A March 2013 survey of 2,500 adult US internet users conducted by Burst Media was recently published, with the folks from emarketer claiming Google+ trumps Twitter, earning second place for total US social account holders. A catchy title, for sure, but is it really so? And more importantly, what does “second most popular network” really mean and what criteria were used to determine this?
According to recent data, Google+ has over 600 million accounts, of which 359 million are considered active accounts, which is a 33% increase over data from less than a year ago. This begs a few questions here: how does Google consider an account “active” and how much are users really active on the platform? The answer to the first question is relatively simple: an active user is considered someone who accessed its account during the past month. Knowing how Google has integrated its Youtube, Gmail and other accounts under a single password and platform that includes Google+, allow me to be doubtful about the true level of “activity” users are having.
In February 2012, a comScore study found that on average Google+ users spent 3.3 minutes per month on the platform, which obviously paled in comparison with Facebook where people spent on average 7.5 hours per month! A year later, a more recent report by Nielsen showed concrete progress for Google+ with 6 minutes 47 seconds spent monthly on average. In the meantime, time spent on Facebook decreased to 6 hours 44 minutes, showing first signs of market maturity and saturation within some age groups, in particular with younger crowds (18-24 yrs old). While there is an interesting yet very subtle shift happening here – there is no proven correlation that folks use less Facebook in order to spend more time with G+, the fact remains that with 7 minutes per month, average usage of Google+ is rather dismal.
A GHOST TOWN NO MORE?
Launched only two years ago, Google+ has certainly come a long way and has grown at a pace unrivalled by any other social network, even though the folks from Google insist on saying Google+ is NOT a social network: it’s merely an extension of their business model and future vision for search, where social signals weigh in as much as key words and online behavior in order to customize search results per user. Fine, so where does Google+ stand today in the social media landscape?
I therefore believe it’s misleading to look at Google+ merely from a “popularity” standpoint, since it does not have the same features nor vision than its counterparts. Updates announced during Google I/O 2013 in May included its popular Hangout feature to have its standalone application, while communities slowly but surely gain more traction among groups of people sharing common interests. So long as a brand and bloggers active on the web have completed their Google Authorship feature, this also contributes to enhanced visibility and better ranking in searches, two key elements of any quality web marketing strategy.
Nevertheless, I must say I was dumbfounded when another set of recent results were published, this time coming from TripAdvisor’s TripBarometer survey conducted with 35,000 of its users worldwide in January 2013. Of all internet users who used social media to research and plan their last trip, Google+ came in strong second after Facebook with 40% of respondents claiming to have used it. Really?? Here again, allow me to cast a shadow and publicly ask: since Youtube is known to be used as a search engine, in particular within the 18-24 yrs-old demographics, is it really Google+ that people used? I truly have a hard time believing this stat, and would rather believe it was Youtube, part of Google online ecosystem that includes Google+, that got the lion’s share of the travel research and planning time spent on its platform.
So where does this leave us with Google+ and its role in a brand’s online marketing strategy? I am still a strong advocate for this platform, yet I realize it lacks the necessary stickiness other sites such as Facebook, Twitter or perhaps Pinterest have with their respective communities of users. With our Facebook newsfeed becoming more and more cluttered with sponsored stories and unsollicited ads, we may also very well continue to see a subtle shift towards a leaner, more efficient environment such as Google+. But let’s not hold our breath, here. Each network shall continue to strive for more users and ideally, more time spent on their respective platforms. And for most brands, this means Google+ may not be a priority, depending on resources to manage social activity, but certainly an environment to keep a close eye on as things continue to evolve…