It was hot, then it was cold, then it was hot, then it was cold. Google+, the search giant’s 54th attempt at a social network, is going on two years old now and it has made a splash in the social media world with half a billion users, over 100 million of whom are considered “active”. These seem to be impressive numbers until you spend enough time on the site and realize that it’s still not in the same league as Facebook when it comes to engagement.
People live a good portion of their lives on Facebook, while they struggle to remember to check their Google+. They aren’t far off from having a truly valid social network. They simply need to make a few adjustments and they can actually compete. Today, they’re still an enigmatic blip on the social networking radar garnering less buzz than smaller networks like Pinterest and Instagram. Tomorrow, they’ll be in the same boat unless they make some or all of these changes:
At first, it was believed that it was a strategic decision to not utilize Facebook’s strategy of omnipresence on all sites and services because they wanted to reach a tipping point first. They didn’t want to grow on the coattails of other networks and wanted their own presence established. That was a year ago. Today, we seem to be no closer to sharing our Pinterest pins, Flickr images, or Tumblr posts on Google+ than we were back then.
This isn’t just part of Facebook’s success. It’s part of a mutually beneficial relationship, a symbiotic tie between Facebook and its hundreds of social relationships. It views its competitors as useful pawns in their quest for world adoption. They don’t like Twitter, but they’ll allow a two-way relationship that allows Facebook posts to pop up on Twitter and visa versa.
Google+ could support other networks and dramatically improve active adoption if they would just play nice with other networks. Pinterest is the perfect example because much of its exposure comes through integration directly with Twitter and Facebook. Users create a pin and can instantly share it from the interface to Facebook and Twitter with the click of a button. This happens in real-time; the posts appear on the other social networks the exact moment that they appear on Pinterest. Both backs get scratched as a result.
If Google+ would pick strategic integrations, it would do more than increase the amount of content that is shared on their network. It would take users from the other networks and give them incentive to join Google+. Right now, they don’t have mass appeal. Integration would help. Pinterest integration in particular would help them to…
Appeal to women
According to Social Statistics, Google+ is comprised of 69.4% men. That’s insane. Women are the more social sex on nearly every other social network outside of Google+ and Reddit. For them to have such a lack of feminine appeal is a telling sign as to why their active user percentages are so low.
Women rule on social media. They always have and always will. Beyond the obvious fix of integrating with other social networks such as Pinterest and Instagram (though Facebook’s ownership of Instagram may be a major roadblock there) that are heavily populated by females, they could do things that would make the site more female-friendly. No, I’m not suggesting that they start promoting female-appealing items, but they could definitely go after female-centered brands and products and encourage them to improve their Google+ presence.
Today, the right brands aren’t heavy on Google+ because the women aren’t using it. The women aren’t using it in part because of the lack of interest from female-dominated brands. It’s a lot easier to coax a brand that can bring the women than it is to try to coax the women to entice the brands. A Google search for “google+ estee lauder” shows four G+ pages at the top, none of which are active or authentic to the brand. The four pages combine for a total of two posts. By comparison, the Estee Lauder Facebook page has nearly a million fans and all of their posts get thousands of likes and dozens of comments and shares.
Sort by content type
This is a minor fix but it’s one that would give them a boost over Facebook. Right now, Facebook is a place where people go to post their thoughts, their pictures, and their lives in general. Google+ isn’t like that and they don’t have to try to emulate it. They do have an advantage on content quality when it comes to posts that are not necessarily as personal as they are on Facebook.
This is a strength they should exploit.
By allowing users to sort their feeds by images, links, videos, or text, it will make it much easier for users to make Google+ their content-finding source. It’s not a hard fix and it would make the site potentially more useful to some than Facebook or even Twitter when it comes to content discovery.
Responsive web design
The fact that Google is one of the biggest proponents of responsive web design yet they don’t employ it themselves is silly. There are challenges that come along with responsive design when you have a neverending scroll component, but if anyone has the collective brainpower to solve this design challenge, it’s Google.
With responsive web design, the HTML is the same for all devices and screen sizes. The difference is that the design adjusts to present the different component of the page in an ideal way for the screen on which it’s being viewed. This is the riskiest of the recommendations as well as the hardest to do right, but it can be done. Google should be the one that does it.
At the very least, it would help them to solve one of their other minor cosmetic issues, namely…
Too much white space
If you view Google+ on a larger monitor, it looks weird. There’s a gap to the right between the sidebars that is completely wasted space.
Facebook and Twitter use their real estate. They know that social networking isn’t art that requires certain levels of white space to highlight the focus points. I’m definitely not suggesting that they clutter their pages, but even if they made the images bigger, expanded the width of the content area, put more emphasis on the features on their sidebars, or increased the width of everything across the board, they could be more visually appealing.
Of course, responsive web design could fix this, but if they’re not going in that direction they need to at least make the components fit properly across all screen options.
Ability to adjust link display content
This is another minor annoyance, but the site can’t afford any announces. If you post a link to Google+, whatever the title tag is on the page is what the title of the post will be. You can’t change it.
With many pages still using extremely long or semi-gibberish title tags for SEO purposes, it’s a shame that you can’t adjust the title to get to the point.
Another similar content display annoyance is that the description either appears or it doesn’t when posting links. You can’t edit it, either, so if the description comes through (and simple things like odd characters are enough to break it on Google+), you can either keep it or remove it.
Facebook allows editing of both. This makes for a much cleaner display, particularly on links.
They started advertising the network a bit last year. Then, they stopped. Were they not successful? Perhaps not, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t keep trying.
This is a product that will integrate with everything they offer. That’s the plan, at least. They should get aggressive with showing users new and old how the service has features that Facebook does not. There are two major advantage they have over Facebook: cash and advertising reach. Offline, they can start running more television commercials touting their features and perhaps even attacking Facebook a little. Online, they should be using their tremendous ad network to push people to join or to push inactive users to come back and play.
They understand that SoLoMo is the future. What they seem to be missing, at least when it comes to Google+, is that SoLoMo is today as well. It’s already here. It’s already dominant. If they don’t establish themselves soon, they might lose too much ground to Facebook and Twitter that they won’t be able to make up.
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“Ghost Town” image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Martin ReadingSenór Vape says
I’m a registered member of both facebook & google+, all i normally do on facebook is play angry birds and maybe keep up to date with a club that i belong to & a few relatives.
However when it comes to google+ the story is quite different, i’m logged in there almost 24/7 and can guarantee that i can go on their at any time of the day and have either a serious discussion or a good laugh from folks all over the world and hat’s just by posting in my own circles and not going public.
Any social network is what YOU make it and although it gets quiet at times google+ is far from a ghost town, in fact i think it’s one of the most social, social networks there is out there.
Just a quick example one of the members who lives in the USA is coming to London next month, so a whole load of folk (most have never met each other) have planned to meet up with him on a particular day up in london, personally i can’t see that happening on facebook.
John Hauxwell says
So true Martin.
LD Williams says
How to make G+ less of a ghost town? How about preventing idiots from making inane comparisons when the, y obviously have NO experience of what they are pontificating about, for a start.
On FarceBook, i have Maybe 50 followers, on G+ 10,000. What works for you may not for me and visa versa, so why not remove your head from its sandbox & take a look at the Real world sonnyboy.
Oh and Yes i Am peeved at those that can Only seem to build themselves up by attempting to bring others down.
Go get a life
Martin ReadingSenór Vape says
Totally agree with your first and last sentences mate (I call LD Williams that although i’ve never met him but he’s a friend on Google+ who i know i can rely on)
john hitchcock says
I have met ld Williams and i have been all over the country. I estimated that to date since the inception of g+ I have met just shy of 100 people. That will go over 100 very soon. I view facebook as the place full of people I already know… But don’t necessarily actually want to talk to and g+ as the place I can engage and interact with people I want to get to know. Anyone who suggests Google plus is a ghost town just clearly hasn’t spent a good amount of time invested in engaging with its users. Posting a blog link and then counting the plus ones is not engaging.
I am concerned that as Google plus grows I become increasingly alarmed that my facebook “friends” will eventually join…..
Matthew Freeman says
G+ has more users than twitter and it’s, what, 18 months old? It took 4 years for Facebook to catch up with Myspace. If you Google+ is a ghost town, you’re doing it wrong. It’s that simple.
Martin ReadingSenór Vape says
well said Mathew Freeman
john hitchcock says
Carol Dodsley says
Well, I’m a lady (not sure about that but definitely of the fairer sex) and I am finding more and more to do on G+ than on Facebook, the level of interaction is higher for me over on Google than on FB or other social media sites, and I am passionate about sharing it and most especially hangouts with other ladies & gents from across the Uk and of course across the world too.
I get that people want to see integration made simpler BUT at the same time – do we really want G+ to become a mass of irrelevant images and be used by people sharing what they had for breakfast and their latest escapades in the way they do on FB?
I dont see it as a comparable to FB and I dont want to see it turn into the next facebook or twitter either as I believe their is room for all FB is more for fun and having a chat, twitter is for saying hi as you take a stroll and Google Plus is for stopping, exploring, meeting up with new girls and guys, spending time over a meal and intellectual conversations and networking in real time with real people.
Let’s keep Google plus different and understand that it is a social layer rather than the latest social network and keep FB and twitter for what they are best used for and enjoyed for too
The Three Giants can work side by side and thrive side by side too if they all look at their strong points and focus on creating something unique instead of vying for each others patrons and visitors 🙂
Joseph C. Miller says
Ghost town? Credibility was shot right there.
Robert Lambert says
I love G+, sure the computer layout needs a lot of work(Tablet interface is a lot better)… But the content, new people, speed of viral info and interaction experience is the best. The other day I had an interactive hangout with several Dr of astronomy. That hangout put watching the ‘news of TV’ look like the stone age of entertainment and learning. … I hope it stays the ‘ghost town’ if keeps the boring naysayers out..
It is hard to attract more users and increase the “engagement” activities because of the TRUST issue.
With all the recent negative news, I don’t see how Google+ can make it “less of a ghost town”.
According to the most recent news, Google Inc has been providing Apps developers with the name, home address, and email address of all people who use Google Play.
There is also the news that Google Inc. is reading all your gmails.
Of course, there is also the Wall Street Journal article that Google Inc. is surreptitiously forcing users of Google services to open a Google+ account without their consent.
All of these news do not bode well for Google+.
Unless Google, Inc. can address this TRUST issue, I don’t see how it can attract more people to Google+.