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Getting Candid About Google+: The Platform’s Evolving Identity Crisis

By Adrienne Erin
Business.com / Marketing Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Google+ still has yet to completely define itself. No longer an authorship platform, not popular as a social platform, what's left?

The race for social media supremacy is over and has been for some time, and most are not all surprised to learn that Google+ was unable to claim a top spot. In fact, the social networking site failed to even cross the finish line, despite quite an auspicious start.

It was the talk of 2011 and often heralded by the media as a pioneering platform about to revolutionize the way both business owners and users communicated online.

Surely a product backed by the kind folks at Google who know everything there is to know about search engine algorithms would be able to attract a global audience, right? Unfortunately, the company couldn’t deliver and this seems somewhat ironic.

Related Article: 7 Reasons Your Small Business Should Be Using Google+

Going by the Numbers on Google+

The platform was showing gains of tens of millions of users per month within the first 180 days. Over the course of 10 short months, the social media channel had ballooned from 10 million to 170 million active users.

For all intents and purposes, the numbers looked good. However, people were beginning to wonder where these supposedly accurate estimations were coming from.

It wasn’t long until an article from ArsTechnica was able to confirm what many suspected—namely, the figures being released about Google+ were misleading at best.

“It turns out the act of creating a Google+ account is often just an incidental by-product of signing up for other Google services,” ArsTechnica journalist Jon Brodkin explained.

This wouldn’t have been much of a problem if the channel were something people were actually prepared to populate, and in truth, Google+ could be forgiven for failing if it were only that it came to the party too late.

Unpopular Changes That Compounded the Problem

The platform started out with a clean design that definitely had potential with Circles, a privacy feature that allowed users to share their updates within an easily controlled, narrow group.

Even though many cited the network’s poor usability and the fact that it tried to accomplish too many things at once, ultimately, the project leads just couldn’t ignore the position Facebook and others were enjoying at the time.

The fact that Google+ went through an executive reshuffle didn’t help matters either.

When Vic Gundotra, Google SVP, Social and then project lead, stepped down in 2014, the platform was left in the hands of David Besbris. As much as people would have liked to see the company take social media to the next level, it just didn’t seem likely.

It wasn’t until Besbris decided to remove authorship results from search that the sun completely set on the Google+ brand. Effectively, this meant that for many bloggers, one of the only major draws to the platform was off the table.

Google Search Results went from this:

Google Authorship Before the Switch

Image via Hubspot

To this:

Google Search Results After Removed Authorship

Image via Hubspot

What the Company Has Been Getting Right

That said, there were some really interesting features along the way such as the ability for brands to turn their posts into interactive display ads. While Google+ isn’t exactly going away, it is taking on a whole new direction.

Google+ Collections

While trying to distance itself from an interface that is all too often compared with Facebook’s news feed, Google+ might come to look a lot more like Pinterest with the new Collections feature. Users will be able to build content collections based on particular topics and then share them to their Circles. This feature is very exciting to some longtime users, but we will have to wait and see if it gets widely embraced beyond the tech and SEO set.

Related Article: Social Media Marketing World: 8 Key Social Media Trends for 2015

A New Day and a New Direction

In a recent, albeit brief statement by the project’s new lead, Bradley Horowitz, there is an official plan to gut the social media space and introduce two new products in Photos and Streams.

By splitting Google+ into parts, the company is taking steps to reorient and relaunch the brand while encouraging a more positive public perception.

Hangouts will remain intact and users can rest assured knowing that the popular communication tool will continue to receive the care and support it so rightly deserves. Hangouts have now replaced the old chat in Gmail, showing more integration for the company between their various services.

During a presentation at MWC, Google’s SVP of products, Sundar Pichai, had this to say: “Google+ was always two things, a stream and a social layer. We're at a point where things like photos and communications are very important; we're reorganizing around that.”

Is Change Going to Be a Good Thing?

It’s likely that the new iteration of Google+ will add features far enough removed from the old brand that there’ll be a fair amount of consistency with what the company puts out.

The challenge before Google now is to reintroduce the parts of the platform we like, reacquire the users who left and attempt to build the space it originally set out to achieve. We’ll have to wait and see if it works out or if it sinks them further into an identity crisis.

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