Is Google+ Worth Marketers’ Time?

Google+ logoGoogle+ seems to have a lot of minuses. For a social networking site, it’s quite a lonely place, according to a new study that paints a bleak picture of user engagement.

According to RJMetrics, the 170 million Google+ population would rather spend their time elsewhere – probably Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

After analyzing info from the public timelines of 40,000 randomly selected users, RJMetrics found that 30 percent of first-time Google+ public posters don’t publish on the network again. Even after making five public posts, there is a 15 percent chance users will abandon their efforts. What’s more, when there is a publicly-viewable post, the lag time is about 12 days between each post, with very little response or re-sharing.

So, it appears that for many, Google+ is about as interesting as watching your socks dry. Even the new social lingo –such as “hangouts” (video chat with up to nine people), “circles” (give and get updates) and “+1” buttons (public stamp of approval) –hasn’t really caught on, and now some are claiming Google+ is only growing because Google is forcing membership when using its other products.

What’s a marketer to do?

Well, before you abandon the Google+ ship for smoother sailing on seemingly more productive social media waters, know that the key to success on Google+ may be for you to start thinking about it in a new way. Google+ is its own unique category of social networks, and as such, you simply can’t think of Google+ only in terms of customer engagement; you have to consider SEO, as well.

To help better explain my take, here are the three main pluses –and the three main minuses –I find with Google+:

Pluses

1. Increased search visibility. Google+ provides Google with crucial user data for search, allowing it to collect votes about what people like –and that can help tremendously in the search ranking process. Google+ status updates and a +1 thumbs up can now appear in organic search engine results. So, if you add a +1 button to your content or actively publish content to Google+, you’ll improve your chances of dominating search results.

2. Facebook rival. Google+ started out as an innovative amalgamation of Facebook and Twitter, and with its recent user interface revamp focused on social widgets, it has become even more so. But, don’t get me wrong. One of the benefits of Google+ is that it’s not Facebook. On Google+, the little guys (aka small brands with small pocketbooks) have lots of opportunity, since there’s less worry about competition from premium ads or ranking algorithms like EdgeRank. With the combination of other Google products (docs, hangouts, etc.), Google+ is a social layer that offers interaction – and many more than Twitter’s 140 characters to follow discussions.

3. Circle this. Google+ enables marketers to better target content, and as we all know, content targeting to a specific audience leads to higher click-through rates and a more engaged social following. The Circle functionality on Google + allows you to let your followers identify the topics they’re passionate about, so rather than blasting updates to your entire following, you can use Google+ Circles to tailor content to specific audiences. Then, you can monitor how your content spreads and who the top influencers are with the help of cool information from Google+ Ripples. Knowing how content spreads socially allows a more focused social media effort.

Minuses

1. Google+, huh? Unfortunately, Google+ can be confusing and difficult to navigate. Since understanding the intricacies of how Google+ works can be challenging and time consuming, many people abandon the network before they’ve given it much of a chance. Of course, that could mean that you just lost your target audience.

2. Google What? What are the differentiating factors for Google+? What’s the value proposition? The answers to these questions aren’t clear, which may be why users are only spending a few minutes a month on the site. As a marketer, do you want to spend time on a social network that’s visited so infrequently?

3. Pin, not +1. Google+ is being pinned by Pinterest, ranking a distant fourth in a recent analysis of social networks. You’re more likely to see a “pin it” button alongside Facebook, Twitter and email buttons than a +1 button. So, even newcomer Pinterest is sticking pins into Google+.

Those are my three pluses and three minuses. Now, let’s pause and look at the final equation. Every network –whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+, or the newer one that’s bound to be announced in the not-too-distant future –has its own pluses and minuses, and each deserves its own approach. Done right, Google+ can add tremendous value to both SEO and social media. But, one thing is for sure: with its long-term SEO potential, Google+ needs a thorough and thoughtful social media plan, one that is integrated into a comprehensive marketing strategy.

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