Google+ Never Really Stood A Chance (And That’s Okay)


Google has decided to close its Google+ social network. (Photo Illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images)

News of Google shutting down Google+ was met with sighs of relief last week from marketing professionals everywhere who were only publishing on the scarcely-used platform with hope that it may improve Google rankings.

The ultimate reason Google pulled the plug? Low engagement.

Like any social media service, Google+ had its power users; but Google admits that 90 percent of Google+ user sessions lasted less than five seconds. Those numbers are embarrassingly low for a social network that was meant to be a Facebook competitor from its conception. Though the company’s slow reaction to a security bug earlier this year definitely didn’t help, the low engagement numbers provide context as to why Google finally decided to put the platform to rest.

The odd thing about Google+, though, is that it never really stood a chance against competitors in the first place. The reason boils down to Google’s seemingly bizarre and misguided obsession with organizing information.

Despite its mission statement (“To organize the world’s information…”), Google’s business model actually relies much more on its ability to help users find the right information at lightning speed. Advertisers don’t care how Google organizes web results as long as their ads are shown to the right people. Google searchers are no different; users simply want questions answered as quickly as possible. A mission statement centered on organization is terrific for a company like The Container Store, but for Google, it’s just a means to an end.

Imagine if Amazon’s mission statement were, “To organize the world’s commercial goods.”  While Amazon needs a terrific warehouse organization system in order to service customers, that system doesn’t exist for the purpose of organizing things. Its raison d’être is to efficiently deliver products to people.

Google’s preoccupation with organizing information was the inspiration for Google+’s design — and the reason for its ultimate downfall.

Google (Tries To) Build A Facebook Rival

In 2011, the overwhelming majority of Google’s revenue came from advertising (as it still does). Facebook was threatening to eclipse Google in the Display Ad market (which it now has) thanks in part to its treasure trove of personal information that made for very effective targeted advertising.

Google felt compelled to compete by creating its own social network.

This wasn’t the first time Google had this idea. It was what inspired the creation of Orkut back in 2004 (which flopped), Google Wave in 2009, (which also flopped), and Google Buzz, (which suffered the same fate in 2011).

For its next venture, Google planned to carve out its own distinctive purpose. But the only way Google distinguished Google+ from Facebook was — you guessed it — by helping people organize their information better.

Users could distribute a post among various Circles, share it with Communities, or categorize it within Collections.

Alas, of the folks who were losing interest in Facebook in 2011, a little extra organizational flexibility proved not to be enough of a distinction to inspire a switch to Google’s all-too-similar social media platform.

Should Power Users Mourn The Death Of Google+?

Though Google+ built up a user base of at least one hundred million users, the majority were either completely inactive or those merely syndicating content to maintain appearances and appeal to the ‘search engine optimization (SEO) gods.’

But as with any social network, there still were Google+ power users who were able to leverage the platform to support their brand in a big way. Ford Motor Company is one example, whose page attracted four million followers and encouraged legitimate engagement from its fans through weekly postings.

For those like Ford, it’s easy to feel frustrated. A significant piece of their online presence — and all four million followers — will poof out of existence when Google shuts down Plus in August 2019.

It’s enough to make Ford executives shake their head in disbelief.

But the fact that Google is sunsetting Google+ doesn’t take away all the traffic, clicks and brand equity earned over the last seven years. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram are such regular fixtures in many people’s day-to-day lives that it’s become easy to accept them as permanent. But they, too, will one day suffer the same fate as Myspace, Friendster, and now, Google+. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

Does their eventual demise mean marketers ought to ignore all the possible traffic and leads those platforms offer?

Of course not. Social media marketing is still in its infancy, and experimenting with new and existing platforms is how companies find the engagement and brand loyalty they’re after. The results may only be temporary, but so are the benefits gleaned from alternative forms of marketing, advertising and public relations. (How long does the user engagement earned from a single news article last?)

It’s easy to say Google+ never stood a chance, in hindsight. But even if Ford had the foresight back in 2011 to predict the platform’s eventual demise, the company would be foolish not to do it all over again. Google may be removing four million Ford followers, but it can never take away all the brand equity Ford built in the process.

For those who were just posting for the supposed SEO benefit, we’ll just have to wait for Google’s next social media platform. Until then, I’m going back to LinkedIn.

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