There’s a resurgence in the old “ghost town” argument surrounding Google+ recently. I’ve seen doubts about monthly interaction estimates, surprise at the lack of panic with Google+’s recent power out, and discredit around Google+’s new application sign-in service. Many of these articles have come from authors who haven’t filled out a Google+ profile and/or barely dabbled with the social network, but still consider themselves authorities on the subject. Now of course people are entitled to their own opinion, but here’s my take on what’s happening with Google+ usability and why so many get it wrong.
The Google+ Ghost Town
Everyone has their reasons for using or avoiding something, but never have I seen such scrutiny over a social network that’s doing so well. When GlobalWebIndex’s GWI.8 (Q4 2012) report came out on Jan. 22, 2013, it revealed Google+’s monthly usage had in fact overtaken the number two spot behind Facebook. Many found it hard to believe, but I don’t. Think about what the report says and how you share on each site.
Because of Twitter’s fast-paced and shortened nature, users are more inclined to share more often. Because of this, Twitter creates the illusion of more users while still having a smaller populace. Facebook on the other hand has a significantly larger population while sharing less – thus evening the playing field for both platforms when it comes to sharing external content. Want evidence? Look at any article (unless it’s about Facebook) and review the post’s sharing utility plugin. More often than not, Twitter has significantly larger totals than Facebook – and I don’t think anyone is making the argument Facebook has less users.
So because Google+ has longer posts like Facebook, people share like they do on Facebook. Users usually also share their own content, and when they do +1 external content it’s more judicious like Facebook. Want evidence? Once again, go to the same articles you’ve reviewed for Twitter and Facebook. You should see +1’s around half (maybe a little less) than Facebook Likes. This makes sense doesn’t it? Because if GlobalWebIndex’s report is saying that there are 343 million monthly active users on Google+ and 900 million on Facebook, +1’s in relation to Likes should be a little less than half.
There’s a clear audit trail of activity even if you’re not using Google+. But if Google+ is a ghost town who’s +1-ing these posts? Well someone is. Two of TechCrunch’s authors recently published articles (post 1, post 2) claiming Google+ has empty streets. But if you review both of these articles individually they actually have very similar +1 to Like ratios – one article even having twice as many +1’s.
When we review social media sites we should all be careful. Twitter for example is incredibly popular, but the majority of my friends avoid it. Does this mean I immediately assume no one uses it? No. So like any social network, the secret to an awesome Google+ experience requires you to use it first.