Why We’re Not Using Google+ To Reach Consumers – So Far

This article was recently published as a guest post at GeekWire, and is republished here for DigitalQuarters readers.

Since Google+ launched in June of this year, two questions have been on everyone’s mind in the digital community:  1) Can it become a huge success for Google? And 2) Can I use it to make huge success for me?

Much has been written about the first question; but very little about the second.

And so, because we’re obsessive about knowing the social Web, my colleagues and I at Wetpaint have looked long and hard at the second (and unanswered) question.

After a good deal of analysis, I can report that the answer for us as a media company (so far, at least) is “no.”

Here’s what we’ve found:

The lights are on, but no one is home – Google has been quick to point out that 40 million users have “signed up” for Google+. That’s because the product is deeply bolted onto every product inside the Google empire, including Gmail, and they did a nice job of making it easy to invite everyone you know. People checked it out, but they haven’t been back, and I’d bet their active user rates are in the single digits. Every time I log in, there’s almost zero activity among my “circles.” Even with 40 million, that pales in comparison to the reach of Facebook’s worldwide audience of 800 million (200 million in the U.S.), who are far more active (500M per day!).

Users can manage one social network, and no more – Mainstream users have demonstrated that they reach saturation after managing one social network when it comes to their personal life. First, it was Friendster; then MySpace; now Facebook. People don’t have the time and attention span to manage overlapping networks of friends and conversations.

It doesn’t solve a consumer problem – There hasn’t been a migration to Google+ because it doesn’t solve a real consumer problem. Facebook has an entrenched audience with deeply embedded habits. In order for a migration to take place, Google+ needs to do something massively new that addresses a consumer pain point (which it doesn’t – at least not yet), or Facebook needs to make a massive blunder that drives people away (for example, around privacy, which I don’t think most users really care about).  Overcoming this is even harder for Google, largely because it’s viewed by most as a utility, not a place to facilitate stronger online connections / community.

That said, there are a few things I’ll be watching as Google+ moves ahead in the short term:

Influencers – The people who are using Google+ now (the single digits mentioned above) are industry influencers / luminaries / connectors.  They’re using it as a less restricted version of Twitter, because Google+ can share longer, deeper messages than 140 characters will allow. I’ll be curious to see if there’s a migration of these folks from Twitter to Google+. I tend to doubt it, however.

Business pages – Google has encouraged businesses and brands to sit on the sidelines until they release business pages as part of Google+ later this year. These are akin to “fan pages” on Facebook. If these solve a new consumer problem, then they could trigger some migration. But, again, I attach low odds to this possibility.

Search impact – The most convincing argument for embracing Google+ is its potential impact on search. It’s too early to say, but there is speculation that Google will tune its search algorithms to overweight those who “perform” well with Google+. For example, if a brand gets lots of +1’s (Google’s version of the “like” button), then that brand’s share of search volume could be dramatically increased to encourage broader adoption of content providers. This is something I’ll be evaluating after business pages launch, which should take place before the end of the year.

There is no question that the crew at Google is brilliant.  And they will clearly be looking to improve their service for consumers and make it relevant as a premier social operating system for the Web.  But what I will be watching is whether they can solve these core issues to make it a must-have for consumers.  And, if they do, then it will become a must-have for publishers as well.

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