Study — Perhaps Flawed — Finds Sharing Much Higher On Twitter & Facebook, But Why Google+ Is Still Worth The Time

How popular is Google+? We could have the debate over active users again, but we’ve been there, done that. Instead, a new study is out that tries something different, comparing the number of shares the same story gets in relation to users on each of the major social networks. By that metric, Google+ is far, far behind Twitter and Facebook. But, as I’ll explain, it might still be a mistake to dismiss Google+ from your social media efforts. Plus, the study might be fundamentally flawed.

Comparing Shares: Issues To Consider

I’ve compared sharing activity myself, when assessing Google+. I often share the same content across Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and it’s interesting to see what does well on each service. It’s also easy for me to see how our content gets shared from Marketing Land and Search Engine Land. I also often see the same stories shared by others across different networks. In general, the Google+ shares are much lower, though not always.

Many factors can come into play, of course. My shares on Google+ go out to 1.5 million followers, versus 250,000 on Twitter and 130,000 on Facebook. If I looked at sharing activity on my posts without taking those figures into consideration, it would be easy for me to sometimes think Facebook and Twitter are behind Google+. Of course, in plenty of cases, even with the smaller followers I have on the other services, I can see more resharing of what I post them.

Another issue is content. Stuff that’s positive about Google does much better on Google+ than things with negative connotations about the company. In contrast, I personally find that whether something is positive or negative about Facebook or Twitter has little impact on how it gets reshared. There’s less fanboyism with those services, in my view.

Share Activity Adjusted By Active Users

A new study from Umpf tries to adjust for these types of factors. The company took 100 news stories, to see how they were shared:

We analysed 100 random online entertainment, health, business, technology and general news stories and looked at how many times each story was shared by Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter users.

The stories were taken at random by three staff from Umpf using websites including The Independent, Telegraph, Forbes, CBS News, Evening Standard, Mashable and TechCrunch.  The only criteria was that the site had to have a share counter showing all four networks as a minimum.

It then adjusted for the relative audience that could possibly share on each service, taking reported user counts, to figure out the number of people out of 100 million who were likely to share a story:

From the study:

  • Twitter, 197.3 people were likely to share an online story
  • Facebook, 41.8 people were likely to share an online story
  • LinkedIn, 15.2 people were likely to share an online story
  • Google+, 6.0 people were likely to share an online story

Or, in other words:

  • LinkedIn is 2.5 times more effective than G+ for sharing
  • Facebook is 7 times more effective than G+ for sharing
  • Twitter is 33 times more effective than G+ for sharing

Google For Business; Facebook For Health; Twitter For Entertainment, Tech

The study also did a breakdown of sharing by content subject:

If you’re looking for success on Google+ with sharing, business news, then technology news, leads over general news, entertainment and health stories.

In contrast, general news stories are strong on Facebook, followed by health, then entertainment and technology tied.

Entertainment and tech are big on Twitter, followed by health and business.

Major & Minor Study Flaws

A major flaw in this study is that it seems to have based sharing counts on buttons shown on the destination articles. The problem is, those don’t all indicate shares. Consider these buttons on our Search Engine Land story about Google releasing a way to search for Gmail within Google Search:

The Facebook Like button indicates like activity, not Facebook Share activity. What you like on Facebook may not spread out to those who follow you in the way actual shares do. The same is true for the +1 count shown for Google. As for Twitter, that’s showing anyone who shared the URL on Twitter, regardless of whether the publisher did — and I’m not sure if retweets of a particular story get counted in that.

It’s all complicated, and it’s one reason why you get a cleaner comparison by looking at publisher accounts on each of the services. At least there, you can directly compare how a set group of followers shares and adjust, as needed, if an account has more followers at one service than another.

A minor issue with these figures is that they are based on counts that slightly overestimates the audience at Google+ and underestimates it at Facebook. The study acknowledges the latter, that it used a count of 901 million for Facebook before Facebook gave an update of 955 million.

The study mistakenly uses a 170 million user figure from Google. That figure, from April, was for those who had “upgraded” to Google+ but not for those who were considered to actively used it in some way, in a given month. Active users are what Facebook and Twitter report, so that’s the figure that should be used.

In April, the active user count for Google+ was actually 100 million, as I covered before in my story about the difficulties in trying to make these comparisons. However, in June, Google updated that figure to 150 million active users. That’s close enough to the 170 million that Umpf used as to be close enough, I’d say.

The Twitter figure used is from March, and I haven’t seen a more recent one myself. Chances are, Twitter’s audience has grown since then, which would mean that Twitter’s sharing activity is being overestimated by some amount. It’s probably slight and unlikely to make much of a dent in Twitter’s huge lead in sharing over the others.

As for LinkedIn, the figure used seems to be for all users, not active users, so LinkedIn’s sharing stats are probably overestimated to some degree.

Yes, People Share On Google+

Enough with the caveats. Let’s go back to the bigger picture. Is Google+ a failure, based on sharing stats. As I argued before, no, and for these reasons:

  • It’s the “Apple Store For Google Fans”
  • It’s an excellent way to interact with Google and Googlers
  • It’s the only credible alternative to the broad-based social network Facebook offers
  • It helps Google gather signals useful for search
  • There is sharing

Those stats above suggest it’s a waste of time to share at Google+ in addition to Twitter (or Facebook). In response, I give you this:

That’s 481 retweets at Twitter for a Wired story about a guy who ordered a TV from Amazon but got a gun. Let’s say Wired couldn’t be bothered to have spent a couple of minutes to share the same story on Google+. What would it have really missed? Well….

That’s 1,333 shares on Google+ of the same story. Good thing Wired didn’t write Google+ off. Wired has the virtually the same number of followers with both Google+ and Twitter, 1.5 million. In this case, despite what the study says, the sharing was far higher on Google+ and certainly would be well worth the time.

Here’s another. The London 2012 account, with 1.6 million followers, shared this on Twitter:

That produced about 300 retweets. Over on Google+, we get this:

Only 42 shares. OK, the London 2012 account has half the Twitter followers as Google+. But still, adjusting for that, if sharing were at the same rate as Twitter, you’d expect around 150 shares.

Even if the sharing is lower in proportion to Twitter, for a few minutes work, why not pick up those 40 shares? Why not pick up those nearly 400 +1s, that may help with search rankings?

That leads to London 2012 on Facebook:

There, with the same number of people liking the page as following Twitter, the Facebook page has 1,100 shares. That’s nearly 4 times the shares with Twitter, even though according to the study, Facebook should be much lower.

Google+ is nowhere near matching that, of course. Not for that post. But this post from London 2012 had 560 shares on Google+. Anyone not want those? How about this one with 741 shares?

The Bigger Issue: When Accounts Give Up

What’s disturbing to me — and should be to Google — isn’t the lower share activity in some cases. It’s that London 2012 has already given up.

I’m pretty sure there was a partnership between Google and London 2012 involving Google+. Certainly Google has actively promoted the account. So how’s it going today? Here’s London 2012 on Twitter:

The latest post was less than an hour ago, sharing news about Katie Taylor from Ireland winning the gold for the women’s light class in boxing. Here’s Facebook:

Taylor’s not there, but a win by a another woman boxer, Britain’s Nicola Adams for the women’s fly class, is up, from only two hours ago. Before that, there are seven other posts stretching back through yesterday.

Now, it makes sense not to post as frequently to Facebook as with Twitter. Numerous studies have found that being selective may produce great reach. So eight posts over two days is pretty active. That leads back to Google+

So far, no news from today’s events has been posted. There are no boxing winners. In addition, over the past two days, there’s been exactly two posts, one per day. It’s a token effort, if effort is even the right term.

Postscript: About 15 minutes after I made the screenshot above, London 2012 finally posted about Nicola Adams as it did at Facebook. That put it about three hours behind Facebook for that post, and still behind for many other posts made to Facebook but not Google+.

If an account that Google lends support to doesn’t find it useful to keep posting, that’s not encouraging to others, especially when you get studies like I’ve covered above that suggest low sharing activity.

My own perspective is that there are people on Google+. It can generate shares and traffic, and given how tightly it is integrated with everything Google is doing, including search, I think a social media marketer would be foolish to ignore it. With a little time, you might find you get the occasional hit that you weren’t expecting and perhaps more.

Related Stories

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Facebook | Features & Analysis | Google: Google+ | Statistics: Popularity & Usage | Top News | Twitter


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • MichelleRobbins

    I still think the largest challenge facing G+ is marketing – their own marketing. Flawed though the study may be, there is simply little to no mainstream/consumer visibility of the platform (in my experience, there is none among my non-internet-employed friends/family).  I recently had lunch with a friend that owns a small but growing brand, has an online store, and is active on the mainstream consumer networks (FB,Twitter, Pinterest), personally as well as for the brand. I asked why they weren’t on Google+ and the reply was literally “What’s that?” 

    While many in the industry might view that as a flaw of the brand, I see it as a problem with Google’s marketing of their platform. 

  • Clint A. Butler

    I read an article saying the Google+ is better for meeting new people.  It also doesn’t have the same ‘viral’ power because of those settings.  If your only sharing your stuff with people in your circles and not in public hurts the syndication.

  • Michael Gray

    The fact that Google+ actively ignores fixing it’s problems for Google Apps users is a serious flaw. By making an api available to only a handful of third parties (like Zite) they add friction to the sharing process while people are consuming news/data. If Google really is trying to be a social network they are their own worst enemy. However if they are pretending to be a social network just to get better user data and move away from a link based algo to more holistic alto that takes social activity into account then … these aren’t the droids you are looking for …

  • Jesus R. Grana

    Colleagues – is ok to call a dog a dog – numbers do not lie – Google +
    may a have a place but not as a competitor to Twitter, Facebook  and LinkedIN (or
    even Pinterest for that matter)

  • Scott Holm

    I love the Google+ platform but we just don’t see the activity there and we’re not gaining followers for our page at the same rate we are on Facebook and Twitter. I hope that the audience will come, in time as the platform is solid, fun to use and we like the potential of using Hangouts to engage with and broadcast to our audiences. The one glaring issue I have with G+ is the lack of any analytics, Google Analytics should be baked into this product so we can see exactly what content is getting viewed, etc. Maybe they didn’t want to roll that out while engagement is so low – perhaps it’ll be coming later as the network grows. 

  • toxicious

    lol, you better off make a study on what the users of the different platforms are sharing.
    You see, we G+ people only share what is actually interesting for others to read.

    A good example on that is this article. atm, only 17 FB users has liked it, while 89 g+ users has +1 it. Facebookers read and share about celebrities who has fucked each other. Google+ ers read and share about NASA going to the moon.

  • Authority Buzz

    Twitter leading the pack doesn’t surprise me because it’s so super easy to share on Twitter. I just started embracing Google+ because of Google Authorship.

  • GSystems

    Going to have to look you up on G+ if your posts are as insightful as this comment.

    I do agree that G+ may not have the marketing pizzazz as…well, which Social network has marketed their brand to such an extent? No one. Even Facebook grew based on word of mouth and later protocol incorporation with other media sites for user credential exchange. Have we forgotten that their time in existence versus their public offering are dramatically inverted correlations at the present?
    Give G+ some time.

    In my case, I fully gave up on social networks until G+ came on-board. 

    Now I fully enjoy myself… 

    I don’t need 900 Million users on deck to assure me of that. What I expect out of a service such as this has been met (minus the present inability to post multiple links in one post…). My involvement–both at home, and on the go–with Google+ has shown me that any marketer not being involved at the lower floors (seems more obscure and independent publications are more active than the bigger names to me) is missing out on a great opportunity to grow with the service…which is just beginning, as can be seen in the credential transfer [offer] on YouTube…   

  • Danny Sullivan

    Oh, they have visibility. Have you not seen any of the TV ads at all for Google+? They’ve run plenty, and it’s hard to say they aren’t visible.

    The problem is that despite being visibile, it’s not resonating. Which is a marketing problem, just not the same as visibility.

  • Tommy Smith

    Google+ is good for people who already have a Gmail. And I use Gmail, so it is good. If you don’t, a lot of people just decide “I don’t want another email, so I’ll go to Facebook.” And Gmail, while it is widely used, isn’t the only email provider out there, in fact, many just use the email that comes with their ISP.
    Twitter shouldn’t count in that category. Twitter is good if you are making constant posts about something others should know for useful information, not just random things you might put on Facebook. For instance, one good use of Twitter is for a bus company. They can tweet if there is construction that will slow you down. Or sports teams, who tweet about turning on TV so you won’t miss the game. So it’s different.
    Google+ is also good because it incorporates Youtube, Maps, and many other Google Apps (hey, that rhymes!) so it’s good to sign up for if you like Google’s versatile, widely-used apps. But, if you don’t, maybe you like Bing, maybe you don’t care, maybe you have a friend that’s on Facebook, you may sign up elsewhere.

  • Maurice Walshe

    Havnt seen any ads from G+  in the UK where 2012 is actualy happeneing. though

  • Sean McGinnis

     I have never seen Google+ TV ad either – other than clicking a link and watching on Youtube.

  • Nicholas Cooper

    Its no surprise to me with these numbers because Facebook’s and Twitter’s services have been public for a lot longer. If it were reversed and Google+ came out first the numbers would be different. I’m not saying it would be completely opposite. Each service has their own demographic, but I believe Google+’s adoption rate would have been much higher. I also believe that given the reverse situation Twitter and Facebook still would have overcome Google+ based on their unique differences, but the sharing numbers would be more level at this moment in time. 

  • Sproid

    Anther Variable in all these mess is the fake and/or the uninterested users that are crawling in facebook and specially in Twitter. For example when I enter in a sweepstakes to win some gadget, most of the time the requirements are to follow and reshare some company on twitter and facebook. The result, I’m following something I don’t care and I forget or too lazy to unfollow them. Also many Twitter users has this notion or rule called “follow back”, wish I find very unproductive. Considering that notion with the many automated users of jokes, quotes, etc, that only wants as many followers as possible so they can produce money out of ads, we have an ecosystem filled of fake profiles. Ask yourself, how many followers you can handle in real time, reading and really caring about, on Twitter 80-120 approx, on facebook 300 to 500 approx. Unless your work requires you to monitor the social networks or you spend more time in your virtual social life than in your real social life. 
    My point is that Social companies like facebook and twitter encourage this fakes profiles and shares as they depends on those high numbers to fool their investors and maintain the profits. 

  • Jennifer Jurca

    Fake accounts or accounts intended to have no purpose other than to spread stupid memes are becoming more and more prevalent on facebook.

    If I am looking for real content I go to G+. Its much easier to find relevant posts from people who you don’t already know. If I am looking to talk to real life friends online then I use facebook but less and less people my age (early-mid 20s) are using it and the content is just….dumber.

    There are quite a lot of my facebook friends who have stopped actively using facebook but who have not joined another social network.

  • Alan

    The funny thing about them not releasing their API to the public is that Larry page has a go at Facebook about locking up data, yet he won’t release an API to G+. The more he opens his mouth the more he embarrasses himself. He really should go into retirement and spend his billions! The company he started is nothing like the vision he pretended to have when he started it. It is now more evil than Microsoft and that is saying something.

  • Alan

    Only Seo and tech guru’s give a S%$& about G+. Once again Google has made a bland and impersonal social network, what is it their 6th attempt? Hardly surprising as they are now a bland and impersonal company.

  • emory @ clickfire

    Unlike the others, staying logged in to G+ has consequences for search.

  • Franki

    Sharing, Liking, Retweeting, +1ing a post is one thing, but what about “true” engagement/interaction/conversation – ie commenting? Facebook wins hand down in what is probably the most important and significant SM measurement of all, followed by G+… twitter is probably the worse of the bunch.

    Don’t forget too, when something is shared on FB & G+, further conversations (commenting) are spawned from each of the sharer’s friends/cirles within (the shared post appearing on their timeline). From anecdotal evidence, I would say FB would be many folds in front from it’s closest rival…

    Now that’s “engagement”!

  • Miriam Schwab

    I think the lack of an API for Google+ is what’s causing the lack of sharing. Businesses and organizations that are actively involved in social media need to be able to manage everything from a centralized source, like one of the social media dashboards available. If they have to go to a particular network separately to post and follow up on comments, it reduces the likelihood that they will. I believe that if Google+ ever releases a decent API, we’ll see an increase in activity there.

  • Affiliate Buys

    Great article…I happen to like the Google+ Platform but they really need to open it up. All the major platforms are becoming more restrictive. The next great platform will be the one allowing the most freedom.

    Isn’t that what the Internet is suppose to be about? 

  • Jelena Milosevic

    What I am interesting in are statistics. If you menage numbers of follorwers- likes -shares, then we can have better vieuw about using of this networks. Also, there are enough fake profiles (special on FB ), how you can manage that with this statistics?

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