Google+ Beats Twitter to Become Second Largest Social Network (But Should You Care?)

Is this really a "plus" for Google?

Google Plus, or as the cool kids write it, “Google+”, is the social networking project launched by Internet giant Google Inc. in June of 2011.

In its first month of operation, Google+ amassed 10 million users, and has grown at an incredible rate ever since. At the beginning of 2013, Google+ surpassed Twitter to become the second largest social network, trailing only Facebook when it comes to registered users. With a current registered user base of over 500 million, Google+ has established itself as a major player in the social networking space.

But what are the implications of this growth to the average social media user, and does it really matter that Google+ has passed up Twitter?

Big Growth, Little Activity

Looking at charts and graphs displaying the growth of Google+ over the past two years is certainly impressive. I mean, 500 million users is nothing to scoff at. But of those 500 million, how many are actively using Google+ on a regular basis?

According to a May 2013 article on businessinsider.com, Google+ has 359 million active users, but only 135 million users were actively posting to Google+ pages. That is a far cry from Facebook’s 701 million active users. Additionally, Mashable’s Todd Wasserman noted that active Facebook users spend over 7 hours per month on the social network, versus only 3.3 minutes per month on Google+. Wasserman also mentioned that the average Google+ post results in less than one reply, reshare, or +1, with the average time between Google+ posts being 12 days. Facebook and Twitter, on the other hand, have much higher percentages of daily user engagement.

The contrast between a growing user base and low engagement numbers begs the question: who is actually using Google+, and why should I? For starters, Google+ holds some online marketing advantages over other social networking sites, most notably the fact that it’s a Google property. For the same reason that it’s a good idea to market your online videos through YouTube if you want to see the best possible rankings on Google, social media marketers leveraging Google+ will begin to notice their links displaying in Google.com search results more often.

Additionally, Google+ holds potential for businesses looking to put a fresh spin on their social networking efforts. For example, with Google+ Hangouts, businesses have the opportunity to connect face to face with online customers and followers, adding a completely new dimension when it comes to building online brand awareness and customer loyalty.

Latest Updates to Google+

In May of this year, Google revealed its latest version of Google+, complete with a new look and feel and several additional features. For example, photos uploaded to Google+ can be enhanced using new tools and auto-hashtagged for easier social sharing. Google+ Hangouts have also been translated into a standalone app for Android and iOS, providing a mobile space for texting, image sharing, and video chats. Even more recently (June 2013), Google+ made further improvements to photo editing and image grouping capabilities, as well as including  new Follow button and new Communities, Pages, and Profiles badges.

Will Google+ Eventually Pass Facebook?

Even with the recent explosion of registered users and the latest updates, the question still remains: will Google+ ever be able to overtake Facebook as the largest social network on the web? Well, we already know that the gap in registered users between the two networks is vast, and even with Google+ showing some very impressive growth numbers over the past several months, Facebook is also continuing to grow its user base, although at a much slower rate. According to an extrapolation study conducted by searchmetrics.com, if both social networks were to continue growing at their average monthly rates (19% for Google+, 10% for Facebook), Google+ would pass Facebook in terms of registered users in February of 2016. Of course, a lot could happen between now and then, so it will be interesting to see how both social networks continue to progress.

So What Does it All Mean?

Should you jump with both feet into creating and optimizing your Google+ profile and pages? Is Facebook old news? While the growth data certainly suggests that people and businesses that are serious about creating an online presence should be leveraging Google+, most online marketing professionals agree that Facebook is still king when it comes to social media.

As mentioned in Time Magazine’s online tech column, “The two services aren’t identical in particulars and emphasis—today’s Facebook seems to be built on the philosophy that everyone should share everything at all times, sometimes in an automated fashion, and Google+ isn’t like that at all—but ultimately, they scratch the same itch. Therein lies Google+’s great challenge. Even if it’s good—even if it’s great—it’s not going to displace Facebook as the world’s primary social network. And most people don’t need a second social network.”

The column goes on to say that other social networks like Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest have found success specifically because they do not attempt to take Facebook head on. Instead, they provide a unique offering or occupy a specialized niche, allowing them to coexist with Facebook as an alternative social network for users. It remains to be seen whether or not Google+ will rely on its impressive growth numbers to compete directly with Facebook, or if it will adjust its products and features to eventually occupy a less competitive place in the social media market.

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