hi, I notice I am being added to people’s circles but they are not showing up on my profile. It says the number of circles people have me in but no one is actually there?? I know it says it takes time but I was added to them over 4 days ago…any ideas?



  • Jennifer

    Thanks for this! Really useful organizing tips.

  • mhammo

    Great post….you definitely make a point several times that hits the nail on the head…it sounds complicated and it IS complicated.

    I have spent many hours (too many) trying to figure out how it works and more importantly to make it work successfully for me. Google Plus is just way too complicated and overwhelming for the average user.

    The trouble for G+ is, I am not an average user. I am a technology consultant and very active on social media including several blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Facebook, Slideshare, YouTube and Vimeo I can figure all those out pretty easily. Yes, I post on G+, but, that’s about it. The whole sharing, pages, circles, friends, followers, hangouts, community, at al is way too much. The KISS principle has clearly been lost on the G+ developers.

  • sparkythekiwi

    There are a couple of steps you can take to stop him from seeing what you post. First, go to his profile and specifically block him (you should see a little arrow to the right of his photo, click that and a drop down list appears where you can choose “block”). Second, make sure you post your comments only to specific circles or to “your circles” or even “extended circles”, but not to public. Anything you post to public can be read by anyone, even if they’re not on Google Plus, and even if you have blocked them. This is one of the reasons it is a good idea to add everyone who follows you to a “followers” circle, so that you can post to them by posting to “your circles” without having to share everything with the vast public of the general internet.

  • sparkythekiwi

    One of the most powerful uses of Google Plus is to get acquainted with other people who have similar interests, who were previously not within your immediate circle of friends and acquaintances. If you want to use Google Plus only to communicate and share with friends and family, then you don’t have to worry about adding followers to a circle. However, if you want to post content for other people, and if you would like to potentially get to know some of those people and broaden your social horizons, I think it is very useful to add followers to a circle.

    If you post something to public, it can be read by everyone on the internet regardless of whether they are signed up for google plus or not, and even if they are a member and you have blocked them. If you are female I can guarantee that you will want to block people (if you’re not just posting to people you know). Therefore, having a circle of people who are following you allows you to communicate to your audience and also moderate it. If any of those people exhibits inappropriate behavior you can block them and they won’t see your content.

    There is one caveat: your chat settings can only be set to either allow EVERYONE in “Your Circles” to chat with you, or no-one. I think the best way to handle this is to make sure to go into your settings and remove the “followers” circle from the list that is included in “your circles” (you can do this). Then, they will not be able to chat with you but you can share content with them. When you publish a post that you want to reach your whole audience, you can add all the circles of people you know with “your circles” and then add the “followers” circle. Also, keep in mind that “Extended Circles” includes any circles you have created that are not in the “Your Circles” circle.

  • Amy

    If i clicked on add a person to a circle do they get a request or notification to accept? If so, can I retract that request/notification?

  • chillpillr

    you can go to settings and hide circles…and show who ever you want in public. then there is yourself display…but its all in settings

  • Ryan Burke

    how can i tell who has taken me out of a circle???

  • Davlynn Kealoha

    My question was, why cant i see some of the people who add me to their circles? For example, it says ’17 have you in circles’ but i can only see 8 of them. Why?

  • macncheese

    can i make it so i dont see the “hot on g+” and stuff? i only want to see posts from my friends!

  • Grace Walker

    i am stuck in adding people to my circles.. i keep seeing a pop up whenever i try to add people back who have added me. it basically shows a popup that i cannot add anyone .. this is very confusing… please help me with this

  • Ariel M

    stuuupid question but how can I make sure that only certain circle sees certain stuff? also that people who aren’t on gmail can see my pix etc?

  • matt murphy

    Is it normal that I downloaded my curcle and synced it with facebook and now acouple days later I have people I’m following and followers but I did do anything to obtain them?

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  • Muhammad Lal

    thank you for sharing such nice info to us. i like it its very informative one keep sharing this type of information to keep in touch with the people.

  • MissConfused

    My question was, why can’t i see people i have in common with people in my circle when i hover over their names or faces? Only some allow me to see who we have in common while others don’t.
    Is this something the other person did? If so, how?
    Sorry, more than one question but one pertains to the next.

  • mrs.bitch

    BUT HOW IN THE FUCK CAN U TELL IF SOMEONE CIRCLED U BACK??????? yea u have my email ppl and the ppl who own this website do not be sending me shitty msges

  • Dean

    Hi Ryan, I’m wondering too if I’ve been taken out of a circle. Pls share. Thanks!

  • golddreamer99

    Thanks for easy to understand knowledge.

  • Ample Earth

    Thanks SO much! Really helpful (even from 2011!) Many of the “big” blog articles about Google+ circles are totally useful. This one is exactly what I needed! Thanks.

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