What are Google Groups?

Joining a Google Group allows you to start or take part in discussions using an online platform. Reasons for using Google Groups are varied – from open groups containing public information and debates, to closed groups set up for a specific project or group of people. Users can opt to read or join in the discussions via the email they provided, or through their dashboard on their Google Account.

Discussion topics within a group look like this:

Google Groups discussion topics

 

And once you're in the discussion, you'll see everyone’s input like this:

Google Groups discussion


Does it cost to be a member of a Google Group?

No. Google Groups are free.


Do I need a Google Account to be part of a Google Group?

If you want to get the most out of using Google Groups, then the answer is "yes". If you don’t have a Google Account, you can still read and join in discussions through your email. However, you won’t be able to create or edit groups or post files. You also won’t have access to the easy-to-use dashboard where you can clearly view your Google Group activity.

You can create a Google Account using any email provider.


Do I need a Gmail email address to be part of a Google Group?

No. You can opt to receive discussion posts via email (any email provider) or you can create a Google Account using any email provider. If you have a Gmail account already, you automatically have access to a Google Account.


What do I do in a Google Group?

You may wish to simply read other people’s posts and give your thoughts. Joining a Google Group is a great way to join an online community with similar interests. Using the search function to find a topic that you have a personal opinion on or could benefit your business will lead you directly to a new online community. Find out more about Google Groups for business here.

Alternatively, start a Google Group yourself if you have a topic you'd like to discuss with the public. If you have a project that needs restricted access to specific users, you can set up a Google Group and share information online. This is particularly useful for student group work or sharing documents with colleagues. See how to restrict permissions here.


How do I find a Google Group?

Go to http://groups.google.com and log in to your Google Account. Use the ‘Browse’ feature to refine your search down to categories based on your location and topic interests. Alternatively, simply search in the search bar for a specific topic. In the example below, it shows the search term being surrounded by quotation marks as this searches for the specific term. Otherwise everything from Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts to Badminton Enthusiasts could appear! The group list then details how many topics the group has discussed and when the last post was made. This gives an indication of how active and current the group is.

Google Groups search function


What are the differences between public, private and moderated groups?

Google Groups have 3 levels of membership: public, private and moderated.

Anyone can join a public group and post discussions, plus content can be read by anyone.

Private groups have member-only access and are used by those who want to easily share information between each other, but without the general public reading or joining in. A good example would be a group of students completing a joint assignment. To join this type of group, you need to be invited or request an invitation.

A moderated group means all content needs to be approved by the group owner or manager. This type of group is restricted and group owners can go one step further by only allowing content by themselves to be posted, effectively creating a group for their announcements only.


How private are Google Groups?

If you have joined or created a ‘Private’ group where only owners or managers can invite users, and only users can post and read content, then the answer is “very private”. If your group, and therefore content, is open to the public, then the answer is “not at all”. Think about the content of your posts and who may find it before you set the permission levels or join in a discussion.

If you come across a private group, it’ll be very obvious that you’re not going to get in:
Google Groups private group


How do I create a Google Group?

You have to be logged into you Google Account to create a group. Once logged in and viewing your dashboard, press the ‘Create’ button and follow the instructions. There are 4 group ‘types’ depending on what you want your group to achieve:

- Email list: Users can pass one-way information via email to a mailing list.
- Web forum: This is more interactive than the Email list option, as users can reply to topics as well as post them.
- Q&A forum: This works in the same way as the Web form option but allows questions to be put into categories for ease of organising, plus allows the questions to be marked as ‘resolved’.
- Collaborative inbox: This option is the best for sharing ownership of the content, as posts can be sent to members as a way of assigning a task. The task can be marked as complete.

When creating a group, the permission levels can also be set, including who can read, post and join.

Once created, you can go on to customise how your profile will appear to users and add a welcome message.

Then go ahead and start a discussion topic and invite users to join.


How do I get people to join my Google Group?

If your group is open to the public and regularly updated, and if your topic is current and interesting, people will find you. However, inviting people to join is the best option for growing the group.

Find the ‘Members’ tab while logged into the group’s admin and choose either ‘Invite Members’ or ‘Direct add members’. The latter needs to be used with caution – have you got your members’ email addresses correct? Do they definitely want to be part of the group? If not, you could get in trouble for sending junk mail, as they’ll be subscribing to your posts without requesting to do so.

For both options, add the email addresses and a welcome message and your invite will be sent directly to your new members’ inboxes.

Can I connect my blog to Google Groups? 

Manually, yes. You can use Google Groups to promote your blog by building your own email list and creating content by encouraging users to discuss the topics. Simply create a group specifically about your blog and invite users to receive the posts. Creating a group with the ‘Web forum’ permission level means users can interact with each other and discuss the topics of your post. Remember not to ‘Direct add members’ who don’t know you or who haven’t asked to join. See why here.


What is the difference between Google Groups and Google Product Forums?

Google Product Forums are a specific set of Google Groups to give advice on Google products. So when you want to find out how to use Google Maps, use a Google Product Forum (searchable in your dashboard’s search bar). But for example, leave the discussion about your local city’s town planning application for a dedicated Google Group.


What is the difference between Google Groups and Google+ or Google Circles?

First off, Google Circles are a feature of Google+. Where Google+ is your profile, Google Circles are your friends. If you want to read business advice content on your commute to work and your close friends’ posts at lunch, you can organise your Google+ contacts into circles and choose when to read them.

If you created a Google Group of, for instance, your close friends who have a Google+ account and you shared each other’s posts and comments through the group, it would work in a similar way to a Google Circle.

But Google Groups are generally used for sharing other content – starting a threaded discussion, asking for advice or sending documents. You’d get a better response or be talking to the correct people through a Google Group, rather than your Google+ profile.

Most importantly, your Google+ profile is personal and you can choose to not share your Google+ profile with others in a Google Group if you’d prefer to keep them separate.

What’s the difference between Google Groups and similar competitor services?

All act in a similar way, with their aim to allow the sharing of information between select people. How likely you are to choose one platform over another may depend on if you use one already for email or web-searching. With Google Groups, you can use any email address to join a group. Alternatively it’s very simple to set up a Gmail account, which will give you further access to a Google Group.

There are many benefits of using Google Groups over the other, similar platforms. Google are known for their innovation, meaning usability of Google Groups should only get better over. Google are good at unobtrusive adverts. They are generally text based and targeted, and therefore relevant. And sometimes, it comes down to a popularity contest. With over 700 million messages so far on Google Groups, there should be a group you can join or a discussion you can gain advice from.

Can I use Google Groups for business needs?

Google Groups is ideal for businesses as you can communicate with a specific group of people/colleagues, including sharing files and assigning tasks. The group acts as an alternative way of sending group emails. For example, a project team or department can view messages specifically for them, rather than the rest of the organisation.

What about the app Google Groups for Business?

This is a paid version of Google Groups, specifically for businesses. You need to sign up for the free trial, and then upgrade to Google Apps for Business. Google Groups for Business will then be a feature within this service. Google Groups for Business also comes free of charge as part of Google Apps for Education and Google Apps for Nonprofits (a free version of Google Apps for registered charities, schools, colleges and universities). If you think your organisation qualifies for Google Apps for Education or Google Apps for Nonprofits then contact us to see how we can help.

Sub groups within the organisation can create their own group to send messages and communicate through their group, rather than email. The content of the group is private, meaning documents can easily be shared between group members. Also, organisations can set limits to what users can do and which groups they can join, which enhances security for the organisation.

Users outside of the organisation can send emails to the group or access the group as a web forum. This is particularly beneficial for customer support and sales teams, as customers have a dedicated inbox to send their queries to and the group can assign this query to group members. Emails to and within the group can always be kept as a record, as all messages are archived (until the group as a whole is deleted).

The main benefit of upgrading to the paid version is the extra support you receive from Google, with customer support, extra storage and enhanced security features. Upgrading also means you won't see any adverts while using the service. Google Groups for Business also offers different kinds of groups, like Collaborative Inbox, Q&A Forum, Web Forum and more.

If you decide to upgrade, your existing Google Groups and dashboard exist as they are and are simply migrated to the new service. If an employee who set up the group leaves the company, the Administrator can take over.

Similarly, if you decide to downgrade, all of your group’s messages and dashboard will remain the same, just without the added benefits.


How much does Google Groups for Business cost?

*The following information is right at the time of writing.

Paying for the service means you are signing up to the Google Apps for Business service. Each domain user of the Google Groups for Business needs to have a licence but you can invite people from outside of the domain at no cost at all (this includes publicly accessible web forums). Each licence costs £33/user/year ($50/user/year).

Steegle.com offers a free 30 day trial. After that, the Annual Plan bills based on the number of licenses held. For example, if the organisation has 5 licences: (5 x $50/£33) $250 or £165+VAT. If you want to move to Google Apps then Steegle.com can help - see our Google Apps Services with Pricing.