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What Has Been Going on with Google Plus?

In May, Google Plus surpassed Twitter and became the second largest social network in terms of active users. If this news caught you off guard, you weren’t the only one.

Back in 2011, Forbes’ famous G+ eulogy perfectly epitomized widespread sentiment among media, marketers and the general public. No cared about Google Plus because aside from the anti-mainstream, no one was there. The service was nothing new, and no one saw the need to post statuses and photos twice, especially when a far bigger audience existed on Facebook.

So what happened?

How did the social platform go from butt-of-a-joke status to second place? Easy:  It found value to give to users.

Before we go any further, it’s important to distinguish between what this author refers to as a Google Plus account and a Google Plus user. Google Plus acquires a new account every time someone logs into Google for the first time. Maps, YouTube, Books, Reviews. The beauty of Google is the ability to streamline Internet activity. We hand Google terabytes of data, and it remembers our favorite sites, recommends videos, and optimizes its search engine for us.

A Google Plus user, however, is someone who uses Google Plus as a social network — liking, commenting, sharing, +1’ing. This online group was completely absent in 2011, when everyone proclaimed Google Plus had breathed its last breath. But it’s Google Plus users that have contributed to the second place ranking. The Global Web Index (which is what reported Google outranked Twitter) only measured this type of user, which they called an active user. In other words, there’s plenty of activity on the platform now.

Still, the mode of operation and design remain strikingly similar to Facebook’s. The Chicago Tribune recently reported a list of new features Google rolled out for the social network. Among them are a redesigned news feed, photo filters and hashtags. Considering Facebook bought Instagram and now allows hashtags, does this not sound familiar?

Why Google Plus?

Facebook’s popularity initially boomed because the site was a way to connect with old friends and get to know new friends better. In other words, people hopped on Facebook to connect with people they already knew. Google Plus has become a way for people to get to know others they haven’t yet met. Hangouts and Communities have become Google’s e-version of Meetup, connecting users to others with similar interests. Even President Obama utilized the network’s unique feature to ask questions about his 2013 State of the Union address.

The marketing lesson here is obvious: don’t try to recreate something that is wildly successful. Solve a problem that’s currently unfixed. Once Google moved beyond the stage of simply imitating Facebook, it grew…and is still growing.

To all the naysayers out there, know that the site has made top-dog status. Some marketers (and this report) no longer refer to a duopoly of Facebook and Twitter. Google has joined the ranks to form a social media oligarchy.

Is there a better sign of success?

Are you interested in learning about the rich opportunities of Google’s social network and how to take advantage of them? Check out our 1-day, hands-on course, Google Plus for Business: Getting Started, or  click here to receive more information on ASPE-ROI’s marketing training and services.

About the author: Joseph Havey is the Director of Social Media for the Triangle-based Shelten Media, LLC, a startup company specializing in social media marketing. He is a member of N.C. State’s PRSSA chapter, and writes for the school newspaper, Technician. In his free time, he trains for triathlons. 


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