I am going to start with a confession. I got caught up in the Google+ frenzy when it was announced last June. In fact, I got annoyed when I could not be the first on my block to have an account. And, when I finally set up my account, I realized it was of marginal value given all of my other social networking activities. I rarely check it out. Turns out I was far alone. As today’s article in the Wall Street Journal vividly highlights, Google+ is struggling.
It is hard to argue with the facts
While all of the postings on this subject in the last few hours like to lead with Google CEO Larry Page’s assertion that Google+ has become a robust competitor to Facebook and other social networks, the numbers don’t lie. It is popular in the U.S. right now as we work our way through the electoral process to hear politicians and pundits repeat the refrain, “You are entitled to your own opinions but not to your own facts.” Here are few factoids to ponder from the good folks at comScore who keep track of such things (and check out their latest report for a more granular look):
- Google+ may have 90 million registered users but Facebook has 825 million
- PC users spent an average of three minutes a month on Google+ between last September and January, versus six to seven hours on Facebook over the same period, and this did not include mobile access usage.
- One in four U.S. display ad impression appeared on social networking sites and 5 percent of all ad impressions in the U.S. were “socially-enabled.”
- Social networking is the most popular online activity in the world and social networks now reach 1.2 billion users or roughly 82.4 percent of the world’s online population.
- One in five minutes spent online today is on social media.
- Three of every four minutes on social networking sites are spent on Facebook and one of every seven minutes online is spent on Facebook.
- Facebook is the largest publisher of online display ad impressions with 28 percent of the total followed by Yahoo sites (12 percent), Microsoft sites (4 percent) and Google sites (4 percent).
Here is the one I like the most:
I could go on, but the point is that Google+ is barely a blip on the radar screen when it comes to time spent online or growth, and Facebook is winning the ad wars.
What does it mean?
The answer to the above question was summed up nicely in the WSJ item by Brian Solis, an analyst at Altimeter Group, “Nobody wants another social network right now… Google hasn't communicated what the value of Google+ is.” I am jealous. That is precisely what I would have said if they had asked me.
Reality is that most of us now have our high-level online capabilities baked into our behavior. This means Facebook for friends and family, LinkedIn for professional stuff, Twitter for casual expression with a likelihood of one account for business and one for personal, and a slew of other sites other things. This would include Zynga for games, FourSquare, Groupon and Social Living for bargains, Pinterest for personal organization, Google for search and email, YouTube and Hulu for video, etc.
The bottom line is that habits are difficult to break without the demonstration of unique value, and that is where Google+ falls short. The time and effort of keeping it current given the investment I and my networks have made in other sites is, to be blunt, not worth it.
While not an original thought, Google is learning the same lesson with Google+ that it taught Microsoft with search and is busy teaching them again for good measure with its Chrome browser. Critical mass is critical. The challenge Google has with it portfolio at the moment is that building an ecosystem that creates (and I hate this word but it works) “stickiness” around search, email and even YouTube is not the way to keep people on your sites for long periods of time.
Social networks are about individual expression and interaction. People around the world have a commonality, i.e., they have an insatiable desire to interact and to express themselves and that is how they wish to spend a lot of their time. From a business perspective the time-honored cliché is true, “time is money!” Google needs to spend the time to make me, and everyone else for that matter, spend more time with them. Right now Google+ is a minus for doing so.
Edited by Jennifer Russell