Since that time, the hype has continued. In some cases, the headlines were caused by the fact Google has played fast and loose with its own figures. Because Google has merged Gmail, search and other parts of its platform, it has been difficult to compare Google's announced data to the information shared by other social networks.
At other times, the people writing articles simply do not understand the figures they are reporting. In the past two months, there have been a raft of stories about how Google+ is now bigger than Twitter, but this is based on the number of account holders and not on activity or usage. If number of account holders were what mattered, then MySpace would still trump Google+.
But I think there is something more at work here than simply inflated and misunderstood data--I believe there is a reason why so many folks are quick to jump on any news story that suggests Google+ (or any other social network other than Facebook) is succeeding. The fact is that many marketers and social media professionals are tired of Facebook. Low brand engagement, the uselessness of large fan bases and the gaming of Facebook EdgeRank have left many marketing and communication pros weary of Facebook. (Of course, customer care professionals feel differently, but that is a topic for a different blog post.)
Moreover, consultants and agencies are finding it is more difficult to sell clients on services for Facebook, which is relatively mature at this point. This is why so many social media professionals are today promoting Tumblr, Vine, Instagram and Pinterest (regardless of whether these platforms are proving appropriate or successful for their clients' particular verticals).
People employed in social media seem desperate for something else to come along and shake up the industry, but look at the data--the real, objective data--and it is hard to escape Facebook's continued domination of the social networking space. Take, for example, the oft reported claim that teens are dumping Facebook. Everyone seems to have an anecdote about their own child or some qualitative data about teen attitudes, but look at Pew's data and it tells a different story. From 2011 to 2012, the percentage of teens using Facebook grew. Sure, it increased by just one percentage point, but it is hard to earn increases for services and tools that are approaching complete saturation--94% of teens said they used Facebook at the end of 2012.
As for G+, there have recently been some contradictory figures on the adoption of the social network. GlobalWebIndex claimed more than a quarter of consumers use G+ while Pew Research Center did not even include G+ in its report of US social media usage. The reason Pew omitted Google's social network is that they found consumers were unable to distinguish G+ from other Google services. Consumers are so confused as to what constitutes usage of G+, Pew decided to completely omit it from their report (which has to call into question every other study on self-reported Google+ usage, don't you think?)
You could overlook Pew's decision to bypass measuring Google+ usage if, in fact, there was strong evidence that G+ was actually seeing substantial adoption; however, the third-party data tells a pretty consistent and convincing story about consumer use of G+:
- Gigya reports that people using its widely implemented sharing widget share on Facebook 50% of the time, on Twitter 24% and on Google+ a mere 2%. In fact, Pinterest has 1200% more shares than G+ (but it is worth keeping in mind that Gigya has a substantial client base in retail, where Pinterest has had a much greater impact).
- The same report from Gigya reports that over half of people use Facebook credentials to log into other sites while slightly less than a quarter use Google. This is one of the strongest data points for Google use, but since the credentials used are Google's (no "plus") and not just Google+'s, it is also the least pertinent to Google's social network.
- Dartmouth's annual report on the adoption of social media by the Fortune 500 has a headline that claims big companies are "get(ting) excited about Google+," but the data tells another story. Of the 2013 Fortune 500, 77% have corporate Twitter accounts, 70% are now on Facebook and just 35% have an active Google+ account. In addition, another 19% have inactive G+ accounts, and the report notes, "This is the only platform studied where there were a significant number of open, but inactive accounts."
- ComScore's "2013 U.S. Digital Future in Focus" study reports that consumers spend 83% of their social networking time on Facebook, but it did not cite any figure for Google+ (while finding room to include Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter and LinkedIn). We do not know why the metrics firm omitted G+, but perhaps Nielsen furnishes the answer; the company told Mashable that in March, the average visitor to the social network spent 6 minutes 47 seconds on Google+ compared to 6 hours and 44 minutes on Facebook. That means people spend 5,859% more time on Facebook than Google+.
- GlobalWebIndex reported on the fastest growing Social networks between Q2 and Q4 2012, and you might expect G+ to be on top based on the headlines, not to mention its smaller base; instead, the research firm reported that Facebook growth outpaced Google+ in this period (and Twitter's growth exceeded them both.)
- According to data shared on Business Insider culled from Compete, ComScore and other sources, the amount of web traffic received by Facebook is more than four times greater than G+'s traffic. In fact, Google+ was fourth on the list based on unique visitors, surpassed by LinkedIn and Twitter, as well.
My goal is not to convince companies or people they should ignore Google+. As always, firms should evaluate their audiences and make smart decisions about where to engage; in addition, we all recognize G+ can be an important tool in enhancing a company's search engine relevance. That said, I strongly believe we should evaluate the social networking space based on actual, objective and accurate data, not hype and misanalysis. By all means, go ahead and embrace Google+ for your firm's (or personal) social networking; just do it with your eyes open and your expectations set appropriately.
Below is an infographic with all of the pertinent and objective data I could find from late 2012 to the present. I created it using a new tool, Infogr.am. This free tool is in beta, and as you can tell, it does a nice job of creating interactive infographics. It is somewhat kludgy to use and is missing some important features (such as the ability to copy charts or retain color choices when changes are made), but it is in beta and shows a lot of promise. You can check out the interactive version of this infographic or create your own infographic at http://infogr.am/Facebook-dominates-social-sharing/.