Google Plus is just 3 years old, far to young to have already entered that “awkward” stage. But just like a maturing adolescent, Google Plus seems to be trying to find itself, to figure out what it is, and to find the crowd it wants to run with.
Recent events have broadcast strong signals that its dream of being a major social network has begun hitting the wall of reality. Kind of like that moment it dawned on you the band you formed with your slacker friends that practiced in your basement was NOT going to be the next Beatles.
When that moment arrives, the next logical step is to figure out what plan B is going to be. Plan A was to make G+ a foundation from which identities (real, not anonymous) would be established, and that would be used to log into all Google’s products and services. Thoughts of being a full-on competitor to the likes of Facebook reportedly faded coinciding with the departure of the farther of Google Plus, Vic Gundotra.
Technically, Plan A was a success. The single login was created and G+ was integrated into YouTube and Gmail. If you wanted to use Hangouts, Photos, Talk, gChat, Auto Backup, you were going to be a G+ user. In fact, if you used Google products for personal and work, you were probably going to have several G+ accounts. Many blanched at the imposition of it, but Google Plus user numbers soared.
Now recent developments:
All things that make you go hmm, as is the fact some users got a survey from Google asking what they’d think if G+ didn’t exist anymore. Data says it wouldn’t exactly rock monthly schedules. Nielsen saw in November US site users spent an average 6 hours, 15 minutes there, compared to G+’s visitors spending an average 7 minutes on that site. Smartphone usage paints a similar story.
And yet…you’ll find plenty of Google Plus defenders. Forrester’s Nate Elliott points out 22% of US online adults told them they visited G+ monthly, the same as Twitter and beating out LinkedIn, Pinterest, & Instagram. Of even more interest to marketers, they saw that on average, top brands gathered 90% more fans on G+ than on Twitter. Like engagement? Looking at interactions with over 2,500 brand posts across 7 social networks, Forrester saw G+ generate almost as much per follower engagement as Facebook, and almost twice Twitter’s engagement.
But arguments that Google Plus is an effective social network don’t mean much if Google itself does not intend for G+ to be a social network. Analysts like Scott Strawn of International Data believe it will instead be a means of linking Google products, this time more for business customers & purposes vs. for connecting and sharing by the masses, with the Google Plus brand moving steadily into the background.
So even if you want to say that Google Plus as a social network is “toast,” that doesn’t mean it can’t then be effectively reimagined for different purposes, like say croutons.