Is Google Plus a waste of time?
Google Plus is the social media network everyone loves to argue about. Ever since its launch about a year ago it has inspired fierce discussion and reams of articles with headlines that are variations on the above. (Seriously, search “is Google+ a waste of time” and you’ll see what I mean.)
Why the cool reception? Is it possible we resent spending time on yet another another social network, especially one that’s hard to ignore since it has the potential to become Googlenormous? What’s behind all the pushback?
Is Google+ a waste of time?
Before answering that question, let’s turn to the experts. The social media industry is rife with boosters, among them Michael Seltzner, founder of Social Media Examiner, who gave a talk recently on media trends. He noted the “huge lift” he got in traffic once he posted content on his Google Plus Page. (He added that once he saw that lift he stopped posting other people’s links and concentrated on his own.) Social Media star Guy Kawasaki is so excited about Google Plus he’s even written a book on it called What the Plus?, arguing that the ubiquity of Google and its commitment to making this network work is all you need to know to sign on.
What’s good about Google Plus?
So here’s what social media experts are excited about: Google Plus is the only social network powered by a search engine. It’s that simple. Connecting Google Plus to your website will in fact give it a search lift. The experts are also betting that the +1 button, Google’s version of ‘like,’ will eventually factor into Google’s search algorithm.
Yet for all the buzz Google Plus hasn’t really taken off. Yes, there are 140M active users as of April, according to Google. But Google’s definition of “active” is pretty murky. It appears to describe anyone who engages with Google Plus-enhanced products and that includes YouTube, Android, Google AdWords users and – yes – people who use Google search. In fact, if you zoom in on Google Plus, “active” doesn’t begin to describe what’s going on there. The Wall Street Journal recently called it “a virtual ghost town” compared to Facebook, and noted, “Google Plus users are signing up, but not doing much once they get there.”
The geek factor
Having finally launched the Good Food Media Group Page I’ve got some theories as to why Google Plus isn’t all that popular. It’s hard to maintain any kind of social media presence but even getting started on Google Plus takes work. It doesn’t have the intuitive intelligence of a Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. None of those require a small handbook to get started. Engineers are behind all social networks but it really feels that way on Google Plus and guess what, they’re the ones using the site. Well, engineers and “students,” the biggest occupation registered by far at 20%. Another bit of data to mull: Users are 63 percent male – the only network not dominated by women – and most of them fall into the 24-25 age group.
For me, Google Plus Circles perfectly illustrate how the geek factor can trip up users. Circles let you sort contacts into “friends,” “colleagues,” “family” – or however else you want to parse your people and share your information. Nice in theory yet in practice that means a decision has to be made every time you make a connection. How, for instance, do I sort Allyson, with whom I’ve worked for years and now consider a friend? And why must I choose! What should be cool, in other words, can become a time-waster.
But what about the little guys?
But the real drawback to Google Plus is that people just aren’t using it all that much. Many big brands have signed on but even with teams of marketing people in place they’re not getting much traction. Even so it makes sense for a big company to step into the space and establish a presence. They want to get that lift and be poised for new developments. Plus they’ve got the people to do the work of maintaining the Page.
And what about the little guys?
A social network is only as useful as the time you put into it; several studies have shown a direct relationship between time spent on social media and engagement. So if your time, money, and people power are limited, it only makes sense to concentrate your efforts where the action is, say, on channels such as Facebook with it’s 900M users. I’ve got a Page up because I want to see if there’s any lift. But I’ll be posting on it weekly instead of daily. After all I only have so much time.
Setting up your Google Plus Page
I’m not going to relate every step involved in setting up a Google page – hundreds of articles can do that for you. But I can highlight stuff that’s important and not covered very well by the experts or by Google.
The badge: Making the connection
Installing a badge makes the whole launch worth your while. Given that, it was astonishing how hard it is to find clear directions. My gift to you is this page I stumbled on from Google, which tells you that there is in fact a difference between the personal and the business badges, and more: “Badges that link to Google+ profiles allow people to easily find you on Google+ and add you to a circle directly from your website. Badges that link to Google+ pages include these features and add some additional functionality. They help Google consolidate +1′s from your website and your Google+ page, and make your website eligible for Google+ Direct Connect.”
Oh, you ask, what’s DirectConnect?
It’s another search advantage that you may or may not qualify for – and that’s all Google is prepared to say at the moment, believe it or not. By the way adding the “snippet of code” necessary to make this important connection requires someone with technical skills.
Nominated for coolest feature: The hangout
A hangout is basically a video conference call. It lets you have online business meetings, presentations, product viewings – a party! Here’s how to use the hangout.
Promoting your Page: Businesses can’t cut a break
Brand Pages don’t have as much flexibility as personal pages. For instance, Pages are only allowed to follow people who have first followed them. And Pages can’t just go ahead and like, or +1, other content. People can, but not Pages. Pages also can’t even mention you unless you’re part of its circle.
So how do you grow your circles?
Well, one tactic is to win people over with your fabulous content in hopes that they’ll share it and induce others to follow you. (Hey, no problem!) Another is to keep building your contacts through your personal Google Plus account and then try to export them to your Page. (FYI before starting your Page you need to have a personal profile.)
Other ways include making sure a badge is on your website page, posting lots of content, photos, and videos on your Google Plus page, filling in the About section with links to wherever you want to drive traffic, and encouraging people to share your posts.
In short, it’s not easy!
So why is Google Plus making it so hard for Pages to grow, especially since brands may provide the boost it needs to finally generate some meaningful action? Who knows.
If Google Plus is truly committed to make things work, it needs to do better than this.
-Clare Ellis, Media Chief, Good Food Media Group