Dissecting “Hot On Google+,” A Look At How Posts Become Hot

Launched back in October, Hot on Google+ (also called “What’s Hot”) is a feature that helps deliver popular content on Google+ to the entire user base.  The reason Hot On Google+ is attractive for marketers is the potential virality that can be obtained.  A post that is determined to be hot can obtain massive reach as other users don’t need to have the original poster in their circles.  This means that your post, content and profile/page can be viewed by a huge audience, one that cannot be obtained without Hot On Google+.

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How It Works

Hot posts show up directly in the stream along with content from those a user has circled.  A small banner appears on the top and the original poster, the entire post and the shares/comments will appear:

Another big benefit for getting content hot on Google+ is increased profile/brand visibility.  By hovering over the “Hot on Google+” banner, the account that shared the post can be followed with one click:

In February, fine-tuning was added to What’s Hot panel to increase or decrease the Hot messaging in your stream.  This allows users to increase/decrease the overall number of hot stories injected into their stream:

Users can choose one of four options for their controls:

  • No What’s hot posts in your stream
  • A few What’s hot posts in your stream
  • Some What’s hot posts in your stream
  • Even more What’s hot posts in your stream

By default the “Some What’s hot posts” is selected.

How Content Becomes Hot

The official Google statement on how Hot on Google+ works is:

This section highlights selected content thought to be exemplary, interesting, and appropriate: showing you serendipitous and diverse information.

Google does not divulge the secret sauce behind hot content, but there are some characteristics that are very common with posts that become hot:

  • Many +1′s – Most content that becomes hot has hundreds of +1′s.  While a good volume of +1′s helps, it isn’t the only factor.  A fraction of hot stories have double-digit +1s.  The frequency of +1′s could play a factor as well; many social news sites like Reddit/Digg have implemented this as a “breaking” feature in the past.
  • Proportionate Amount of Shares – It seems that sharing is a major factor in hot content.  Not only does the content need to be +1-worthy, but share-worthy.  This is quite similar to Facebook’s “likes” vs”share” – each is different, and shows different intent.  Clearly content that the community deems more “shareable” should play a roll in what’s hot.
  • Comments – The vast majority of articles that become hot have a high percentage of comments to +1′s.  This may be a byproduct of the content becoming hot, but it appears to be a correlating factor.  With the hot posts a rise of spam is occurring, with many users trying to ride the coattails of popular info.
  • Images – People love images.  While I haven’t seen causation that images help push content hot, they sure help gather the above three factors.  Posts without visual aids simply don’t draw as much attention as a vivid, colorful image.  Images are a painfully easy way to help boost +1s, sharing and comments so feel free to implement photos or thumbnails to improve your chances of getting hot.

Note: all of the above are factors ard listed due to extensive monitoring of hot posts, not directly attributable to Google. For a more official clarification we reached out to Google and received some enlightening answers.

Google’s Statements on Hot Posts

To try to clear up a few items and theories we contacted a Google Spokesperson, the official answers below are in bold. One theory floating around was that more hot posts were showing up on mobile devices than on the web.

Q: It seems that Hot On Google+ appears more on mobile devices.  Are you actively displaying more hot content to users on their phones?

A: No, we’re not displaying more hot content to users on their phones than we do on the web. If you want to adjust or remove this content from your stream, just visit www.plus.google.com/hot and adjust the volume control slider as you see fit.

While Google has never stated that hot posts revolved around interests/likes, this is a common way that other social networks custom-target content. We wanted to see if any previous activity or interests officially play a part in getting a post hot.

Q: Is content that appears Hot On Google+ relative to a user’s previous +1′s, shares & sparks?  Some users seem surprised by some content, others seem to get the proper messaging.  I wanted to know how much personalization comes into play when displaying this information.

A: What’s Hot is not currently personalized to the user based on interests, but this is something that we will be looking into. The stream pulls in popular content from many different topic areas and can include posts from anyone on Google+; it’s algorithmically designed to pull in the most popular posts from across Google+.

So, one item that we know does not influence hot articles is users interests or sparks activity. Content that is hot on Google+ is hot for everyone, but from the response, it doesn’t look like it will stay that way for long.  What can you do to prepare for this?  Well, make sure you target the most appropriate audience and are posting relevant content.

Q: Can content become hot from a website if they don’t have a Google+ page?

A: Currently, only Google+ posts — whether from an individual Google+ user or a Google+ page — are included in the stream.

So, the content must be posted on Google+ in order to become hot (duh).  But brands don’t need to have a Google+ presence in order to have content from their site get hot – they just need someone to post it.

We also tried to sneak in some official verification on the factors that help content become hot but came up empty handed.

Q: Can you verify that +1′s, shares, Google+ +1′s play into whether or not a story is shown as hot?

A: We determine a popular posts on the What’s Hot page based on a number of different factors but we don’t comment on the specifics.

For more information on hot on Google+ we recommend following the official Google+blog.

Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Features & Analysis | Google | Google: Google+ | Social Media Marketing | Top News

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About The Author: is the Director of Marketing for Cypress North, a company that specializes in social media and search marketing services and web-based application development. He has been in the Internet marketing industry for 6+ years and specializes in Social Media Marketing. You can also find Greg on Twitter (@gregfinn) or LinkedIn.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.googlingsocial.com/ Chris Lang

    Let’s really talk about what gets to What’s Hot:

    Get a group together to shout each others content up, and you can easily get to What’s Hot. I know, this sounds like the days of Digg.com gone by, but I have seen many cliques doing just that. With without naming names, one group of G+ marketing gurus was actually using a Romanian outsourcer to push for comments and sharing to get the the /hot page.

    NOW, does this work for legitimate marketers like myself? No, the days of spamming social sites for traction is over, especially when it comes to the big G. But right now, the /hot section is wide open and tactics like I mentioned above need to go Google.

  • http://twitter.com/gregfinn Greg Finn

    I agree with you Chris.  I think that it would only work for awhile.  The statement:

    “What’s Hot is not currently personalized to the user based on interests, but this is something that we will be looking into ”

    would appear to combat vote rigging by targeting to specific interests.

  • http://www.googlingsocial.com/ Chris Lang

    I since day one I have advocated What’s Hot categories, so we can filter it ourselves. Digg did that very well going back to 2009 – 09 when I was a power user there.
    Like Tech > Linux, or News > Sports, or Business > Marketing > Facebook, or Humor > whatever… Search is great, but most users are like me, (somewhat lazy) and we need help filtering content and categories inspire this, but search seems like work to most.I would much prefer we filter our interests ourselves with categories rather than Facebook style filtering. Good point you make there too Greg Finn! 

  • http://profiles.google.com/meshram.alok Alok Meshram

    The major factor determining if a post goes into “What’s Hot” isn’t the amount of +1s, shares or comments. Almost all posts from celebrities (such as Britney Spears) get hundreds of +1s, shares and comments, but only few of them make it to “What’s Hot”.

    The primary factor that determines if a post goes to “What’s Hot” is the *rate of growth* of +1s and shares on a post. That is, the derivative with respect to time of the amount of +1s and/or shares a post gets. This makes sense: the more viral a post is, the faster people share it (and hence +1 it). 

    So G+ promotes things that go viral. The “What’s Hot” stream is sort of a proving ground for a viral post. If more people +1 or share it, it creates a positive feedback loop. Otherwise, the post simply dies out in face of competition from other posts.

    But what happens if a post is _really_ viral and the feedback loop keeps on adding up? I’m not sure, but I think there is some human intervention involved. I suspect that some Google employees keep watching the “What’s Hot” stream and intervene frequently in order to keep things moving or to keep things clean.

  • http://www.iwebsquare.co.uk/ iWebSquare

    Once the content becomes hot on Google+, Oh my..! One things must be sure to make content hot is that it should most viral in nature…!

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