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The Real Data on Facebook vs. Google+ (And Other Social Networks) [INFOGRAPHIC]

Perhaps no question is more debated in social media circles (pun intended) than Google+'s success or lack thereof. Some say G+ is growing and thriving, while others describe it as a "ghost town." I went digging for recent, objective, third-party information and found data from Pew Research, Gigya, ComScore, Nielsen and others. The story this data tells is that Google+ may not have tumbleweeds rolling through it, but the social network is a long, long way from competing with Twitter and Facebook (or even Pinterest and Tumblr) for time, attention and engagement. What follows is a summary and analysis of the data along with an interactive infographic.

From the moment G+ launched, some social media "experts" immediately began to push Google's social network as a "Facebook killer." Early blog posts included charts comparing Google+'s near-vertical growth to that of other social networks, but these aggrandizing posts and diagrams ignored that Google was merely adding G+ into its huge existing user base while Facebook and Twitter had to fight for each new user one at a time.

Since that time, the hype has continued. In some cases, the headlines were caused by the fact Google has played fast and loose with its own figures. Because Google has merged Gmail, search and other parts of its platform, it has been difficult to compare Google's announced data to the information shared by other social networks.

At other times, the people writing articles simply do not understand the figures they are reporting. In the past two months, there have been a raft of stories about how Google+ is now bigger than Twitter, but this is based on the number of account holders and not on activity or usage. If number of account holders were what mattered, then MySpace would still trump Google+.

But I think there is something more at work here than simply inflated and misunderstood data--I believe there is a reason why so many folks are quick to jump on any news story that suggests Google+ (or any other social network other than Facebook) is succeeding. The fact is that many marketers and social media professionals are tired of Facebook. Low brand engagement, the uselessness of large fan bases and the gaming of Facebook EdgeRank have left many marketing and communication pros weary of Facebook. (Of course, customer care professionals feel differently, but that is a topic for a different blog post.)

Moreover, consultants and agencies are finding it is more difficult to sell clients on services for Facebook, which is relatively mature at this point. This is why so many social media professionals are today promoting Tumblr, Vine, Instagram and Pinterest (regardless of whether these platforms are proving appropriate or successful for their clients' particular verticals).

People employed in social media seem desperate for something else to come along and shake up the industry, but look at the data--the real, objective data--and it is hard to escape Facebook's continued domination of the social networking space. Take, for example, the oft reported claim that teens are dumping Facebook. Everyone seems to have an anecdote about their own child or some qualitative data about teen attitudes, but look at Pew's data and it tells a different story. From 2011 to 2012, the percentage of teens using Facebook grew. Sure, it increased by just one percentage point, but it is hard to earn increases for services and tools that are approaching complete saturation--94% of teens said they used Facebook at the end of 2012.

As for G+, there have recently been some contradictory figures on the adoption of the social network. GlobalWebIndex claimed more than a quarter of consumers use G+ while Pew Research Center did not even include G+ in its report of US social media usage. The reason Pew omitted Google's social network is that they found consumers were unable to distinguish G+ from other Google services. Consumers are so confused as to what constitutes usage of G+, Pew decided to completely omit it from their report (which has to call into question every other study on self-reported Google+ usage, don't you think?)

You could overlook Pew's decision to bypass measuring Google+ usage if, in fact, there was strong evidence that G+ was actually seeing substantial adoption; however, the third-party data tells a pretty consistent and convincing story about consumer use of G+:

My goal is not to convince companies or people they should ignore Google+. As always, firms should evaluate their audiences and make smart decisions about where to engage; in addition, we all recognize G+ can be an important tool in enhancing a company's search engine relevance. That said, I strongly believe we should evaluate the social networking space based on actual, objective and accurate data, not hype and misanalysis. By all means, go ahead and embrace Google+ for your firm's (or personal) social networking; just do it with your eyes open and your expectations set appropriately. 

Below is an infographic with all of the pertinent and objective data I could find from late 2012 to the present. I created it using a new tool, This free tool is in beta, and as you can tell, it does a nice job of creating interactive infographics.  It is somewhat kludgy to use and is missing some important features (such as the ability to copy charts or retain color choices when changes are made), but it is in beta and shows a lot of promise. You can check out the interactive version of this infographic or create your own infographic  at

Join The Conversation

  • Aug 17 Posted 3 years ago David Gilbertson

    It's funny that what all of this boils down to is, for the relatively miniscule cost, there's no reason not to be using Facebook, Google+, Twitter and whatever else suits your brand.

    There's only one part I disagreed with (so here comes some internet commenter wisdom!).

    I think rather than Pew's decision to exclude Google+ calling into question the validity of other self-reporting surveys, I would suggest that the ability of all other surveys to gather data calls into question Pew's decision to exclude them.

    The lines are definitely fuzzy: is a restaurant review 'using' Google+. Is chatting in gmail 'using' Google+.

    Facebook and Google+ are different beasts. But are facebook and, say, instagram all that similar? I take a photo of the shadow of a lawnchair on grass, apply a filter and bam, I've engaged with a social network. Does this resemble me perusing my news feed and seeing that my friend Bobby likes Dancing with the Stars?

    Any comparison of social netwroks can only be seen as a rough guide, and excluding one of the major players from that guide is like excluding a city from a travel guide because it's too different.

    OK that was a terrible analogy, sorry. Anyhoo, nice article Augie!

  • AugieRay1's picture
    Aug 1 Posted 3 years ago AugieRay1

    Thanks, Tom. I appreciate the nice comment!

  • Jul 29 Posted 3 years ago TomOB


    Thanks for sharing this.  Pew does a great job of tracking usage & adoption across demo categories - but it take someone experienced in SM marketing like you to take that info and translate it for us.


  • AugieRay1's picture
    Jul 25 Posted 3 years ago AugieRay1

    I agree--the SEO benefits are probably worthwhile.  I think a company that is busy producing content for Facebook can easily extend that same content on G+, giving them the chance for some (small) engagement but also helping with SEM. 

    My article wasn't intended to dissuade companies from using Google+, but I do feel like there's misinformation and bias in much of the coverage about G+.   I just like shedding light with data!  

  • AugieRay1's picture
    Jul 25 Posted 3 years ago AugieRay1

    Thanks Cody. I appreciate that.  I'm glad you found it valuable and useful!

  • Cody Gough's picture
    Jul 24 Posted 3 years ago Cody Gough

    This is legitimately the best article I've ever read on Social Media Today. Thank you for the great info!

  • Jeff Donovan's picture
    Jul 24 Posted 3 years ago Jeff Donovan

    Augie, I found this post and infographics so useful and insightful.  I am having my SEO clients get behind Google + for the right reasons but I also wonder if it's worth the effort considering as you point out, there is so little use today.  The incentive is that doing so will benefit my clients becuase Google + is being incorporated into the SERP's...that's a big incentive for businesses investing in SEO and online marketing stratagies...would you agree or not?  


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