I’ve been pretty quiet about Google+ online, even though I do use it, enjoy it, and I am an advocate for the big Plus.
So far I’ve been impressed with Google+ and with how people are using it: some have taken to Google+ for long-form writing, a smart choice if you consider the exposure and SEO benefits; others use it as their personal photography portfolio, thanks to the great photo editing features. When it comes to marketing, I’ve seen quite a few brands doing some great things on Google’s social ‘platform’ too.
Having said that, most of the responses I get when I mention “Google+” are pretty negative:
“Oh, you don’t actually use it, do you?”
“There’s no one on Google+, it’s just a sinking ship!”
“Ha, Google+ is dead anyway!”
Unfortunately, a lot of Google+ presentations I’ve attended (from Google staff) haven’t been great at dispelling such myths, while showcasing really basic functionalities in Google+. (It’s a real shame that Google isn’t really putting real Google+ advocates front and centre, while using some of their staff to perform apathetic sales pitches that, to my experience, do more harm than good because Google+ is a lot more than what those presentations portray.)
So, I’m going to do my best here to debunk the 5 main myths I hear about Google+, and in the next post I’ll list all the reasons why you should consider it – for your personal use and for marketing.
Myth 1: There’s Nobody On Google+!
That’s the common response I hear: “Google+ is a desert, no one uses it!”, followed by a chuckle and a shrug. The most extreme reaction I’ve experienced so far was from a lady I was having a conversation with at a recent conference: after she heard “Google+” being mentioned on stage, she looked at me in sheer disgust, grabbed her bag and promptly left the room. While that reaction was a bit over the top, it really didn’t surprise me, as that seems to be the norm – general disbelief distrust in Google+.
Google hasn’t helped that much, as usually their answer to this question is “but…but we have millions of users on Google+!”, leaving many people to wonder how they actually calculate the number of Google+ users. In reality, according to We Are Social, out of the 1.15 billion users, only 359 million of them are actually active – that’s 32% of the platform’s users (30% in the UK).
While we could talk about numbers all day, there’s one crucial thing that we need to remember – a platform can have millions of users with only a tiny percentage of them actually being interested in what you have to say – your brand, your content, your message. Reach is a great number to have on your social reports, but how much of that reach is actually targeted? How much of that reach goes towards people who are interested in what you have to say? Google+ has some of the most granular targeting options I’ve seen to date, even more granular than Facebook and Twitter. You can target specific communities, sub-communities, or even a preset list of people (or “circles”, to use the technical term). You can have content going to your main influencers, or perhaps target service posts towards a group of people you know will find it useful. While other networks have gotten us used to “fluffy metrics” and reach metrics, Google+ actually lets you reach the people you actually want.
Myth 2: Google+ Is Too Niche
If we were to talk about niches, I’d mention networks like App.net, a great platform where you’ll feel just at home if you’re a developer or if you have an interest in anything tech-related. Google+ is not a niche platform; instead, it’s a platform of niches. Google Communities is a big marketplace where each stall represents a niche – you have communities dedicated to music, technology, fashion, world news, arts, marketing… Unlike other social networks where you have to somehow attract people to you, Google+ groups these people and gives you a way to find them via this “online directory”, saving you all the time from the guesswork you’re used to on other social sites. Thanks to this, finding relevant communities and content is very, very easy.
Myth 3: Google+ Doesn’t Respect Privacy
I understand why some people have that misconception, and in all honesty Google are partly to blame here – from the sudden YouTube integration to forcing people to use their real names, else face the wrath of being removed altogether from Google+.
However, whether you’re a blogger or a brand community manager, you can benefit from using Google+ as part of your content strategy.
I personally find Google+ really useful for blogging, as it gives my blog posts that extra exposure when I share them on G+. So, in one way, you can use the privacy settings and surfacing functionality to help push your content to the top.
What about pages? Google gives you total control of your Page content, to the extent that you can specifically choose the list of people who can see your posts. Be as specific or as broad as you wish: you’ll only be shown content that your followers have chosen to share with you (in respect of their privacy), while they’ll only see the content you’ve chosen to share with them (in respect of their privacy).
Myth 4: Google+ Doesn’t Care About Analytics
This is an interesting one because, in all honesty, Google doesn’t have much of an excuse with this one – we all know Google Analytics as this big, powerful tool for web analytics, yet there wasn’t much when it came to analysing content performance on Google+. In response to this criticism, Google rolled out Google Ripples, a way to show where your content is being shared opn Google+. However, that only covered one piece of the puzzle – it didn’t give any insight on your page performance, what type of content your audience responds better to, or even page demographics. Google is slowly rolling all of that information out, resulting in them finally introducing an Analytics Dashboard.
You can now see at a quick glance how many times your page and your posts have been viewed, and you can also see what type of posts work better on your page (e.g. do your links get more shares than your text posts?). You also get a view over time of your follower growth and demographics of your followers.
While this may work for some, it may also be a bit too basic for others, especially if you’re used to the plethora of metrics that Facebook provides in its Insights dashboard, or if you’re used to what Google offers in Google Analytics.
This shouldn’t be a stumbling block from using Google+ altogether: Twitter opened their Analytics dashboard to the public in 2013, 7 years after it was founded. However, that didn’t stop the millions of brands from using it within those 7 years, with most of them relying on APIs and/or 3rd party applications. You can do the same with Google+, while Google buffs up the analytics for its “social layer”: you can rely on the likes of Simply Measured, Socialbakers, SumAll, and Hootsuite through UberVu (just to name a few).
Myth 5: Google+ is Dying
I’ve saved the best for last, as this is the response I usually get. There are usually 3 reasons why people say this:
- the fact that the main person behind Google+, Vic Gundotra, has already left the company and the project altogether;
- comments from Google co-ounder Sergey Brin, saying that “it was probably a mistake for him to have worked on Google+ because he’s not a very social person”;
- common negative perception.
Some people even say that Google+ is already dead. People have been saying the same about Facebook for its infamous slash in organic reach, and Twitter for its recent slow user groth and executives leaving. Yes, we know that Facebook has its platforms, and so does Twitter, but it would be unfair to call them dead just due to those problems.
The truth is, Google+ never died because it never lived. Here’s what I mean by that:
In all of the Google+ events and sessions I’ve attended so far, I’ve listened attentively as the representatives don’t describe Google+ as a new social channel or a social platform, but as a “social spine that adds a social layer to your web experience”. This makes sense: currently, most marketers would put Google+ under the list of social networks.
Google already tried building a social network with Google+’s predecessor, Google Buzz – that was an actual platform in its own rights. However, this isn’t the case with G+: Google+ isn’t Google’s version of Facebook, of Twitter, or any other social network. Google+ is a “hybrid network” built on the lessons learnt from Google Buzz, mixed with the best features Google could build, extended across all of the other apps owned by Google, including YouTube, and your whole Google-powered web experience.
Hence, it would be unfair to compare Google+ to other established social networks like Facebook and Twitter, or even networks with relatively less users such as Pinterest or even App.net. That is why Google+ never died, because it never existed as a social network. It has features of a social platform, it has features of a social network, but in reality it’s a big social layer that overlays on the majority of your web experience.
We can expect to see Google+ changing numerous times, in numerous ways, and in those times we’ll definitely see it going in various directions. Take photography for instance: we’ve seen Google strengthening its photography features recently, with features that users have learned to love, such as Auto Awesome (which is also integrated natively on Android devices, and through the Google+ application)
(You can find an in-depth guide to the photography offering from Google+ here.)
Google+ is not for everyone – while I personally do enjoy it, it’s not a platform I use as often as Twitter . However, while Twitter is where I have my conversations, and Facebook is where I catch up on news from my favourite sites and companies, Google+ is where I go for some downtime: that’s where I catch up on friends and their blogs, that’s where I catch up with other like-minded users who I share interests with, from design to marketing, from programming to quirky facts. As I have my G+ profile linked to my account, I can also catch up on the latest videos from the channels I’ve subscribed to – Google+ is where work meets play for me.
I recommend taking the time to explore it, for yourself first, for your brand second, and who knows – you’ll probably prove your own doubts wrong.
Finally, in case you don’t already – please follow Link Humans on Google+ right here.