Google+ Full of Tumbleweeds? Hardly.

Leigh George, PhD, is a Vice President of Digital Strategy at Social@Ogilvy Washington

As recently as June people were still calling Google+ a ghost town (full disclosure—I was one of them). And honestly it’s been difficult for Google+ to shake that perception. Though there are certainly a graveyard of abandoned accounts—both personal and big brand accounts like Dominos and McDonalds—since the initial rush to join the network, Google+ is hardly full of tumbleweeds.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind.

Google+ is the number two social network
2013 research from GlobalWebIndex, shows that this year Google+ jumped to the number two spot among social networks right behind behemoth Facebook. Moreover, Google+ is #2 with a bullet—it has the fastest growing use among social platforms.

All the activities brands are interested in are happening on Google+ in a significant way. Consider,

  • Active user to account ratio is at 60%
  • Users posting comments, commenting on others’ content, and sharing photos rivals the level of activity on Twitter
  • For passive activities like sharing, following, clicking +1s, Google+ outpaces Twitter
  • Its growth is fueled by international usage. Its top three markets are South Korea, which grew explosively in 2012, France and the US

There is business value and opportunity with Google+, but brands need to understand the nature of the network to take advantage of what it can offer.

Use Google+ to connect to your audiences’ passions
Unlike the other top networks, Google+ is not a mainstream social network. It has niche appeal to a very specific audience—geeks.

And by geek I mean: A following devoted to meeting people with shared interests.

While Facebook is a community users build among people they know, Twitter is a place to get information and engage influencers, LinkedIn is where you go to connect professionally, Google+ is where you go to meet other people who share your passions. In other words, it’s where you go to geek out. Google+ live video chat Hangouts and Communities provide rich experiences for people to geek out with others who share their passions.

What does this mean for brands? To be successful on Google+, brands need to evaluate what passions or communities of interest they could contribute to in a meaningful way and develop content not about themselves but around that shared passion.
When developing a Google+ strategy, keep in mind that:

  • Google+ is popular with tech-savvy communities and photographers. The audience is 63% male—primarily young and single—but the 45 to 54 year age bracket is the fastest growing on the network.
  • Visual content works the best—photos, graphics, video, etc.
  • It’s a global platform
  • Brands that are succeeding on Google+—Cadbury, H&M, Ferrari and BMW—have all developed strategies around the network’s global footprint, core audience and content preferences.

And with these lessons in your back pocket, I bring you the top three reasons why you shouldn’t ignore Google+:

1. Search optimization

  • Content from Google+ increases visibility in search results
  • Search ads that incorporate Google+ profile information have click-through rates 5-10 better than search ads that don’t
  •  A study by Moz released in August 2013 found a URL’s number of Google +1s is more highly correlated with search rankings than any other factor

2. Social integration

  • Google+ is more than a social network. It is a social layer on top of the company’s growing array of products we use and are increasingly growing reliant on, linking them and enhancing the experience of each.
  • According to Nielsen Media Research, in March 2013 the average U.S. Google+ user spent a mere 6 minutes and 47 seconds on the site compared to more than 6 hours spent on Facebook and roughly 36 minutes on Twitter. This statistic has been quoted frequently to highlight the platform’s woeful lack of engagement. However, this data only accounts for browser visits to the platform, not visits to all the other Google domains where Google+ is integrated. If it’s role as social layer vs social platform was taken into account, my guess is that these numbers would be much higher.

3. Mobile

  •  Google+ is the fourth most popular mobile app globally—two of the other four are also Google apps: #1 Google Maps and #3 YouTube. Facebook is #2.
  • Integration with Android—the leader in smartphone operating systems—has helped Google achieve these numbers.