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
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.
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.
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.
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- ComScore: Google+ Worldwide Traffic Up 66 Percent Since November
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