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It’s a common declaration; ‘Google+ is a ghost town’. The search giant has amassed huge user numbers registered on its social network, but the lights are on while nobody’s home.
The numbers seem to suggest as much, with apparently just 35% of Google+’s users active on a monthly basis, but anyone who’s a regular user will tell you the reality is more complicated than that.
The social network has hidden depths, they say. You’re just not doing it right.
In our annual review of how the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 are using social media, we’ve found that the UK’s fastest growing technology companies are flocking to Google+, to the point where it’s on a par with Facebook in terms of businesses having a presence there.
That’s a big difference compared to the previous year’s report, in which we found 42% of the Fast 50 were on Google+, compared to 68% now.
So what’s driving this shift? And what are these businesses, at the forefront of the country’s technology industry and many of them inherently digital, doing to make the most of their presence on the network?
Google+ for SEO
Firstly, there’s the SEO question. It’s regularly stated that by building a presence on Google+ the search engine is more likely to look more kindly on you in those all important SERPs.
It’s actually a heavily debated topic as to whether that’s the case, but suffice to say a lot of these fast growing and often young companies trying to build a web presence would be willing to give it a go even on the off chance it might improve their search ranking positions.
Google’s acquisition strategy
We know about the user backlash when Google integrated Google+ with YouTube, but it seems that this strategy of acquisition by transition has impacted businesses too.
Nearly half (44%) of the businesses that were on Google+ were also on YouTube, and the vast majority (all but one) of those were active on the video sharing channel, more than were active on Google+.
This suggests that many of these business’ Google+ pages have been activated via their existing YouTube presence.
But for businesses this is not the only avenue for Google’s acquisition, it wasn’t something we actively scored but a number of the pages had location information and little else.
Google Places for Business are another Google owned property that the search engine is integrating with Google+, encouraging business owners with place pages to convert them to Google+ pages.
Very low activity
All of which rather explains why barely any of these pages have a whole lot going on in terms of activity. Only 42% of the pages are still posting on a regular to semi regular basis (i.e. anything in the last three months) just eight had comments or +1s on their posts, and a mere one was replying or responding to users commenting on its page.
It seems a whole load of businesses have been convinced to sign up for a page on Google+ under auspicious premises, be that SEO benefits or converting a YouTube channel or place page because they’ve been prompted to.
The question here is whether the low level of activity is due to none of these businesses really having their hearts in putting work into a page they were coerced into creating, or because none of these businesses are seeing any engagement because ‘Google+ is a ghost town’ and no users are around to see or respond to their posts.
Well, one company we looked at help answer that question. Arise FreeAgent, an online accountancy business for freelancers and small businesses.
FreeAgent’s Google+ page didn’t have the biggest audience we found of any business, with 917 +1s and 495 people who’ve ‘circled’ them (ever thought of making that terminology less tedious, Google?), but what they lack in reach they make up for in engagement.
Constant posts, varied content, use of Google+ features like hosting live hangouts with experts, FreeAgent clearly have an engaged audience that the respond to and interact with effectively.
The FreeAgent example suggests that if you put in the effort to find an audience, just as with any other social network, you reap the rewards.
Do Google even care?
Whenever the ‘no one’s using Google+’ debate arises my response is always, ‘does it even matter to Google?’
I’m sure Larry Page would rather users were really engaged with the network, but I’m sceptical as to that being the ultimate goal. Google+ is a matrix, another way for Google to organise information. If businesses or individuals are signed up and have shared their information with the network, it doesn’t especially matter how engaged they are, they are still indexed.
It would matter to Facebook if users weren’t actually logging in and posting; without them they’d have no eyeballs to monetise with ad revenue, or rich data to share with advertisers. Google hasn’t started monetising Google+, because it’s monetised those eyeballs elsewhere with search advertising, and has a huge wealth of data about its users from email, search history and browsing behaviour.
I do wonder whether this is also the case for businesses. Unless they are spending on PPC Google has not monetised them in another way. But perhaps the more Google services they are connected to, the more resource they are likely to put into Google owned channels.
For now though, it seems that for UK tech comanies Google+ is not yet one of those channels.
To read more about how the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 are doing at social media, download the report ‘How social are you?’