Google+ Has a Perception Problem

Remember that smart kid who sat in the front of the class, but was ignored by the cool kids? That’s a good metaphor for what Google+ is going through.

I’ve heard from corporate social strategists I should be cautious about how much time and how frequently I discuss this nascent social newtork, and I spoke to media from a Tier 1 this week who said “does anyone even go there anymore? It seems like a wasteland”. Furthermore take this damning image which has been viewed 11k times suggests Google+ is filled with Google employees –and that’s about it. In fact, in our data on Super bowl ads, not a single ad by the world’s largest brand even mentioned Google+, an indicator of what the rest of the ads could look like for 2012 in this Facebook centric market.

Why Google+ suffers from a perception issue:

  1. Facebook IPO buzz leaves little room for Google. As analysts, we feel this quite heavily, in fact, we’ve been interviewed by many media about the Facebook IPO. in the last 30 days, I can recount on one hand a conversation with press and media about Google+
  2. Google+ doesn’t have the full backing of brands. Google+ Brand pages are substandard, forcing brands to double down on Facebook:  The brand pages lack a platform (although their recent partnerships indicate feature rich apps are coming) and their gaming network is limited.  Brands also are skittish to open yet another conversation area to manage and engage in, when resources are low.
  3. Strong growth numbers still dwarfed by Facebook, 16 to 1. Even with 60m members and growing, that’s less than 7% of Facebook’s 845m, despite making these big gains since Oct, this social network is still dwarfed by Facebook’s international spread.

To win, Google needs to focus on public perception beyond just building a platform. Google+ continues to integrate the social features with the newly updated homepage on Google.com and we should continue to see it span across their set of products now that they’ve consolidated their profiles which has caused privacy woes. Google knows they must make their social platform work, to meet the needs of the modern web, as advertising dollars shift to other social networks.  They must not only double down on building a successful platform for users, brands and their business model, but must also do proactive media, press and influencer outreach.

Related: Although Jesse Stay agrees (he runs social at a global org and wrote a book on Google+) John respectfully suggests my perspective isn’t reality.

  • I’m rather happy Google+ doesn’t have the backing of major brands. I’m finding it to be incredibly useful and stimulating because of the nature of the people involved and do not look forward to its being swamped with marketing related spam and “engagement.” 

  • This will be short lived.  Brands and users will co-exist on just about every network, as this is a business catering to brands.

  • John69846

    From the beginning you are always dead set against Google+. What’s your real agenda, Jeremiah? By the way, Google+ now appears to have 100 milion plus users now.

  • John69846

    From the beginning you are always dead set against Google+. What’s your real agenda, Jeremiah? By the way, Google+ now appears to have 100 milion plus users now.

  • I think one of the largest issues is that Google needs to make it EASIER for brands/companies to engage with Google+.  A very simple example – when I publish a blog post on one of our sites, I can have that automatically shared out to Twitter and to Facebook.  I can’t yet with Google+.  Posting a link to Google+ is an entirely manual process and so I have to make the effort to go and do that.  Given that I schedule out content to be posted on our sites in advance, I have to remember to then go in and post those posts to our Google+ Page.  So often I admittedly don’t.

    Make it easier for a brand to feed their content into Google+ and odds are that more brands would indeed participate.

  • Dan, a valid point.

    The partnerships announced with Hootsuite, Buddy Media, Context Optional, Hearsay Social, Involver and Vitrue (I linked to this above) will give publishers and brands to manage multiple social network content from one interface that these providers offer. 

    The launch date hasn’t been released yet, but clearly this is an important move.  Later, expect Google+ platform to open up to a broader set of application developers.

  • Thanks John.

    My agenda is to always call it how we see it.  

    Coincidently, I’m an active nearly-daily Google+ user, see here: 
    https://plus.google.com/u/0/111654284395316165338/posts 

    In any regard, can you share the source of those stats.  I appreciate the time you took to share this John.

  • Thanks John.

    My agenda is to always call it how we see it.  

    Coincidently, I’m an active nearly-daily Google+ user, see here: 
    https://plus.google.com/u/0/111654284395316165338/posts 

    In any regard, can you share the source of those stats.  I appreciate the time you took to share this John.

  • anon

    Google+ is apt for social link building and more of a search-centric social product. I agree with Jeremiah that brands are unlikely to hop on anytime soon, becuase the users are all still on Facebook. For the non-tech community, Facebook is their default social graph and Google+ is still Scobble.

  • Brand interaction is limited for a number of good reasons. Dan points out that content distribution is not quite there yet. Some brands are not set up to support customer engagement in the Google + method. But I think the bigger question is what is G+ really? As a consumer of Google products it isn’t necessary for me to actually use it. I can’ +1 stuff in search and on content around the web sharing things I find, but it just goes into a black hole. I agree with Jeremiah and suspect there will be some deeper integration points with other Google products that will help drive use of G+. Personally, I think the vision for G+ is bigger than a Facebook competitor. 

  • Brand interaction is limited for a number of good reasons. Dan points out that content distribution is not quite there yet. Some brands are not set up to support customer engagement in the Google + method. But I think the bigger question is what is G+ really? As a consumer of Google products it isn’t necessary for me to actually use it. I can’ +1 stuff in search and on content around the web sharing things I find, but it just goes into a black hole. I agree with Jeremiah and suspect there will be some deeper integration points with other Google products that will help drive use of G+. Personally, I think the vision for G+ is bigger than a Facebook competitor. 

  • Brand interaction is limited for a number of good reasons. Dan points out that content distribution is not quite there yet. Some brands are not set up to support customer engagement in the Google + method. But I think the bigger question is what is G+ really? As a consumer of Google products it isn’t necessary for me to actually use it. I can’ +1 stuff in search and on content around the web sharing things I find, but it just goes into a black hole. I agree with Jeremiah and suspect there will be some deeper integration points with other Google products that will help drive use of G+. Personally, I think the vision for G+ is bigger than a Facebook competitor. 

  • Anonymous

    Though I was part of the first rush, I wasn’t a G+ fan to begin with because, despite its millions of users, there aren’t a lot of active users (last I checked Google cited 90m facebook users in its annual report but totally muddled how many were active – citing, instead, how many G+ users were active with Google services overall). But I remember a lot of conversations back in the day were about MySpace v Facebook, which doesn’t even SEEM like a competition nowadays but was a very real debate amongst my friends. A lot of people moved to facebook because it was cleaner and was seen as less noisy. In teaching a Social Media course at my local college, I sort of came to that G+ offers this now. Facebook has become so action oriented but G+ offers me the chance to see what my peers are thinking about. I’m already seeing a migration path that parallels the move of my friends from MySpace to Facebook, but I’m still waiting to see what happens next.  Good blog, Jeremiah!

  • Anonymous

    Though I was part of the first rush, I wasn’t a G+ fan to begin with because, despite its millions of users, there aren’t a lot of active users (last I checked Google cited 90m facebook users in its annual report but totally muddled how many were active – citing, instead, how many G+ users were active with Google services overall). But I remember a lot of conversations back in the day were about MySpace v Facebook, which doesn’t even SEEM like a competition nowadays but was a very real debate amongst my friends. A lot of people moved to facebook because it was cleaner and was seen as less noisy. In teaching a Social Media course at my local college, I sort of came to that G+ offers this now. Facebook has become so action oriented but G+ offers me the chance to see what my peers are thinking about. I’m already seeing a migration path that parallels the move of my friends from MySpace to Facebook, but I’m still waiting to see what happens next.  Good blog, Jeremiah!

  • Anonymous

    Though I was part of the first rush, I wasn’t a G+ fan to begin with because, despite its millions of users, there aren’t a lot of active users (last I checked Google cited 90m facebook users in its annual report but totally muddled how many were active – citing, instead, how many G+ users were active with Google services overall). But I remember a lot of conversations back in the day were about MySpace v Facebook, which doesn’t even SEEM like a competition nowadays but was a very real debate amongst my friends. A lot of people moved to facebook because it was cleaner and was seen as less noisy. In teaching a Social Media course at my local college, I sort of came to that G+ offers this now. Facebook has become so action oriented but G+ offers me the chance to see what my peers are thinking about. I’m already seeing a migration path that parallels the move of my friends from MySpace to Facebook, but I’m still waiting to see what happens next.  Good blog, Jeremiah!

  • Still seeing this as “early times.” Thanks for the sanity check on the big rush to declare G+ “Winner of the Internets” before it has really gotten on its feet. 

  • Kati it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.  Thanks for this. 

    You raise a good point, if Facebook becomes flooded with marketers, users may seek another route.  (see the comment from Dennis below)

  • Brooks thanks

    The one real promise that I’ve mentioned in previous posts is that Google+ offers a promise (but can never say it) of SEO benefits in the Google search tool.  Clearly, this is a sticking point for anti-trust laws, and was a debate when Google bought Blogger and other tools.

  • Thanks Doug

    There’s no winners, at least for more than 5 years running by my count.  Facebook here today, but could be gone in a few years.  The pattern ins cyclical, new networks continue to emerge.  Friendster anyone?

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  • Totally agree and it is being discussed, but less from Google + platform engagement as much as offering +1 and sharing into Google. 

  • Totally agree and it is being discussed, but less from Google + platform engagement as much as offering +1 and sharing into Google. 

  • Yes, the partnerships will be great whenever they eventually appear… but so far all those partnerships seem to be on a *management* point-of-view.  And yes, this is sorely needed for a staff person who is trying to engage and interact in conversations across different platforms.  Google+ is NOT in their “social media dashboard” today and until it is Google+ will always be “that other platform that I have to login to the website to use” and will get correspondingly less attention.  So yes, that will be key.

    Now, from a content distribution point-of-view, I want an API that lets someone create a plugin for WordPress/Drupal/Joomla/etc. so that the distribution can be under my control and integrated with my content management system.  This API is there for Twitter and Facebook (and other services) but missing from Google+ so far.

    And therein lies the proverbial “chicken and egg” problem.  What is the need to manage interaction if your content isn’t published to the platform?  And why should I bother to publish my content there if managing the interaction and conversation is a challenge?

    Google needs to address *both* sides of that issue and provide the APIs that let people more easily interact and publish to the platform.

  • Google has driven a stake into both the core of their company culture, and what customers have come to expect:  relatively unfiltered search results. I hope Google’s competitors seize the moment.

  • Anonymous

    Google+ is big enough and still growing and has enough functionality to make it worthwhile to keep a presence there. Facebook is getting more complex to use with too many changes too often that don’t make sense for their users. They might make sense to FB and maybe to brands but, FB seems to be forgetting who is actually using their platform and what the experience is for them. 

    I will be wherever I need to be on social and I think brands will do the same. For any innovation, people will adopt–and use–what makes sense to them in the context of their lives. Right now Facebook is the center of the social media galaxy. A few stumbles  or a major outage or some other reason could change this very quickly. It is very hard to re-build your network over and over again on social sites. So, it is wise to have backup locations for all the social you want or need to do. Google+ is certainly a worthy option for those who believe that any popular site can have its day and fade away.

    Additionally, for those people whose job is social or has a large component of social, experience on each of these platforms provides insights that cannot be obtained any other way.

  • “Becomes flooded with marketers”? It already is. Between the ads and games with ads in them and apps with ads in them and all of them doing their own thing it’s just gotten to be too much. I’ll take google’s ads any day. I’ve been dealing with them since 2004 in gmail and I’m used to their format. I think users will have more and more of a problem with fb. There are others but that’s a big one.

  • I just posted an article on my stream on G+ from google claiming the had over 90M users and over 60% were active daily. I’d estimate that Facebook doesn’t even do 60% daily so take it for what it’s worth. If those numbers are true though we are looking at less users but, pound for pound, better ones.

  • Andy Beard

    The biggest problem with Google+ is any virality is very forced.

    You go to my profile on Google+ and you see none of the conversations I am having with people. I can’t even find my own comments on Google+

    I haven’t worked out the rules for what makes an item appear back on my stream, but it certainly seems like even Robert Scoble’s content has a very short half life in my update notifications – even the email updates seem a lot less sporadic, so even using a label in gmail to filter isn’t as effective as it was on Buzz.

  • It’s based on when the comments come in. If you use the circles you can get more focused reading. Scoble is in my noisemaker circle and I have that dialed down from my stream so I can see the actual content. I can look at that circle to see his stuff.

  • It’s based on when the comments come in. If you use the circles you can get more focused reading. Scoble is in my noisemaker circle and I have that dialed down from my stream so I can see the actual content. I can look at that circle to see his stuff.

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  • RLeon

    People forget that Facebook did not become Facebook in a year. They started out back in 03 with a very niche market (Top Universities) that they covered very very well and then expanded from there to other groups. G+ on the other hand tried to plunge in and become the coolest kid on the block from its 1st day in town! (If you want to keep the analogy…) In other words, it tried to be everything to everyone all at once and that’s just not how social dynamics work. Brands will always follow people so if I was Google, I would try to position G+ as the place to be for a few very strategic niches and serve those niches well enough to completely absorb those people away from Facebook and other places. Develop the product as if it was meant for those people and not the entire world and nearby galaxies from the start. From there, it can grow and capture more and more niches with time until we (and our brands) are all in.  

  • john g

    Hard to understate the degree to which Google just does not get it in social to summarize  what Steve Jobs thought about them. I got on Buzz a couple weeks after they opened it up participated, shared links with friends etc. Total people I knew in reality on Buzz after it closed 0. Now on G+, total people I know in any kind of reality, 1 and that is because he has to be there from business.  Facebook?  So many that I don’t want to add them because it will bring back too many old issues.  Facebook gets that part of social and in a big way. This is not about superior integration of web apps, optimal search, superior content, brilliant conceptual network paradigms of circles for message tracking and connection modelling, etc.  
     The way I see the structure of G+ is very well clarified in the context of this statement: 
    “When I started using Google+ last July, I felt I had finally found an online community that would make me much smarter without being a time sink. Part of the reason that I found it so engaging was that Google employees are among the smartest people on the planet, they were mostly all here….” 
    If you look at who G+ really connects it is Google employees. G+ reflects their self absorbed images of social interaction. Since we are the smartest people on the internet the way we optimally connect to each other with our most interesting content and superior applications is best. Eventually smart people will use G+ and bring their influential smart contacts with them to be hip, smart and connected just like us. Look at FB in dramatic contrast. They definitely get that it is not all about them. Look how much more user centric FB is on making personal connects and getting them right. I’m not going to repeat again what I think of the circles model. Apollonian gasket is more like it.  
    The other gigantic issue of course is how badly Google messed up with China. 

  • Anonymous

    Doesn’t make much sense to me. There is no way possible Google+ is going to open and have any where near the number of users Facebook has built over years in a matter of 6 months. However the growth rate of Google+ seems to be stomping any growth rate Facebook has had since its beginnings. That’s the metric that should be watched.

  • 1eyekirk

    I am simply baffled by your analysis.  I keep a Facebook account for immediate friends and family and spend 10 hours a day on Google plus.  the Google Plus experience is much cleaner, more intuitive, puts me in contact with people from around the globe, and lets me control the volume through circle management.  I now have over 17,000 followers, and engage with top people in the photo industry on a routine basis.  I probably will not dump Facebook, but this has eclipsed that experience in every way.

  • Anonymous

    I think people just don’t get Google+. How many people do I know in my friends list on FB. All of them. How many of them post content that I actually find interesting? Hardly any of them. Why? Because the list is built almost solely on physical contact from some point and time in life. None of it is based on interest in the content that they are posting or that I am posting. My stream is therefore a bunch of random noise about peoples lives.

    Now contrast that to Google+. How many people do I know in reality on G+? Very few. How many of them post content that I actually find interesting? Almost all of them. This is because I have added people and have had people add me based on what I have to share rather than knowing me personally. I find chains of like minded and interesting people, NEW people, through conversations in comments. I add them and they add me without feeling awkward because there is no imposing idea of “friends” or any other association outside of shear interest in content. Even if someone says something interesting in a comment on FB the tendency is not or people with mutual friends to add each other if they don’t know each other personally because of what it tends to imply and the information that is shared by default. With G+ Circles there is no fear of adding someone and being added. Therefore my Google+ feed is filled with content that interests me from people I’m meeting and networking with over my interests.

    So basically if you want a place to share and view content with a network of rather intimate friends who you already know then FB is for you. If you’re looking for a place to find people that share your interests whether you know them or not then G+ is for you. Personally I believe its FB that has a problem. They do alot of talking about “social search” and turning to friends for information. But honestly outside of your closest circle of friends the “friends” that people have may not have all that much in common outside of having associated with each other in reality for reasons beyond their control. The “friends” on G+ are being hand picked  out of an interest in content and because of that may provide far more relevant information.

  • I agree, Jeremiah. I use Google+, but the bulk of my time is on Facebook. I understand the value is there when it comes to search. But I need more than that.

    The perception is that G+ is largely made up of people who hate Facebook. Yet, the two are too similar for the typical outsider without that deep F hatred to be motivated to get involved. Pinterest is taking off because it is so unique and offers clear value that other social networks cannot. The value, outside of search, for G+ users is less clear.

    That’s the general perception, at least. G+ needs to be more than just about search and people hating Facebook. While there are other values, they are further below the surface for the typical outsider.

  • Daniel Hedblom

    If you look back at all the social media in existence, even back to the old BBS days. One thing has been the same for every social network to date, it has come and gone to be replaced by something else. From BBS style forums thru Usenet, Irc, web forums, icq, MSN,email, 3d-chat, video-chat, Lunarstorm, Myspace, Friendster etc, they all had the same cycle. Facebook is no exception and with luck people will have the time to cash out some money before it goes away just as the rest. Social media lacks one important piece that people tend to forget, monopoly benefits. Piss off your users and they flee as fast as they can type in another URL.

  • You’re looking at the issue completely the wrong way. Google+ doesn’t need to challenge Facebook in terms of pure numbers. It just needs to generate information that Google can use to make Search and other products better. Besides which, G+ is growing extremely fast. It may have a much smaller user base than FB, but its user base is very active, and the content and conversations are far richer. That information being generated and filtered through G+ is far more important to Google than “brand backing” because that information will make for better advertising, which will attract brands. 

    It seems more that you have a perception problem. You have completely ignored the media push that G+ has gotten from various Hangouts, not the least of which was one with the president of the USA. Also, you’ve completely ignored the fact that Google+ has already pushed Facebook to change and be better. Facebook has changed its privacy policy, status update posting method and photo lightbox to all more closely resemble Google+. 

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  • I wanted to +1 this post, but didn’t see the button.

  • Rwails33

    It does appear to me that the less intelligent are on Facebook or should I say the more intelligent are on Google+. I find more interesting information more informative views etc on Google+ However if the folks at G+ want to attract more people to them then make it pretty and friendly to the bubbleheads that use FB the most, I find that FB is just like High School just a few years removed…

  • I have many very intelligent friends on Facebook (which I personally hate).  I don’t know nearly that many intelligent people using Google+.  It isn’t just a perception problem.  Google+ has a PURPOSE problem. Right now its only purpose seems to be to benefit Google, and that’s not a very compelling argument for most people to leave other social networks.

    Facebook killed a lot of Web forums.  I’m sure many former forum operators would be happy to see Facebook get its comeuppance.  But then Google’s love affair with links and AdSense fueled the Web spam industry that choked many forums into shutting down, so I suspect a lot of those forum operators are chuckling over Google’s struggle to win some real recognition.

    It’s not so easy to get people to actually USE your service as it is to get them to sign up.

  • that’s a lucid observation about the difference between G+ and FB that resonates with me.

  • that’s a lucid observation about the difference between G+ and FB that resonates with me.

  • We got likes here.  Like it 🙂 

  • Mike, I’m also aware of the celebrity deals that Google+ has built with folks like William (insert periods).   I also haven’t discounted that they one of the most powerful marketing engines, when they want to:  Google.com

  • Mike, I’m also aware of the celebrity deals that Google+ has built with folks like William (insert periods).   I also haven’t discounted that they one of the most powerful marketing engines, when they want to:  Google.com

  • 1eyekirk.  No doubt there’s plenty of room for multiple account usage by one individual, but we need to look at overall market perception, which is the point of this post.

  • 1eyekirk.  No doubt there’s plenty of room for multiple account usage by one individual, but we need to look at overall market perception, which is the point of this post.