Carter Elkin-Paris, our Content Marketing Manager, got to pondering one night recently. He wondered if it was typical for social media network users to follow the official account of the network they had joined. It certainly seemed like it might be a common behavior. If you had enough interest to join a network, wouldn’t it follow that you’d at least want to follow that network’s account?
So Carter looked up the numbers, and for the three largest social networks (in terms of reported active monthly users)–Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, this is what he found:
As you can see, Facebook and Twitter are about equal, each having about 12% of the active users following the flagship account. Google+ stands out to an extreme here, with only 1% of its active users following it’s eponymous page.
(Actually, “active monthly users” gets a bit muddy with Google+. The 504 million figure Carter used is the figure Google+ quoted in October 2013 as “active monthly users across Google. That means they have a Google+ account and were active on any Google product in the past month while logged in to that account, but not necessarily on Google+ itself. They quoted a separate figure of about 300 million “active in the stream.” These are users who have actually done something on plus.google.com within the past month. But even if we use that active user figure, it only increases the percentage of active users following the brand account from 1% to 2%.)
For reference, here are links to the official home accounts of each of these networks:
Why the Google+ Gap?
The obvious question is: Why such a big difference between Google+ and the other two networks? These are possible reasons I came up with:
- Given some estimates of actual time on the network, which is far less for Google+ according to those surveys, there may be a much smaller percentage of Google+ users who see that platform as one of their top or central social networks, as compared to Facebook or Twitter. There is very much a fanatical core of Google+ users, but that core may be much smaller by percentage than for the other two networks. However, some studies show that time on site and engagement for Google+ is rapidly catching up to Facebook, and has surpassed Twitter.
- It is possible that many Google+ users only use Google+ in very specific and personal ways, such as only using it for private hangouts with friends and family, or only posting in small private communities or circles. Such users may not care very much about the network itself, or even think of themselves as a “Google+ user.”
- It is possible that Google+ users in general (with the exception of the “hard core” users) may care less about the network itself than do users of Facebook and Twitter, and concentrate more on what they themselves can do on the network.
Of course, all of the above possibilities operate under the assumption that following a network’s brand account indicates “caring about the network.” That’s an assumption and may not be the actual case. Here’s another possible explanation that is not as dependent on “caring” as it is on social trendiness:
- It is possible that this may be a reflection of the fact that both Facebook and Twitter have become pop culture icons in a way Google+ and other networks have not, at least not to their degree. It is probably true that when most people think “social networking” that Facebook and Twitter come to mind first. Therefore, more people may follow their accounts in the same way that more people follow the accounts of celebrities.
Update: On Google+ Janice Mansfield added a possibility I hadn’t considered: that Google+ has an unusually high percentage of employees of the social network and parent company active on the network. From the earliest days of Google+ users there enjoyed the privilege of engaging directly with Google+ and Google staffers, who often provided information on updates, new features, and who helped with user problems. Unlike Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, both Google+ founding head Vic Gundotra and present chief Dave Besbris have been active on the network and accessible to users. These facts may have contributed to Google+ users feeling less need to follow the brand account.
This leads to another set of questions that are difficult to answer but interesting to think about:
- Why does a user follow (or not follow) the brand account of a social network she uses?
- Do people vary in their “fanaticism” (using that in the sense of “amount of fan-like enthusiasm”) for various networks they use?
- If people do vary in levels of “fanaticism” does that say anything useful about the effectiveness of that network? Can people be faithful users without being fans?
I’d love to hear what you think!