Google+ is Google’s social layer, and there are reasons why it could present genuine opposition to Facebook’s social media dominance. Backed by the power of one of the world’s most powerful and recognisable brands, and conceived as the point at which all Google’s other services are integrated, Google+ is Google’s ‘social spine,’ in the words of CEO Larry Page.
But while Google+ can show impressive growth figures compared to Facebook, many commentators doubt that it’s in a position to challenge its giant rival just yet.
Here’s a list of the key arguments about the battle for social networking supremacy:
Google+ is winning because… Its Growth Numbers are Through the Roof
Google+ has seen impressive growth figures, which have been widely reported. SearchMetrics’ data shows Facebook’s social signals in April of 2013 making up 202% of the January 2012 numbers; meanwhile, Google+ showed a 788% increase across the same time period, with the sharpest climb in the first three months of this year.
And a study earlier this year by Jamrain saw that the split between Google+ and Facebook is narrower than expected when it comes to which social network people log into other sites with: 46% used Facebook, but Google+ came in second at 34% of logins.
Facebook is winning because… The Numbers are Deceptive
While the growth figures for Google+ are impressive, in terms of absolute numbers it’s still a long way behind. In the month of April, the total number of shares on Facebook outnumbered the total of +1s on Google+ by a factor of fifteen, and the figures for total social signals are singing the same song; Google+ ended SearchMetrics’ 15-month study with a total of 2,028,000,000 social signals – compared with Facebook’s 29,658,000,000 for the same period.
Google+ is winning because… It Has Google+ Events
Google+ has been learning from the mistakes and successes of other social networks. Google+ has paid more attention to ‘friction-free sharing’ – alleviating social frictions in the sharing process, but also making the act of sharing simpler and easier. With Google+, for example, photos you take with your tablet or smartphone are uploaded in the background, ready to be shared when you want to share them.
More importantly for professionals and people in hobby and other groups too, Google+ offers two important innovations: Google+ Events, and Google+ Hangouts. Events is an easy way to create and manage events registration for personal or business events, and it also collates pictures taken during the event and puts them all together on the Events page, creating a dedicated photo album. That’s improved functionality for the professional and the partygoer alike, something Facebook doesn’t offer.
Google+ is winning because… It Has Google+ Hangouts
Then there’s Google+ Hangouts, a sign that Google+ is weighting Google+ towards being a web video platform. Hangouts are abstract in nature, but in essence they allow you to have video conference calls with up to nine other people at prearranged times.The appeal for professionals is obvious, but there’s more: Hangouts on Air allow you to live stream your Hangout to your YouTube channel, it’s archived to your YouTube channel automatically when it’s finished.
This makes it easy to create videos and then repurpose content, allowing for the creation of still images and text from a Hangout. Even more, Google+ Hangout now syncs with your smartphone or tablet, alerting you when you’re invited to a Hangout.
Facebook is winning because… People Spend Far More Time on Facebook
So far, we’ve looked at data that shows either social signal or number of memberships, and even shares and engagement figures don’t tell the whole story. For professionals and especially for marketers, it’s at least as important to know how much time the average visitor spends on a platform.
It’s a good indicator of just how ‘social’ it really is, and what they’re being used for. While just over half of internet users worldwide told a GlobalWebIndex survey they logged onto Facebook at least once a month, the figure for the second in line, Google+, was a more modest 26% – just over half of Facebook’s share.
But when we look at the amount of time users spend on Facebook and on Google+, we see a different picture. Google+ users spend on average 6 minutes and 47 seconds on the site in March 2013, according to a ComScore survey. The average Facebook user spent 6 hours, 44 minutes on the site during the same time – a shade off 60 times more.
So… Who’s really winning?
SearchMetrics’ projections from their own data see Google+ outstripping Facebook in February 2016, in part from the rapid increase in the number of new users Google+ is accumulating. But many new Google+ users have only a shadow presence on the site; Google+ has 500 million registered users, but only 343 million active ones. Additionally, signing up to Gmail, or YouTube, now requires a Google+ account too, so many of these new users might be dormant.
The big question is whether they’ll stay that way.
With Facebook’s advantages largely derived from its massive size and dominance, and Google+ engineering what looks suspiciously like the next generation of social tools while Google’s other services funnel users into Google+, the competition in the long term will depend on hard-to-quantify factors that might boil down to whether Google+ picks up socially or not; in his July 8 article for VentureBeat, Dylan Tweney remarks that his only caveat about Google+ is ‘if only I could find someone to Hangout with!’
What do you think – is Google+ poised to take over Facebook?