The Biggest Problem with Google Plus

Posted by Steve Kleber on Dec 14, 2011

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I’ve written recently about Google’s latest venture into the social networking realm with Google Plus.
By now you probably know about all its bells and whistles and have heard countless arguments for and against its future success. Some people believe, like Google does, that Circles and Hangouts will fundamentally change the way we communicate online and that is reason enough for its success. Others believe that Google is too late to the social networking game and Google Plus will fall to the wayside like Wave and Buzz.

But at the end of the day, Google Plus’ success or failure comes down to a numbers game. Google Plus is reportedly sitting at around 40 million users (no report on how many of those users are actually active on the site) while Facebook has passed the 800 million mark. Yes, that means that Google Plus has plenty of room to grow. But that also means it has a lot of room to fail.

Google Plus and Facebook are both social networks. Networks, by their very nature, thrive on the connections between members of the network. Without those connections, there is no network. The 800 million users of Facebook have a well-developed network that contains their friends, family members, groups, restaurants, stores, etc. They know how to use the network, they know where everyone is in the network, they have established their personal network and are using it well. Now enter Google Plus. Initially, the innovators and early adopters all jumped on board to try out the latest Google product. But now Google Plus must move on to the next stage and attract the early and late majority of people. These are the categories where most consumers fall and these are the categories where products meet their fate.

However, the problem is not that Google needs a user to join its network; the problem is that Google needs the user’s network to join its network.

Many individual users have joined Google Plus, but they don’t come back because that isn’t where their network is. For Google Plus to be worth a person’s time, the user must be able to connect with people they know in a meaningful manner. Think about the old adage about a tree falling in the forest. If no one is around to read your content, did you really communicate? Even if the tree grew legs, danced and sang, no one knows it because no one is around.

Google is asking people to completely rebuild their online networks on a new platform. But what incentive do they have? We can talk all day about how Google Plus helps us better target our content, how much it will improve SEO, how we could one day integrate social into every aspect of our web experience! But at the end of the day, does the average internet user care? Or do they just want to look at their friends’ pictures and play Angry Birds?

The question Google must ask is “what will it take for the average person to abandon their online network of friends and completely rebuild it?” Why should someone open a Google Plus account and devote as much time to it as they do to Facebook when they will still have to maintain their Facebook profile… because that’s where most of their friends still are?

Neil Vidyarthi hit on this question exactly when he wrote that Google must create an incentive for people to come. He points out that Google is adding new features to Plus all the time, banking that one of those features will be the one to win us all over. But more importantly, Google is waiting for Facebook to make its next big mistake. The idea is that when Facebook does something so inexcusable, Google Plus will be ready and waiting for the flood of users looking to rebuild their network. And that may not be a bad strategy considering the past blunders that Facebook has had surrounding privacy issues and the always persistent threat of security breaches. But what about right now? I don’t think Google is satisfied with waiting for Facebook to fail. It looks like it will continue churning out new features and integrating Plus with more web experiences until the the winning ticket is found.

So what does this mean for your user account or your brand page? It means the exact same thing that it does for Google. Plus isn’t dead. It still might be the next big thing. You should be there, figuring out how it works, deciding what features work best for your needs, deciding how best to use them. It’s a sandbox right now. Play around, try different things. And when that flood of people finally comes pouring in, you’ll be waiting there for them ready to go with everything already figured out. Or Google Plus will shut down and you would have been part of a large social experiment that failed. But that’s the chance we have to take. After all, wouldn’t you rather be able to say you tried something and it didn’t work than have to say you ignored the next revolution in online communication?

This entry was posted by Steve Kleber on Wednesday, December 14th, 2011 at 10:41 am and is filed under Social Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.