On October 29th, Alistair Barr of USA Today published an article publicizing Google's recent announcement of a 58 percent jump in users. Google's head of social, Vic Gundotra, announced some very big growth in user metrics that could make many believe that Google+ might be knocking on Facebook's door soon-and that proclamation sounds almost too good to be true. Is it?
Well, technically the growth in user metrics is probably accurate; however, a great big fat asterisk belongs at the end of that new statistic. Google has lots of ways to get people to unwittingly sign up for its social network and upload photos or videos.
Here's a look at some of the numbers Google announced:
- 1.5 billion photos uploaded per week
- 20x increase in videos uploaded
- 300 million monthly active users (up from 190 million in May)
- 540 million accounts have interacted socially with any of Google's services in the past 30 days (up from 390 million in May)
Sounds impressive, right? Is it impressive enough for marketers to allocate more time and resources to the network? Maybe-and that's probably the point of the announcement. But before marketers begin to consider reallocating resources they should consider the following.
1. Google has integrated most of its products, including Gmail and Google Analytics, to its social network. It's likely that something as simple as logging into one of them counts as an active user.
2. Google+ is highly integrated with mobile and Google Play. Downloading an Android or Chrome app likely makes that user active on Google+.
3. Connected YouTube accounts will automatically cause the channel to appear on the social network. Google might be including these videos as Google+ uploads.
4. Mobile users who allow Google+ access to their photos and video for backup purposes will have every image and video they shoot loaded to the site automatically. It's free and convenient, and most certainly is included in the numbers above.
5. To leave a rating of a business, app or product people must have a Google+ account. Millions of reviews are given every day. It's likely counted towards active users.
6. The social network has incorporated Google+ sign-in for developers of mobile and web apps. The act of signing in using Google+ sign-in probably makes that person an active user.
7. Marketers want SEO love, right? That's a pretty good motivator for people to ensure all of their accounts are connected. That likely represents a big chunk of the numbers above.
Google VP Bradley Horowitz remarked early this year that "[t]he entry points to Google+ are many, and the integrations are more every day." Google doesn't expressly share how it determines the numbers it reports, and that makes the preceding seven issues fair concerns. It's in Google's best interest to make the numbers as large as possible in order to keep stakeholders and current users happy, and to possibly woo marketers and nonusers to the network.
Why can't we trust the usage numbers?
Generally, usage numbers on sites closely correspond with engagement and behavior. The numbers presented above paint a picture of a large, engaging and bustling community. The problem, however, is that the average visitor to Google+ in the month of May spent a total of six minutes and 47 seconds on the site-hardly enough time to reflect what the reported numbers suggest when compared to Facebook over that same time frame.
According to Nielsen, the average Facebook user spent six hours and 44 minutes on the site. It's true that the time-on-site figures for Google+ and Facebook are six months old, but it's unlikely that they've changed significantly since then.
Google didn't bother to share the social network's average visitor on-site time during its announcement. In fact, it's accused Nielsen's figures as being "far off" in May. It's likely that it'll never share those analytics because numbers that low call into question the value of what it's actually reporting.
It's not that marketers and consumers should avoid Google+. There are many good reasons for them to use it. However, the amount of resources dedicated to the channel should be proportionate to the true opportunity. By Google reporting numbers like the above, it's attempting to convince marketers that it's worth additional investment. Perhaps one day it will be as popular as Google purports it to be.
However, today is not that day.