Image Credit: Arthur Osipyan
Update 13/11/2018: Google+ is now shutting down following a data breach security flaw. You can read the full article about this on the Google blog here.
Remember when Google+ came out in 2011?
My brother told me he was going to ditch Facebook for a platform that allows you build circles so you could control who you share content with. It was going to be a Facebook killer he said.
I always had a secret hope for Google plus. Even though Google is a behemoth, it was still like barracking for the underdog when putting Google+ against the other social networks like Facebook.
But instead of becoming a dream social network Google+ seems to have become a bit of a joke in the marketing world. A place for easy spam. Or a place where people go to build links ‘because it is owned by Google’ so it must be useful. Right?
For the past few years, I pretty much forgot about Google+ and its iterations. I’m guessing you did too.
However recently I began to wonder, what is Google+ in 2018? I did a little digging and here’s what I’ve found.
What does Google Plus do now?
My memory of what Google Plus is supposed to do is hazy. It kept changing after the initial push of being a social network. The latest wikipedia article on Google plus reads:
On November 18, 2015, Google Plus underwent a redesign with the stated intent of making the site simpler and faster, making the new features of Communities and Collections more prominent, and removing features such as Hangouts integration…
Ok, cool. So the main features are:
- Discover. The feed of Google+ which seems to show you posts from people in your circles (friends) and topics you are covering. I guess the dream of marketing folks is to promote their content so that it is organically on as many user’s discover section as possible.
- Communities. This is an easy equivalent of groups or a chatroom (remember those?) feature. Anyone who is in a community can post and comment on other’s material. Posts are organised like tiles, usually two in a row, in chronological order. I’m not sure if this makes it easier or harder to read than Facebook groups which have only 1 post per line. I think it’s probably more confusing.
- Collections. Collections are like Pinterest boards except you can post images and regular links. These are different to groups, because collections only feature posts from the collection author. This reduces the level of spam if the author is using their collection benevolently. I’m assuming the idea here was that one user may create a few virtual scrapbooks which others might find interesting enough to follow.
- Pages and profiles. I’m sure everyone knows these functions already. Businesses, organisations and brands can create pages. People have profiles.
The google meta title reads only ‘Google Plus’. At first browse, Google Plus doesn’t immediately tell me what Google Plus is for either.
The main message from Google on this seems to be the Google meta description of the site. It reads “Discover amazing things and connect with passionate people.”
So understanding this and the features, it seems as though Google Plus is a platform for collecting interesting content such as links and pictures on the web, curated by people that you can follow and communicate with via collections, communities and profiles.
Who uses Google Plus?
Now that I understand Google Plus a little better, I wonder who actually uses Google Plus?
I understand that basically everyone who has a Gmail account is technically a Google+ user but I wanted to go deeper than that.
A quick Google search lead to to find this article by Dustin Stout on social media statistics for Google Plus. The main statistics shown were:
- 395 million active monthly users
- 2 billion registered users
- 28% of users are between 15 and 34
- USA counts for 55% of users
- There is a 74 / 26 % split between men and women
[You can read the full report on all social media channel stats from Dustin here].
Just to double check, I ran Google Plus through Similarweb, a tool that you can use to get approximate insights on site traffic volumes and sources.
The free report on SimilarWeb shows quite different numbers.
The report suggests these statistics instead:
- 289m monthly visitors (compare this to the other estimate of Facebook’s 22 billion)
- Average session duration of 3 minutes
- 4.4 pages per visit
- 48% bounce rate
The demographic data was the most interesting here. The breakdown by user country reads:
- USA 17%
- India 6%
- Brazil 5%
- Germany 3%
- France 3%
[I was curious so I did a rough calculation. 289 million monthly visitors * 3% to approximate French users is about 8.67 m users. Interesting for a country of 66 million people. However a rough calculation based on estimate figures is not going to be that useful – just interesting].
It is hard to say who exactly uses Google Plus based on these two conflicting guides. Dustin notes that his figures are from Google’s own blog, so I assume these are much more telling even though the stats are most likely dated from 2015.
How do people use Google Plus?
Knowing the demographic breakdown and volume of users tells us half the story. With a little browsing around, I could roughly get an idea of whether people actually used the platform.
Was it just a home for spam? Or were people actively curating content, commenting and connecting with each other.
Obviously, the platform is far too big to survey the whole thing. So to get an idea of what is happening, I took the top 10 most popular blog topics from an article by WP Promote to narrow down my investigation.
For each community, I selected their most popular community and used a brief ‘eye-ball’ analysis to check three things which I think can give you an idea on how engaged the platform is.
- Quality of content posted
- Number of +1s
- Number of comments
Again, this is just an approximation in order to get an illustrative overview of what’s happening on the platform.
Here’s what I found.
The Fashion Bloggers community has 357,000 members. The content is on topic, with mostly fashion bloggers sharing their latest posts. There are a few spammy commercial posts that slip in there. It has a decent amount of likes and comments, too.
2. Health and Fitness
The Health & Fitness group has 130,000 members. As you might imagine, it is unfortunately a magnet for online spam with poorly curated content and obvious link spammers. Comments and likes are expectedly almost non-existent.
Music has 390,000 members. The posts are generally all on topic and there is a decent amount of likes. Not that many comments though.
The Cars group has 190,000 members. It has a good number of likes and comments for each post as people share pictures of their own or images/videos of the same. The group has great rules which are enforced by the moderators.
5. Real Estate
This one was not so good. The Real Estate community has 41,000 members and its the expected feed of link building posts. It looks as though the moderator has been inactive since 2016.
The Beauty community is a mixed group. There are 1.24 million members, so it is huge. The content here is mostly related and gets a decent amount of likes and comments. It must be hard to control the quality in such a large group so I am surprised it is as clean as it is!
The Travel group has 130,000 users. Sadly, it is not quite a place where passionate bloggers share their latest reviews or guides on your dream island holiday. It’s mainly listicle repostings and a few videos – understandably there is a lot of work for one or two moderators to handle. Low likes and comments.
foodies+ is one of the more inspiring communities. There are 297,000 members who like, comment and share their love of food. The moderators are doing a good job with strict rules and clearly it is paying off with a clean group. I think this closer to the vision of what Google Plus intended.
The Movies community has 175,000 members. The content shared here is quite good, with users even using sub categories to organise the content they share. There is a decent level of comments and likes too.
The final community I looked at was the Photography group. This group was the biggest of all that I saw with 4.2 million members. The content is generally on point and posts get plenty of likes and comments. This is probably another group that is closer to Google’s desired vision. Except that it is made possible by around 10 volunteer moderators.
Overall, it looks as though Google+ is active in visual areas like photography, food and fashion in communities with strong moderation.
A lot of these areas seem a bit easier to manage because the content that people naturally want to promote is also aligned with the subject.
Communities and spam
Communities on the platform seem to break down where there is mis-alignment with content that is generally on topic and content that people want to promote. It seems as though moderators can’t keep up and keep the group clean.
A health and fitness group may be easier to control if the topic was ‘health tips’ or ‘health products’ because the millions of list based articles people are looking to promote would align well with the purpose of the group. Engagement might be higher as well because people visiting the group are likely to be interested in that specific topic.
Maybe this is the opportunity for marketers.
There are thousands of members signed up to groups filled with junk. Perhaps it is a potential opportunity to moderate and sponsor a group, turning it into a clean, useful and interesting community that people get real value from.
There you have it. Google+ looks to be alive in 2018 and focused on content sharing communities. The quality of the communities depend heavily on moderators. Good groups are around and some of them are quite active but just a lot more of them are filled with junk.
There may be opportunity for marketers on the platform to take control of low value communities and renovate them into highly engaged groups but without testing this idea it is hard to say whether it is a good investment of time.
Google+ isn’t quite the social media channel Google dreamed to be but for some reason I still hope that it will be one day.