This is the first of two posts where I’ll be diving into whether Google+ has a future and whether attorneys should invest any time in the platform. In February I explained why Google+ was the most important social network for attorneys wishing to grow their practice. There have certainly been some changes since then and the reasons for which I wrote that article are now invalid due to changes at Google. A lot of these changes have prompted some prominent web authorities to wonder whether the social service may be shut down altogether. Personally, I think when everything is viewed as a whole it’s unlikely that the service is being shut down and it should still be seen as a part of an attorney’s social media strategy.
Google started it’s social media service for a very specific purpose. It wanted “social data” that it could integrate into its search algorithms in order to improve its core search product. This was made clear by Eric Schmidt at the D9 conference in 2011 and in subsequent videos featuring Matt Cutts. The company needed its own service in order to gain this data because it had been unable to reach a deal with Facebook that would allow for Google to crawl Mr. Zuckerberg’s creation1. Google+ was meant to fill this need.
Recent changes by Google have caused quite a few to wonder if the service may be shut down. Google recently announced that the “authorship” features of Google+ would no longer be tracked by the search engine and that it would no longer be a ranking factor in search2. In other words, the main reason for which the network was created in the first place was being eliminated. Google has also been unbundling several services from Google+ into stand-alone products, such as Hangouts and now Gmail. This unbundling can certainly lead one to think that they are separating out the popular features of the service before shutting it down.
Although it’s just my opinion, I personally don’t see the search giant shutting down Google+ for multiple reasons. First, the company just made an acquisition with the specific goal of improving the social service. Second, just because the reasons for which the service was founded have been eliminated, it does not mean that Google does not have uses for the service going forward.
Just this month Google acquired a company called Polar. This acquisition was made for the specific purpose of improving Google+3. Call me crazy – but it’s a given that Google wouldn’t have paid a ton of money for Polar, just a few weeks ago, if they were planning on shutting Google+ down. This, by itself, leads me to think that they see the social service as a viable product going forward.
Another reason why Google is unlikely to shut the service down is quite simple. THE SERVICE IS FRICKIN’ POPULAR! Google+ currently has 300 million users accessing their stream every month4. Twitter, by contrast, only has roughly 271 million active users each month5. While many people declare Google+ a “ghost town” due to the fact that it’s not as big as Facebook, the service is currently larger than other major social networks. By most metrics the service can actually be considered popular and this is another reason that the search giant is likely to keep it around.
Also, I don’t see Google shutting down the service just because the reason for which they initially created it, establishing identity, has gone away. The use of identity in search, as it turns out, went away for a good reason. The popularity of the service also creates new reasons for Google to keep the social platform even though the initial reason has been invalidated.
Google started Google+ so that it could have access to the data people share online. Since the service was launched in 2011, however, people’s online social media habits have changed dramatically. Just think of what your Facebook feed looked like in 2011 vs. today – most people share much less information online and “check in” at places far less frequently; the number of people who “never” check in increased by fifty percent from 2011 to 20126. This makes it understandable that Google did away with authorship as a search-ranking factor; the use of authorship as a search factor requires robust sharing and interaction online and people have changed their social media habits, on all services, since the idea was first hatched in 2011. If the data on which authorship was going to be based is unavailable then there’s no reason to include authorship in search results.
As I rambled about above, Google+ is a popular service. We don’t hear anyone saying that Twitter should be shut down due to its number of users – Google+ has more users than Twitter. The simple fact is that Google started a service and it has proven to be popular. When you have 300 million people using something every month then there are certainly ways to monetize it and make it useful. Personally, in my humble opinion, I see Google making the social service more of a stand-alone product and continuing to use it going forward.
Tomorrow I’ll be discussing why attorneys should still make Google+ part of their social strategy. What are your experiences with the service? Please feel free to chime in on the comment form below.
August 5th, 2015 Update – Social media is something which, obviously, changes rapidly. Several changes which have occurred, since the article above was written, have led me to write as to why attorney should consider Google+ dead at the current time.
1 All Things D 2011 Conference Discussion with Eric Schmidt. Accessed at: http://www.wsj.com/video/d9-video-eric-schmidt-full-session/B1989AE0-4248-4745-BE22-055F25442E36.html
2 August 28th, 2014 statement from Google representative John Mueller – accessed at: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JohnMueller/posts/HZf3KDP1Dm8
3 Google Acquires Polar, Team Will Work To Enhance Google+ For Mobile, PC Mag, 2014. Accessed at: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2468464,00.asp
5About Twitter, accessed at https://about.twitter.com/company
69 Social Media Trends that Could Impact Marketers, accessed at: http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/9-consumer-social-media-trends-that-could-impact-marketers/