I remember, one month after its launch in June 2011, Google+ was very proud to announce 25 million subscribers. At that time, industry observers were predicting the huge success of Google’s social offspring over Facebook: “In comparison, it took three years for Facebook to get 25M members!” you could read in any good posts or articles.
What about now? When you look at the numbers alone, Google+ is definitely tracking well (they announced 90M users in December 2012 – investor.google.com); however, it is actually a different story when you look at how engaged its members are. According to data from research firm ComScore, Google+ visitors spent an average of 3 minutes per month on the site vs. the 6 to 7 hours spent by Facebook’s users every month.
So why such a low engagement? We can definitely believe that Google+ right now is not succeeding because FB is simply just too big (845M users in December 2011 – newsroom.fb.com). Most of its members (like myself) won’t bother to make the switch as long as they are perfectly happy with what FB is offering them. It has nothing to do with how great Google+ is, and in fact there are lots of great features (circles, targeted sharing features, video chat with a total of 10 people at one time, integration with the social game Zinga,…) that save Google+ from really failing. It is just a question of “Do people really need another Facebook?”. Obviously, Google’s leadership is proclaiming that Google+’s aim is not (has never been?) to compete against FB but more to add a “social layer” to the various Google products (Gmail, search, etc.) and to obtain personal data about users to better direct ads to them across all of Google. Still, the proof is in the pudding, and while the online giant is still spending heavily on newspaper ads and TV commercials to promote its “social auxiliary service”, I keep hearing from digital marketers that they haven’t been able to run great campaigns on G+ (yet).
So does this mean that Google+ is most likely to join the burial ground of Google ideas that never really picked up (like Buzz or Waves)? It is far too early to make any real judgments on the network’s long-term prospects or viability (at the end of the day, Google+ has only had 8 months). What’s more, not a long time ago, another famous social network, Twitter, was in a similar situation. In 2008, after several years of existence, there was only an average of 300K tweets per day. Things changed the following year when companies started to understand the potential of this social network, and they reached 35M of tweets per day.
So, the bottom line is that while Google+ doesn’t have as much engagement as Facebook does, it’s still the fastest growing social network and has a unique opportunity to leverage the power of search (Public Google+ posts rank well in Google search results, something that you can’t get through FB and Twitter). While it may not be the stunning success that Google envisioned, it’s far from being a total failure. So let’s wait and see in a few years (months?).