Since its widespread launch in September 2011, Google+ is the second most actively used social network with one billion registered users and 540 million active users per the latest stats from Bootcamp Digital. Google+ is also perhaps the most polarizing of the popular social media channels. Incorporating some of the best features of the most active social media networks, as well as its own distinct functionality, Google+ may very well move past Facebook as the most widely used social media platform in a few years. Still, brand marketers struggle to capitalize on the Google+ opportunity. Today, it could be argued that the most compelling reason for brands to engage on Google+ is simply because it is brought to us by Google.
Google’s got its back
Google positions Google+ as a “social layer,” because unlike most social media networks, Google+ is not a site-based destination. It is an interactive overlay that plugs into Google’s other services and properties from search to email. If you want to use Google’s Gmail or post videos or leave comments on YouTube, then you must also sign up for Google+. This product integration contributes greatly to Google’s staggering site visit and account ownership totals. On the surface, Google+ presents as a fun, informative and interesting social media network, while behind the scenes, Google is collecting user identity data to remarket – personalizing its products and improving its ad targeting. Google wants and needs users to share on Google+. It is how the digital giant can create better service offerings for its user base and tailor advertising for marketers.
In evaluating whether or not your company should engage on Google+, consider the juggernaut that is behind the social media platform – Google. Mashable reports that over 1.1 billion people make 114 billion searches each month on Google search. Furthermore, 79% of smartphones run Google's Android operating system. In addition, the most used smartphone app, Google Maps, is utilized by 54% of smartphone users. Since Google is ubiquitous, Google+ is the social media channel that marketers cannot afford to ignore.
Something borrowed, something new
From an interface and feature set standpoint, Google+ borrows the best attributes of the top social media networks. Most of the familiar features of Facebook are on Google+, as users can set up a customized profile, upload photos, and create events, as well as post text, links and videos. Along with the ability to share posts, Google+ enables the “+1,” which is akin to a Facebook “Like” or Twitter “Follow.” Google+ allows for Circles, which are similar to Twitter Lists in that users can organize whose updates they would like to see and share by label. Similar to LinkedIn Groups, Google+ offers Communities, where users can engage in conversations of shared interests – publicly or privately. Answering Facebook’s Pages, Google+ Business allows for the administration of brand pages to connect with customers via desktop, mobile and search, integrating with Google Maps for the correct business listing.
Perhaps inspired by Skype’s video calling platform, Google+ Hangouts permits users to connect with each other with video and voice for free. Businesses leaders are able to show thought leadership using Hangouts for inexpensive seminars and open forums. The fun and interactive Hangouts functionality allows users to watch shared YouTube videos, making it easy to share knowledge visually. Hangouts also includes a draw tool, which brands utilize in real-time promotions on Google+ to stimulate and communicate with the social media community. Integration with other Google products and services is a reoccurring theme with Google+ and Hangouts is no exception. Google+ will be a feature with Android devices and Google Glass.
Google succeeds in delivering a world-class, easy-to-use and aesthetically pleasing user experience for Google+, a relative late entry in the social media marketplace. The social network smartly relies on big and bold visuals – in its profile pic, header images and image-based posts – recognizing that uploading photos is the most popular activity on social media networks. Leveraging what already works on social media platforms and adding a few embellishments of its own, the Google+ experience is elegant in its simplicity.
While other social media platforms have tried and failed at making hashtags purposeful, Google+ is taking the practicality of Twitter hashtags to the next level. Recently, Google+ added Explore+ functionality to its platform, permitting users to search the network by category. After entering a hashtag, Explore+ displays relevant content. For its preset categories, like #marketing, Explore+ presents a reader-like view of top posts with that particular hashtag. Considering that hashtags were utilized in 58% of Super Bowl advertisements run nationally this year, according to Iron Paper, hashtags represent a tremendous opportunity for brands on Google+. Google+ rewards hashtags, like Google looks for keywords. This analogy is more apparent, considering that Google Search started supporting Google+ hashtags last year. Today, brand marketers research and utilize the most popular hashtags on Google+ to show up in Google search results, as well as Google+ trends. Also, marketers establish their own unique hashtags to create buzz around their brands, campaigns, products and promotions. Hashtags allow social media marketers to make connections with other brands and consumers, while optimizing for search.
Holding up to Facebook
Comparing Google+ stats to Facebook stats is a difficult task, as the social media platforms are not the same and Google+ counts account ownership and visits from its other properties. So, it’s not exactly apples to apples. For a deeper dive, Augie Ray does an admirable job researching and disseminating how Google+ measures up to Facebook.
Google+ boasts an extraordinary number of visits per month at 1.2 million. Keep in mind that this number comprises visits to any Google service, such as Gmail. So, again, we must take some of these staggering Google+ numbers with a grain of salt. However, the interconnectedness of Google’s products is still probably the compelling reason for taking Google+ seriously.
Jeff Bullus reports that Facebook continues to lead with 70% of social media account ownership by global Internet users, but Google+ accounts for a respectable 50%. It should be noted that whenever a user creates a new Gmail account, setting up a Google+ account is mandatory. Moreover, YouTube’s commenting system requires a Google+ account, too. Therefore, account ownership numbers are increasing for Google+, even if users aren’t necessarily engaging on the social networking platform. In fact, Facebook still holds the highest percentage of active users among account owners at 62% globally, followed by Twitter at 51% and then Google+ at 44%.
As referenced in a recent Gigya report, Google+ only accounts for 2% of social sharing, as compared to other social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Whereas Google+ has the second-largest user base, its users are not actively using +1 and sharing buttons on their favorite websites as often as the other leading social media networks.4
However, the sharing frequency gap is narrowing rapidly. Social media tracking organization, Searchmetrics, recently estimated that Google+ would surpass Facebook in sharing activity by May 2016. At that time, Dylan Tweney’s timely research predicts that Google+ users will generate over 1,096 billion +1s per month, while Facebook users will generate just 849 billion shares per month.5
Considering registered users, active users, social logins and shares, Google+ is second to Facebook since debuting a few short years ago and well on its way to becoming the most widely used social media network.
Practical reasons for companies to engage
Because novices find it difficult to foster two-way communication on Google+, many marketers ask and attempt to answer the question, “Should Your Business Be on Google+?” The answer lies in the fact that Google+ is made by Google and fully integrates with its service offerings. Google indexes Google+ content like it does for webpages, counting toward your company’s overall SEO ranking. So, Google+ posts are more searchable for a longer time than posts from Facebook and Twitter. Furthermore, Google+ hashtags actually serve a valuable purpose in that they will show up on the right-hand side of Google search results. These featured search results allow Google+ users and non-users alike to see your company’s posts and potentially engage with your brand. And, since Google+ now powers YouTube comments, you’ll need a Google+ account anyway if you start or continue to share your brand’s videos on the platform.
By the numbers
If the preceding is not compelling enough to engage on Google+, then perhaps some cold, hard numbers will do the trick. Credit Craig Smith and Carolyn Coates for compiling the following eye-opening Google+ stats:
- 1 billion registered people
- 20 million unique mobile monthly users
- Over 540 million active monthly users
- 800,000 users join per month
- 70% of business brands have a presence
- 1.2 million monthly page visits
- 6.6 million users are located in the United States
- 68% of users are male
- 32.9% of total social logins on websites
- 28% of millennials visit at least monthly
- More than 5 billion times a day +1 is clicked
- 1.5 billion photos uploaded per week
Statistically speaking, there is little doubt that Google+ is a prime platform for social media marketers to connect brands with audiences.
Is it time for your business to be on Google+?
Google+ is positioned as a necessary social media platform to increase your company’s SEO, to allow for more engagement and to connect with other vital Google service offerings. All the inherent benefits of social media engagement apply to Google+: attracting new business, exposing your brand and connecting with customers. Stats and trends aside, your business should be on Google+ and engaging with audiences, because Google wants, needs and will reward you for doing so with increased online visibility. The bottom line is that if you’d like your brand to be readily recognized by Google, then you should start engaging on Google+.