Monday, May 21, 2012

Google+ and Top Brand Engagement: My Own Small Study

While the rest of the world is obsessed with Facebook's IPO, I thought I might be a contrarian and focus on Google+. At times, I have felt as if Google and others share G+ data and analysis not to enlighten but to convince. When Vic Gundotra, Google’s vice president for engineering, says that Google+ has 100 million monthly active users (or MAUs) compared to Facebook's 901 million MAUs, I find myself wanting to see the data and dig into methodology, because assertions such as this do not always meet my "gut check."

Google+ data seems to come in one of two flavors--either statistics that support the Google-Plus-is-a-ghost-town argument or figures that lead to headlines such as "Google+ brand pages seeing adoption, engagement growth." The truth is certainly somewhere in between, but I have to say the more sober numbers and analysis seem to have a greater ring of truth.

A recent study of brand pages on G+ furnished optimistic findings such as:
  • 64% of the Interbrand Top 100 now have an active Google+ Brand page.
  • 22% of the brands now have circler counts over 100,000, up from 13%.
  • More brands are posting more frequently: 43% are posting over 3X a week (up from 15% in February).
The folks behind the study offer services to help brands evaluate and improve their Google+ brand presence, which means they have a horse in the race. That does not mean their data is inaccurate, of course--in fact, I am sure the data is factual--but are the analysis and findings complete and thorough?  Do conclusions such as these help marketers and social professionals evaluate the importance of G+, or do they subtly encourage brand adoption of G+ (and, by extension, adoption of the study sponsor's services)?

At a glance, the study seems to imply that brands are beginning to flock to G+, but even without doing any independent research, it seems there is a less glowing way to consider the same data. For example, while 64% of the top 100 brands have an active Google+ page today, 61% of them already had their page one month after G+ launched, so there has been almost no additional adoption in the past six months. And while the number of brands with 100,000 fans is up almost 75% in three months, two-thirds of the top 100 brands in the world have fewer than 5,000 "circlers" on G+. (To put that into perspective, AJ Bombers, a locally owned burger joint in Milwaukee, WI, is connected to more people on Facebook than the vast majority of top 100 worldwide brands are connected to on Google Plus.)

I thought I would do my own small examination of the engagement enjoyed by the top ten brands on Interbrand's list. Here is what I found comparing the Facebook and Google Plus presence and engagement of the ten most valuable brands in the world:

BrandFacebook FansGoogle+ Circlers# of FB Posts
(4/24 - 30)
# of G+ Posts (4/24 - 30)Avg # of FB Likes/Post
(4/24 - 30)
Avg # of G+ +1s/Post
(4/24 - 30)
FB, G+
41,943,732 523,783 2* 3 5,637 44
FB, G+
1,779,336 202 10 0 522 NA
FB, G+
9,586,681 594,677 6 17 1890 323
FB, G+
313,473 2,004 7 5 148 7
FB, G+
19,680,889 10,198 7 0 4,388 NA
FB, G+
10,165,230 374,339 6 4 7,295 68
FB, G+
119,648 5,745 5 0 138 NA
FB, G+
6,240,280 NA NA NA NA NA
FB, G+
35,650,607 NA 5 NA 32,404 NA
FB, G+
1,804,691 190,109 6 5 238 11
* Coke's Facebook page didn't seem to be working like other Facebook pages when I tested it. I had great difficulties getting older posts to load, so I'm not certain this is an accurate number.

In order to compare the number of fans/circlers and likes/+1s on an apples-to-apples basis, I computed averages based only on the brands that are actively maintaining a presence in both social networks. I have noted the current averages in the chart below.

BrandFacebook FansGoogle+ Circlers# of FB Posts
(4/24 - 30)
# of G+ Posts (4/24 - 30)Avg # of FB Likes/Post
(4/24 - 30)
Avg # of G+ +1s/Post
(4/24 - 30)
Coca-Cola 41,943,732 523,783 2* 3 5,637 44
Google 9,586,681 594,677 6 17 1890 323
GE 313,473 2,004 7 5 148 7
Intel 10,165,230 374,339 6 4 7,295 68
HP 1,804,691 190,109 6 5 238 11
Average 12,762,761 336,982 3,042 91
+3,687% +3,257%

Of note is that:
  • Fifty percent of the world's top ten brands are absent from Google+, while nine are present on Facebook. Apple is the lone holdout on both platforms.
  • The activity on G+ brand pages is much less than would be expected, based on Google+'s and Facebook's Monthly Active Users. With Facebook at 901 million MAUs and Google at 100 million MAUs, one would expect brand pages on Facebook to have 800% more activity than on G+; instead, the brands present in both social networks have almost 3700% more fans/circlers and over 3200% more likes/+1s on Facebook than Google Plus. What would cause a brand's social graph and engagement to be much less than expected on Google+ compared to Facebook? The discrepancy is not due to a lack of activity on the part of brands--the number of posts made by brands to both platforms is quite similar. There are three possible explanations, and I suspect all three may be correct to one extent or another: G+ users are significantly less interested in engaging with brands on the social network; those who use G+ are far less active than the folks who use Facebook; and the number of G+ MAUs has been exaggerated. (Much has been written about how Google counts as an active user any Google+ registrant who uses Google services such as YouTube or Search when they're logged in, which would seem to exaggerate the number of active and actual users of Google+.)
  • Perhaps most telling is this: Google gets substantially greater engagement with its brand page on Facebook than its brand page on its own social network. Despite posting significantly more content to G+, Google's Facebook presence has 1500% more connections to consumers and its posts receive almost 500% more engagement on Facebook than G+.

My own small evaluation of the top ten brands is not the only sign that Google+ is failing to get wind under its wings. In recent weeks:

I am not trying to pile on Google Plus, but I would like more transparency from Google and others when it comes to data about G+ usage, engagement and growth. As a social media leader at a Fortune 500 firm, I must evaluate the benefits of dedicating resources to maintain a presence on Google Plus, and I would like to be armed with real data to make the right decision. For now, our choice about Google+ is informed by the fact that our brand has a mere 230 +1s on G+ , 0.1% of our total fan count on Facebook.

Perhaps Google+ will someday succeed at becoming a major social network, social layer, or whatever other social strategy Google chooses to pursue. For now, it seems to remain a niche social network with little engagement and stagnating growth. I am happy to proven wrong, but it is going to take thorough, accurate and transparent G+ data to do so--something in short supply at the current time.


Reff said...

Thanks for the analysis Augie. I think the tipping point for Google+ is a full API open to developers. The fact that people can't share to it via apps (instagram, hootsuite, etc) really hinders its adoption. When you look at the platform, it has so many great features, but it just hasn't garnered enough eyeballs to make it interesting. I was at the SXSW session where Vic was pressed by Guy Kawasaki on this topic. They audience jeered Vic to launch a real API, yet Google continues to stonewall on this topic. I wonder if you have thoughts on the importance of an API to Google+'s success or what you think it will take to make it a hit.

John Refford (@iamreff)

Eric Wittlake said...

Augie, good analysis (as always).

One more thing I would point out on the relative engagement figures: a +1 on a post in G+ does far less than a like on FB. Your +1 is ONLY seen by the folks that saw the original post, it just impacts its position in the stream. It isn't reflected anywhere in your profile.

On FB, a like is much more visible. First, people that liked something are publicly displayed. Second, it is in your timeline.

Because of the difference, I am far more likely to '+1' something on G+ than I am to 'like' something on Facebook, and I imagine I'm not the only one.

G+: Welcome to the ghost town. But hey, it looks nice!