On the occasion of the third anniversary of Google Plus last year, industry-watchers and marketing bloggers were having a field day discussing whether the social platform a) had real value, b) had passed its prime already, c) had ever reached a prime of any kind or d) never was and never was intended to be a true social networking service. Some called it a ghost town.
The controversy continues. If you’ve missed the conversation, here’s a synopsis. If you’re a small business marketer, it bears consideration.
The “ghost town” argument.
After three years, Google Plus isn’t performing, according to statistics. A Shareaholic study of 300,000 websites in its network during the first quarter of last year compared referral views, with these results:
- Facebook received 21.15%.
- Pinterest received 7.1%.
- Twitter received 1.14%.
- Google Plus received 0.08%.
Another study of 22 key American news and entertainment publishers showed only two had received better than 1% of their social referrals from Google Plus. In most cases the figures were below a half-percent compared to vastly higher returns from Facebook and Twitter. Similarly, Onswipe, a mobile platform provider, said their Google Plus referral traffic was 0.046% compared to Facebook at 71.3% and Twitter at 16.1%.
You get the idea.
What’s the problem here?
Everybody knows Google loves itself best. You have to buy into each new Google offering – create a presence and use it – if you want the best possible search display ranking. That includes Google Plus along with Gmail, Google Apps for Business, YouTube, Google Places, etc. And you can’t even consolidate them via a single identity, you have to sign up for and manage each one individually.
That’s not particularly user-friendly for marketers strapped for time, nor is it particularly efficient, since there is no marketer for whom every conceivable platform is equally valuable. Now Google My Business has entered the picture, ostensibly as a “unified interface.” Will it be that? If so, will it give Google+ a boost?
At least one theorist has promulgated the idea that the real reason Google Plus was created was so Google could mine more detailed information about content creators to more accurately sift “real” publishers from bots, scammers, copy-cats et al. While that goal is surely laudable – at least if you’re a bona fide artist, writer, photographer or other content producer – perhaps Google could have found a better way of achieving it than with a social media “smoke screen.”
This theorist also suggested that the absence of advertising on Google Plus is further evidence Google never really expected a user audience that would see such ads.
The path toward “better” opportunity is unclear to marketers.
Google giveth, and then Google taketh away. Authorship was touted as the Next Best Thing for marketers, and everyone scrambled to add their photo signature to their content, difficult as that turned out to be. But now Authorship has been rescinded. One theory on that is that Google realized, belatedly, that all those photos were visually more attractive than the paid ads on results pages. Oops.
And while Google loves itself, it often shuns other platforms such as Instagram. Without the ability to cross-post, sharing with Google+ comrades becomes a duplication of effort. Marketers aren’t sure it’s worth it. If it’s difficult to include your Google+ audience(s) in broader engagement with friends, fans and followers, doesn’t that put the brakes on two-way conversation instead of facilitating it?
Some marketers love Google Plus, and say it generates important results for them. And content publishers continue to use the platform. As yet, you can’t afford not to be on Google Plus. After all, it does (theoretically) aid your SEO. Everybody needs that. But is it a true social media center, or just another “thing” to do and keep track of?
What do you think? Are you using Google+ as a marketer? Is it working? Will you stay? Sometimes social media isn’t always your best marketing strategy so learn how to succeed with direct mail marketing in a social media focused world.