Last week was not a great one for Google+. In case you haven’t heard, Google announced that it was separating one of the most contested features of the social network—that you must use a Google+ account for logging into their other products, like YouTube—among other changes.
So why is that a big deal? One of the main things Google+ has going for it is sheer numbers, and that’s the one thing people focus on when talking about the good of the network. Social Media Examiner recently shared that 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.
But those numbers are in vain, at best, because Google effectively forced users to create accounts on the platform to be used in conjunction with their more popular products. Though they have accounts, Google+’s large user base is not using the platform to engage with their circles, discover content or share their thoughts in the way they use some of the other major networks. It was recently revealed by Stone Temple Consulting that only 1 percent of Google+’s 2.2 billion users are actively posting content. Though a similar report claimed that number was 9 percent, it’s clear that compared to Facebook’s 1.49 billion active monthly users, Google+ is no longer in the big leagues.
Image via Social Media Impact
Failure to Launch
Since it’s launch, Google+ has been plagued by bad (and often contradicting) press. Mashable’s write up on Google+’s “sad history” says it best: “It bet on a charismatic leader with a flawed vision, ignored troubling indications about the social network's traction (or lack thereof) with users and continued throwing features at the wall long after many had written Google+ off for dead.”
Even now, with Google+’s latest move, which product manager Bradley Horowitz describes as a “focus on doing what it’s already doing quite well: helping millions of users around the world connect around the interest they love,” the press is proclaiming Google+ dead in the water.
The Future Looks Fuzzy
So what is the real deal? Is Google+ dead or alive, or somewhere in between? Should we keep fostering our communities within the platform, or forget it and focus our efforts elsewhere? In my opinion, the answer is simple: keep doing what works.
For us here at Business.com, our continuously growing Google+ following is smaller than Facebook and LinkedIn, but larger than that of our main Twitter account (though @B2BOnlineMktg far surpasses it). But even though our main Twitter account following is smaller, it drives more site traffic by a long shot, and similarly, the engagement blows Google+ out of the water. Because we still have engagement and traffic from it, we continue to use Google+, though it’s no longer a network of focus.
That being said, it’s possible that the refocus on Google+ and its new features will be the dawn of a new era for the network and its users. A post on Slate puts a positive spin on the change:
The social network will shift emphasis to what might be its only genuine constituency: interest-based communities who use the platform to share news and comments about niche topics like photography, electric cars, and outer space. Google Plus’s new “Collections” feature will let people group their posts by topic and follow topics rather than just other users. Think of it as a sort of male-dominated mini-Pinterest.
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Bringing It Back to You
Though none of Google+’s seemingly sudden changes come as a surprise to anyone that’s been familiar with social media for a while, it should affect your social strategy in the way any other network change does.
A solid social media strategy is never ironclad, but agile and ever shifting. Because we deal with networks and platforms that are constantly changing and evolving, so should our approach to them. Keep a constant eye on the KPIs you’ve set for your social goals, and when something stops working, it’s time to change the strategy and tactics.
Don’t abandon a network of actively engaged brand advocates just because your newsfeed is filled with talk of demise. The best rule of thumb for social media is to first and foremost make sure that your audience is there. And if they are, then be a good guest at the party and be genuinely interested in the people around you. If you have target audience and engagement, the rest will fall into place, depending on your goals. But if they aren’t there, you shouldn’t be either.