The Future of Google+, What New Research Reveals
Wondering where the platform is headed?
Despite a number of detractors, Google+ has a number of fans and supporters who say Google+ has grown into a platform that wins them business.
In this article you’ll discover findings from recent studies focused on the current Google+ activity as well as speculation about what Google plans to do with the network.
Google+ in Recent History
When Google+ first launched, bloggers warned Facebook to watch its rearview mirror for the new, hyper-capitalized social channel. By all accounts, Google leadership designed Google+ as a social media platform, a direct competitor to Facebook.
At first, the hype didn’t seem hyped enough. Just two weeks after its June 2011 launch, Google+ hit 10 million users. By the end of the year, 90 million users had Google+ accounts.
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Compare that surge to Facebook, which took three and a half years to reach 90 million users, and Twitter, which took a little under three years. While it’s clear that these two older platforms primed the market for a Google+ launch years later, six months to get that many users is still a rocket-ship trajectory.
Google had two more distinct advantages. First, it forced users to sign up for a Google+ account if they wanted to easily use services like YouTube, Photos and Drive. In addition, the year Google+ launched, Google CEO Larry Page tied 25% of all employee bonuses to its success. With a motivated salesforce of 30,000+, you bet word spread.
Fast-forward four years to 2015, and we see headlines like Google+ Is Walking Dead, Goodbye Google+, I Wish I Never Knew You, Why Google Is Finally Putting Google+ Out of Its Misery… and a myriad of other posts using words like doomed and ghost town.
Digital marketers went back and forth for years about Google+’s ability to attract meaningful activity. Internet marketer Ryan Hanley wrote over a dozen enthusiastic posts about Google+, including this one gushing about the platform’s business pages. In 2015 he published How Perception Became Reality and I Had to Break up with Google+.
Hanley makes a credible case here about why he and many other digital marketers had bet that Google+ would be successful:
“For what it’s worth, I believe the Google+ format is most evolved of all the social networks. First to include streaming video. First to include in-stream GIFs. First to include hovercard functionality. First to include post formatting. First to include varied image sizes.”
Despite these perks, the return on investment just didn’t hold up for Hanley and many others. In the comments on this article, Hanley reveals that he will redirect his time into creating content on his own properties while dialing down time and energy spent on all social media platforms.
#1: Google+: Ghost Town or Bustling Suburb?
While digital pundits hurl their Google+ prognostications at each other, marketers tread cautiously about where to put their time and dollars. Several robust studies of Google+’s audience, engagement and trajectory provide a snapshot of where Google+ really is right now.
International web research company GlobalWebIndex surveyed 83,806 individuals, Internet users ranging in age from 16 to 64, from countries around the world (except China whose policies make it difficult).
While 60% of those surveyed claim they have a Google+ profile, only 21% of Internet users self-identify as active users.
One may think that the figure of 60% of all Internet users with a Google+ profile should be respected. There are 2.2 billion total Google+ profiles, after all. Even 21% of all Internet users could translate into access to large populations.
The problem is that while the other social media channels may have fewer members, these members visit, post and engage at a much higher rate. GlobalWebIndex’s numbers indicate that despite the above-mentioned Google+ advantages, it hasn’t been able to keep consumers on the channel.
The tough number for Google+ to go up against is Facebook’s 42% of all Internet users identifying as active on the channel. In fact, the chart below indicates that about 50% or more of social network users other than those on Google+ consider themselves active. As you’ll read below, Facebook’s own data confirms this regular activity in spades.
Another study paints an even direr picture of the Google+ audience (or lack thereof). Internet marketing firm Stone Temple Consulting reviewed 516,246 randomly selected Google+ profiles.
CEO Eric Enge was careful to take into account the Google+ advantage that YouTube comments and video shares, profile photo changes and more automatically appear as posts on Google+, inflating numbers. Enge’s study filtered out these secondary updates to tabulate only those actively engaged in the Google+ stream interface itself.
- Over 91% of Google+ accounts are empty. Owners have never posted one update there. Many agree to create a Google+ account when trying to use Google Photos, YouTube and the other resources that Google provides free.
- Just 16 million people truly post on Google+ each month.
- Out of 2.2 billion total Google+ profiles, 212 million are considered active.
- The STC study has several levels of “active”:
10 or more public posts ever: 21.8 million users
50 or more public posts ever: 6.65 million users
10 or more public posts in past month: 1.93 million users
50 or more public posts monthly: 106,022 users
The study’s extrapolated total suggests that about 23.4 million people put public posts on Google+ in the 30 days leading up to the study. After adjusting that figure for the auto-posts that come from YouTube video shares and profile changes, that number comes down to 16 million deliberate posts each month on Google+.
Much of this “Google+ ghost town” reputation comes from its existence in Facebook’s shadow.
According to the Facebook Q1 2015 Report, not only does the channel have 1.44 billion users, but also 400 million photos are uploaded per day. Users share 4.75 million pieces of content per day. Facebook’s average user creates 90 pieces of content each month. Google+’s 16 million total posts per month figure seems anemic compared to Facebook’s numbers.
Die-hard Google+ fans have asserted that the amount of private activity masks overall Google+ activity.
To test that idea, the Stone Temple Consulting study took a close look at 42,282 accounts that showed no public activity. Cleverly, they focused on view counts. Accounts with public posts averaged more than 45,000 views per profile. Those with no public posts averaged just under 2,000 views per profile.
Views would be far higher if these no-activity accounts were privately sharing like mad in their communities and with their contacts.
Another indicator of Google+ zombie status is the declining engagement rate. Steve Denning’s post Has Google+ Really Died? on Forbes.com reviews a Google+ study from Scott Galloway, clinical professor of marketing at NYU and CEO of L2, a business intelligence firm.
The study revealed that the engagement rate on Google+ has declined by 98% year over year, a precipitous plunge. It wasn’t just individual profiles noticing this decrease. Large Google+ communities that started forming at Google+’s inception have lost the majority of their audiences as well.
Key Takeaway: Despite massive effort and investment, Google+ hasn’t been able to create a true competitor to the worldwide success Facebook has created.
Perhaps consumers really can handle only one broad social network that’s home to nearly everyone on the planet. Instead, interest in niche social sites limited to demographics (Midwestern single dads) or interests (Sony PlayStation) seems to be brewing.
#2: Active Google+ Users Posting 50+ Times per Month
The “small but devoted” audience (a.k.a. cult following) has kept lots of ventures alive and even helped move them into the mainstream. While chances get dimmer each quarter that the Google+ fan base can create a cult following, some signs of life still exist.
GlobalWebIndex’s 2015 Google+ Profile report reveals that 56% of Google+ active users visit at least once per day, if not multiple times per day. Seventy-eight percent visit at least weekly.
Similarly, the Stone Temple Consulting study found that those posting 50 or more times on Google+ do exist, but in miniscule numbers. Of Google+’s 2.2 billion profiles, just 106,022 or .0005% were keeping the page up regularly. Still, Stone Temple Consulting’s senior director of online marketing Mark Traphagen reports in a recent Marketing Land post:
“Every day I’m involved in dozens of stimulating conversations on Google+ with people from all over the world. There are huge, enthusiastically active communities, both public and private. Is it Facebook? Not even close (but what else is?). Yet there is plenty of life there.”
Key Takeaway: Google+ clearly did manage to connect some people and businesses in meaningful ways. Google+ evangelists certainly learned the variety of tools possible on a social channel.
#3: Google+ Audience Stronger Internationally
Before giving up completely on Google+, consider the niches it has pervaded. Perhaps one contains your customer base.
In India, 80% of Internet users have a Google+ account, and nearly 40% are active on it regularly. Similar numbers in Thailand, Mexico, South Africa, Malaysia and other countries put to shame the U.S. engagement rate on the channel. (To remind you, 60% of American Internet users have Google+ accounts, and 21% use the channel actively.)
Study authors at GlobalWebIndex speculate that “online populations in fast-growth markets typically [have] heavy skews towards young, urban and affluent demographics,” which is the typical prospect that Google+ appeals to. Google+ lost out to Facebook in the mature markets like Germany, France and the U.S., but got better attention with newer digital adopters.
The most active Google+ users fall into the 16 to 34 age range, with men outnumbering women by about 12%. The divisions over income levels are about equal.
Key Takeaway: Experienced marketers understand that numbers don’t tell the whole story. Countless posts have been written about showing up on the channels your ideal prospects occupy.
With Google+ still a free platform (in the sense that it’s not charging to deliver posts to earned audiences like Facebook does), it could be worthwhile for you to put some effort and time into the channel if there’s a chance your market is there.
In How to Build Powerful Alliances on Google+, marketing expert Martin Shervington explains that Google+ is not yet crowded, so there’s room for someone new. Also, experts may be there with whom an individual can make an alliance.
Despite the depressing numbers Stone Temple Consulting revealed in their huge study, neither Enge nor Traphagen believes Google+ is dead or soon to be. First, abundant and repeated statements from Google executives indicate the opposite.
Enge also concludes that the +1 button (akin to the Facebook like) is too useful and valuable a way of keeping a finger on the consumer pulse for Google+ to abandon it.
Further, Google+ is already integral to too many Google properties. Most of all, Enge explains, “It’s about the data… Social media is a large data source, and Google is determined to play in this sandbox.”
As Facebook has learned, providing advertisers the insights into customer behavior and interests is quite profitable. In a 2014 Marketing Land post, Traphagen speculated that Google+ could re-brand, but his 2015 post backed off from that theory.
Keep in mind, too, that Google+ just created its Pinterest-like product called Collections in the spring of 2015, which is a sign of life and plans.
Having a Google+ account now and using it for social sign-ins will keep marketers apprised as the channel evolves. Watching how Google+ breaks up into stand-alone products will be viewing history in the making and provide insight into the future for social channels.
If you’re interested in capturing key audiences on Google+ now, you can find an overview of Google+ marketing here: Essential Google+ Marketing Resource: A Complete Guide.
What do you think? Will Google+ simply be a sign-in mechanism in a few years? Would you prefer Google’s products to be stand-alone, rather than bundled with Google+? Has Google+ gotten you leads and clients? Are you engaging in exciting conversations there? Leave your comments and questions below.