The path to success in social networking is tremendously difficult. The established players are so utterly dominant, and the services they provide seem to cover almost every conceivable need, that any exploitable niche remains, more or less, niche. Taken together, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (the top three social networks) cover 95% of the social networking population, according to our own New Media Measure data. Furthermore, for anyone to have some fun, the relationship-driven nature of social networks, like a polar plunge, not only require a given user to buy in, but for an immediate group of friends to take the leap as well.
Google announced their newest social network Google+ last year after several previous failures in the social space, which debuted to a lot of fanfare and hype. If anyone had the clout and ubiquity to pull in disaffected Facebookers and Twitter-cynics, it would have to be Google, right?
After several months of hype and some impressive initial growth numbers, Google+ seemed to fade from the collective tech consciousness. Personally, following a short trial with the service, I found myself disinterested, after which I deleted my profile. I had been uncomfortable from the start with the idea of having Google+ tied to all my other Google-related services. Just as in real life, some compartmentalization of little details is important.
At the same time Google+ seemed to hold such little relevance to me, it seemed to continue growing, and quickly, at least according to Google. In January, Larry Page claimed 90 million were using Google+, up from September estimates of around 43 million users. This is, however, where the story diverges. Our New Media Measure Q3 numbers showed 10% of social network users were active (accessed within past two weeks) on the site, while in Q4, the site took a huge leap–sideways–holding steady at 10%. And while this NMM data is only representative of the US, it would be nearly impossible for a service that originated here and has been heavily marketed domestically to stay flat while exploding internationally.
What could be causing this discrepancy between the growth touted by Page, and our flat internal numbers?
As this piece shows, Google seems to take advantage of sign ups to their various other services (gmail, youtube, etc.) to go ahead and create a Google+ profile for you. I even noticed that long after originally deleting my original Google+ profile, that Google had taken the time to create another profile shell for me. Further, given that I am a Gmail user, it would not be unreasonable to assume my Gmail log-ins are counted among the 90 million Google+ users claimed by Page.
Touting tremendous growth using the loosest definition of a user–one that would make even the savviest marketer blush–seems to be a poor long-run strategy. Unfortunately, pushing misleading and distorted “journalist SEO” seems to be par for the course, especially for tech companies. If Google+ isn’t catching on as Google had hoped, there is no shame in admitting to such, because building a well liked social product takes as much luck as it does effort.