In 2012, Google announced that its social networking site, Google+, had more than 300 million members and more than 100 million active users. Despite this, many people have labeled Google+ a ghost town, at least compared to more active social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Even so, Google+ is quietly attracting some attention – and for good reason.
Sure, maybe Facebook came sooner. But Google didn’t invent search or online advertising, and it’s still the leader in both categories. Now the company’s fledgling social network is disrupting the social media space. Watch out – it might just displace Facebook. Here’s why.
It’s Already No.2
Easy question: What social network has the largest number of users? Facebook, of course. Hard question: Which social network has the second highest number of users? (Hint: It doesn’t have a little blue bird for a logo.) Yes, G+ is number two behind Facebook with more than 343 million users (Twitter has about 288 million users; Facebook, about a billion). Twenty-five percent of global Internet users actively use G+ on a monthly basis. That’s an impressive number of users for a social network that is barely a toddler. (Get some tips on how to conquer a social network in Social Media: How to Do It Right.)
It Delivers the Goods
You might not find all your friends there (yet), but G+ delivers something that may be harder to come by: quality content. A common theme emerges when users compare Google+ with Facebook: the former provides more interesting information and allows you to meet new people, while the latter is great for keeping up with friends because everyone is on it. Here’s what one commenter said after reading an article comparing the two rival networks:
"FB = Show me your baby pictures and I’ll tell you where I am right now and what I’m eating."
"G+ = I’m finding all kinds of interesting things and connecting with people I don’t even know, where we share our mutual interests. "
Since websites don’t want too many social media icons competing for eyeballs and cluttering up their pages, they only use the most popular ones. The G+ logo is now commonly displayed next to Facebook and Twitter on many, if not most, popular websites. That is a sign that content providers are taking Google+ seriously – not least of all because a +1 appears to be a factor in Google’s PageRank algorithm (more about that below). Visibility is crucial for a social network and Google+ is getting plenty of it from major websites. (Confused about SEO? Read What is the difference between PageRank and search rank?)
Hangouts are Cool – and Facebook Doesn’t Have Them
G+ Hangouts are virtual places where individual users can video conference with up to 10 friends for free. Corporations are also finding that hanging out can help their brands. Some corporate hangouts have attracted as many as 40,000 people. Audience members can ask questions, watch video streams and interact with fellow hangout members. National Geographic celebrated its 125th anniversary with a well attended Google+ Hangout, and then edited the hour plus event down to 15 minutes so viewers could watch the highlights (minus the pauses and dull parts) at their convenience. The New York Times regularly uses this innovative feature and has allowed users to hang out with Olympic athletes, celebrity chefs and other cool and interesting people.
It’s Important for Search Algorithm Ranking
Google is serious enough about G+ to include it in the factors it uses to rank a Web page’s relative usefulness, or PageRank. Businesses and content creators who want to rank high in search results will need to start taking Google+ seriously, if they aren’t already.
In the brief history of social networking, no site seems to stay on top for very long. A mere seven years ago, MySpace was the 800 pound gorilla of social networking sites. By 2008, the torch had been passed to Facebook. The public seems to be fickle with social media sites and so far, we haven’t seen a lot of brand loyalty. A continuation of this trend could work in Google’s favor. Facebook, despite its bungled IPO and privacy issues, has had a good run as the undisputed social media leader; it might be time for Google+ to start trending.
Google Finally Gets It
After the failed social network experiments Buzz and Wave, Google finally seems to understand how to create and manage a successful social network. Google will tinker and add features until they get it right because the stakes are high. Google+ doesn’t need to be the next Facebook to be deemed a success, but the company does need another strong social media presence outside of YouTube.
G+ is Google’s best social media effort to date. The company has the cash – and more recently the will – to be the next social media giant. Google+ may seem pretty quiet, but don’t be fooled: It’s no ghost town and it may only be a matter of time before it’s really booming.