Google Plus`s Meteoric Growth

Google Plus, the search giant’s latest attempt to break into social networking, may well become its most successful. How successful? According to one survey, if trends continue, it will be breathing down Facebook’s neck in 12 months.

That survey was conducted by Bloomberg and YouGov. It’s not very large, as it includes just over 1,000 adults who are nationally representative of the US online adult population. Survey respondents were interviewed online. Despite the relatively small size of the survey, however, it reveals some interesting numbers.

Michael Nardis, who heads up YouGov Investment Products, notes that “Google+ is starting off extremely strong. It’s chipping away at engagement levels on Facebook and Twitter…Google+ can be a threat to both.” Indeed, with 25 million accounts already, and an estimated 16 million more adults planning to join in the next year, Google+ stands poised to give Facebook a run for its money.

So how, exactly, do the numbers stack up? Google+ can claim only 13 percent of the adults who are online in the US, behind Facebook at 71 percent, LinkedIn at 19 percent, Twitter at 18 percent, and even MySpace at 14 percent. But those numbers won’t stay that way. If the survey’s projections come to pass, in the next 12 months, we’ll see Facebook lose three percent, MySpace lose two percent, and Google+ pick up a whopping nine percent. That will position Google+ as second only to Facebook – albeit a distant second, with 22 percent of the adults online in the US, as opposed to Facebook’s 69 percent.

There are several other aspects to this story. Let’s consider the engagement levels of the people on these social networks. Just because you’re on a network doesn’t mean you use it much. I only visit LinkedIn when it contacts me with something interesting – and apparently, I’m not alone. Sixty percent of LinkedIn’s members read content on it only once a month or less. The only network boasting a less engaged membership is MySpace.

It’s a different story for Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. Facebook’s members seem most engaged, with 62 percent reading content from the network at least once a day, 23 percent once a week, and 15 percent once a month or less. Google+ members aren’t quite that engaged, but they’re more engaged than Twitter members – a fact worth keeping in mind in light of Twitter’s easy and fast content creation focus. The daily/weekly/monthly percentage numbers for Google+ content readers are 45/37/18, while Twitter’s numbers are 42/27/31.

The other side of engagement on a social network is writing content: creating status updates, sharing links, commenting, etc. Again, Google+ compares favorably with Twitter, with 46 percent of users reporting that they create content at least once a week versus Twitter’s 42 percent. Engaged early adopters tend to draw people in after them, so Google+ clearly seems to be poised for continued growth.

Google Plus’s demographics also reflect what one would expect from technological early adopters. They somewhat resemble Facebook in its early days, in fact. Google+ boasts three men for every two women on its network, with more than 40 percent of its membership between 18 and 29. Well over half have a college degree (only a little over a third of Facebook users have graduated college). And nearly half of them are single.

But plenty of social network users belong to more than one network. Should these numbers really get Facebook worried? In a word, yes. There are only so many hours in a day, and only so much multitasking one can do to get the most out of them. Indeed, according to the survey, close to one-third of Facebook users who already maintain a Google+ account plan to cut back on the time they spend on Facebook over the next 12 months. LinkedIn might also want to look on with concern, as 24 percent of its current users plan to cut back on the time they spend on the business networking site.

The problem with making predictions this early, of course, is that the “shiny new network” factor hasn’t worn off yet. In a sense, Google+ gives users a chance to start over with a clean slate and not make the mistakes they made on Facebook; for that reason alone, many users will find it attractive. Google+ builds on that with many useful features that can’t be found on other social networks, or at least not all in one place. Has this “love for the new” caused users to overlook real problems with Google Plus? Will we soon see hoards of disaffected users leaving the social site?

Compared with Google’s earlier efforts at building a social network, I’m seeing remarkably few complaints – and the complaints I am seeing, while challenging, are not problems inherent in the network itself. For example, Google still needs to figure out some graceful way to handle people who want to be on their social network, yet need to remain anonymous or use a pseudonym rather than their legal name. Provided they get these and other issues worked out, Google just might have a winning network on its hands. I plan to stick around on Google+ for at least a few more months, anyway, to see what happens.

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