Google+ has been written off for dead by many observers and social media experts. Indeed, there is no denying that most brands and all but a handful of marketers have abandoned it, if they ever gave it a try in the first place.
And yet….Google hasn’t abandoned it. In fact, far from abandoning it, they are in the process of totally repurposing the network, and putting some very interesting resources into it. This is atypical behavior for Google for any product they think has little value.
In this episode of Here’s Why, Mark Traphagen and Eric Enge explain what’s going on with Google Plus, and why it might be worth another look for brands and marketers.
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Eric: It’s no secret that many people have written off Google Plus as already dead. Some have even speculated that Google has been dismantling it in preparation to kill it off completely. Mark Traphagen doesn’t think so and in this episode, he’ll tell you why. Mark, why have so many people concluded that Google Plus is a lost cause?
Mark: Let me answer that by telling you a little tale I call “A Google Plus Carol” because it involves visitation from three ghosts. Our first visitor is the ghost of Google Plus past. Google Plus, as we originally saw it, was largely the vision of one man, Vic Gundotra. Now, Vic saw Facebook as a real threat to the future of Google and convinced Google cofounder, Larry Page, that they needed to make a major move into social media.
Eric: But they’ve already had some major social media flops such as Buzz and Wave, right?
Mark: Right. So Vic knew any new network they launched had to be radically different. So he came up with two ways this new network would separate itself from anything else out there. First, was the concept of circles. Circles would allow users to control what they see in their streams, who sees what they publish and to a much greater degree than Facebook or any other social network offered at that time. Now, the other distinguishing element was that instead of Google Plus being just another add-on Google product, it would become the backbone of almost everything Google, being integrated into Photos, YouTube search and dozens of other Google products.
Eric: And that last element, tying Google Plus into all things Google would provide some real potential benefits to Google as well. If they could get people to sign up for Google Plus profiles, they could then provide them with a highly personalized experience across all of Google, gain tons more data on people that could be used for things like Google Ads and make a major leap in building out their knowledge graph database of entities, real world people, places and things, and how they connect to each other.
Mark: Right. But in the effort to build all that, many people felt Gundotra and Google went too far, as eventually having a Google Plus profile became almost a necessity to do anything useful on Google, whether or not you wanted to use Google Plus itself. So that brings us to the ghost of Google Plus present, at least the present that existed earlier this year. In April 2014, Vic Gundotra announced he was leaving Google, making the future of Google Plus look pretty grave to many observers. Now, Dave Besbris was named Gundotra’s successor, but seemed to be mostly a caretaker. Almost nothing of significance happened to Google Plus during the year of Besbris’ headship. The significance of that era, to me at least, was simply that it seemed to indicate Google at least wasn’t planning to kill off Google Plus, but perhaps they weren’t quite sure what to do with it yet.
Eric: Then came March 2015 and the announcement of Bradley Horowitz as the new Vice President of Google streams, photos, and sharing.
Mark: Yes, and that brings out the ghost of Google Plus future. The important thing there is that there does indeed appear to be a future for Google Plus, but one that is very different in emphasis from its past. Now the most obvious change, to the casual observer, is a pulling back from having Google Plus integrated into the rest of Google. We’ve not only seen Hangouts and Photos spun off as their own apps, but also have seen Google Plus no longer being required for YouTube channels and comments and less evidence of Google Plus, at least visibly, in search.
Eric: One exception, of course, is that Google Plus can still have strong influence in personalized search for people who use Google Plus and search while logged in to their accounts.
Mark: Correct. But I think other changes to Google Plus are even more important and tell us more positively where the network is headed in the future. The biggest of those changes is from an emphasis around people to a focus on interests. When Circles were at the center of Google Plus, the network was mostly about the way we connect with people and brands. But we think Google saw that most people didn’t want that. They already have Facebook for making those connections. So now Google is shifting the focus to connecting us by our interests rather than by whom we know. The new collections feature is the most visible manifestation of that. Collections allow users to curate and create content that is centered around a particular topic or interest. Then others can follow that collection without necessarily following you personally or any of your other collections. That can be very useful.
In the past, there might be someone who I circled because I really like their landscape photography, but by circling them I might get a lot of other things they post that I have no interest in. Now, I can just follow that person’s landscape photography collection and I get exactly what I’m looking for. But what makes all that even more interesting is that we have both statements from Google itself and anecdotal evidence we’re seeing that Google has begun to implement some form of artificial intelligence to make user streams show more of what they seem to be most interested in. Now, if they do that successfully, it should vastly increase the time people spend in their streams, which is the key success metric for any social network.
Eric: Thanks Mark. I know you have a lot more to say about this topic and in particular, why Google Plus might become valuable for marketers again and folks can find those thoughts in your Marketing Land article.