Monday, July 22, 2013

The REAL Data on Facebook vs. Google+ (and Other Social Networks)—an Interactive Infographic

Perhaps no question is more debated in social media circles (pun intended) than Google+'s success or lack thereof. Some say G+ is growing and thriving, while others describe it as a "ghost town." I went digging for recent, objective, third-party information and found data from Pew Research, Gigya, ComScore, Nielsen and others. The story this data tells is that Google+ may not have tumbleweeds rolling through it, but the social network is a long, long way from competing with Twitter and Facebook (or even Pinterest and Tumblr) for time, attention and engagement. What follows is a summary and analysis of the data along with an interactive infographic.

From the moment G+ launched, some social media "experts" immediately began to push Google's social network as a "Facebook killer." Early blog posts included charts comparing Google+'s near-vertical growth to that of other social networks, but these aggrandizing posts and diagrams ignored that Google was merely adding G+ into its huge existing user base while Facebook and Twitter had to fight for each new user one at a time.

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+:
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, 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


Judy Gombita said...

Augie, I won't argue with your research or rationale. But I do think it's important to factor in when Facebook was established and what it is mostly being used for as benchmarks, when comparing it to just-two-years-old GooglePlus.

It's also ironic that you don't ahve a direct Share G+ button on your own site....

Anyhow, as always, I appreciate your research and attempts to be objective, even though you are not a huge fan of G+.


Augie Ray said...

Thanks, Judy.

Good point about the length of time Facebook has been around versus Google+. I think one could argue in one of two ways about this. On the one hand, it is unfair to compare a two-year-old social network versus a seven-year-old one. On the other hand, the reality is that Facebook has a huge existing advantage, both in longevity and engaged user base, and despite Google's HUGE advantage (Facebook had to build from scratch while Google+ has not been able to succeed despite Google being the most heavily trafficked site in the world), it still seems to lag.

Interesting observation about the lack of a G+ button. I use Blogger, Google's blogging platform, so you would assume this would just be standard, wouldn't you? I'll have to look into how to activated it!

Thanks for the dialog!

Mike Wise said...

Great post, as usual, Augie. Don't you think though that it takes time for a new SN to run through the adoption curve? Look at how long it took Twitter to achieve critical mass? Even Facebook. Don't you also think that, because Google is the 300lb Gorilla in Search, and since Search is so important to marketing and sales, that Google will (and already seems to be) drive a vast amount of traffic to its network via Lastly, what about Gmail? It also seems to be the top email service. Clearly that provides huge opportunity for Google+ marketing as well. I gotta say, a lot of people that I'm connected to are getting burned out on Facebook...

Mike Wise said...

Btw, check out the most recent post on Mashable and the Sharing stats at the top of the post. Compelling...

salemonz said...

Thanks for the research! My favorite metric is usually "time spent on the platform." IMO that's one of the most telling aspects of a heath of a social network. Even if the audience is smaller (within reason), if they are spending tons of time there, it at least speaks to a niche social network. G+ pettifogs the issue by saying "Your time on Instagram is actually counting toward G+ because you're using Google credentials".

...well no. And it doesn't mean I'm using G+ either, which I'm not.

Jay Deragon said...

Data analyzed and compared in "moments of time" provide little meaning or value at a given moment.

Augie Ray said...

Josh, Thanks for the comment.

Jay, I'm not sure what you mean. Can you elaborate, please?

Augie Ray said...


I don't think we need to give G+ time to get through an adoption curve equivalent to what Facebook and Twitter have had. Facebook and Twitter had a headstart and established themselves, so there is more headwind for Google's late arrival to the social networking scene. Plus, Facebook and Twitter took years to create mass from scratch while Google has the largest, strongest user base in history--yet it has not been able to convert all those people over to its own social offering.

And no, I don't think Google search or Gmail gives them a huge advantage in directing traffic to Google+ because G+ isn't a destination, it's a social network. If people don't have their social graphs there, then there's no reason to visit. Under what circumstances would someone searching for information welcome a G+ post as a top result? If I search for "insurance," "Ford" or "garage door," G+ posts are not the sort of results I (or anyone else) would want or expect.

I'm not suggesting Google may not succeed at some point, but barring any serious mistake on the part of Facebook (performance issues, major data breach, etc.) there is no evidence to think G+ can come anywhere close to overtaking Facebook for many years, at best.

As for Facebook burnout, I hear it all the time--yet I see no data to support it. People complain, but Facebook is ingrained into their lives not because the site or app is but because their social graph is established there. Plus, even if we were burning out on Facebook, how would switching to an almost perfect clone help the situation? If we were to lift our entire social graph out of Facebook and dump it into G+, we'd have the same issues and complaints, wouldn't we?

I'm open to changes in the marketplace, but with so many generous G+ headlines and so little positive data, I wanted to let the data speak for itself (and I think it does).

Unknown said...

Augie, as always, a well-researched and well-reasoned post. But I have to say I remain mystified why discussion about G+ always seem to come down to G+ versus FB (or sometimes Twitter). For me they are just totally different animals. As Judy pointed out, any comparison should be based on "what (they are) being used for" -- a point I think you elided. It's sort of like saying soccer is irrelevant -- which it certainly is to me -- because of the overwhelming popularity of football and baseball, or that jazz or classical music are irrelevant -- not to me -- because Pop moves so many more units.
Personally, I use Twitter and G+ -- the former for dissemination and the latter as a platform for intellectual discussion -- but not FB at all, which I long ago abandoned as a trivial time suck. To each his/her own: I'm not looking to convert anyone to G+ as such nor to suggest they abandon FB.
In the end I think "G+ versus FB" is about as enlightening a discussion as Apple versus android -- it just brings out fanboy rage. Can't we just have different strokes for different folks?
That said, thanks for bringing much-needed clarity to the numbers.

Augie Ray said...

Good thoughts, Ken.

I agree it doesn't need to be "this vs. that," except that is the way most headlines portray any news about G+ growth. It's "catching up to Facebook" or "bigger than Twitter."

From the personal standpoint, I think G+ can be a great place to share. From a business standpoint, it's damn near useless for engagement but certainly helps with SEO.

I wrote the piece not to convince anyone about G+ but to shed some light on the real data. There's been a lot of misanalysis and bad data, and there's nothing I enjoy more than bringing clarity to a topic that some others willfully or accidentally make confusing!

As for engagement on Facebook, if you left more than six months ago, you may want to reengage. I have more and better professional conversations on Facebook now than I did last year, and more than I have on G+ (although I don't do much to engage there, I'll admit. I only have so many hours in the day!)

Srinivas Kulkarni said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Srinivas Kulkarni said...

Great post Augie. Really appreciate the amount of research that you've put in to come up with this. Love the interactive infographic too. I agree with Judy to a certain extent in terms of the benchmarks and the time that facebook has existed for, however considering that aspect itself, I don't really think Google actually did much in terms of getting the first 500 million users of its. Also as rightly mentioned most places, their activation is based also on the gmail ids that they already had and the advantage they had. Considering that they'd actually should have gotten far. Of course, peak of social networking as such and the unavailability of a novel feature / novel product as such in the overall sense is where it lacked. While it may be a ghost town for some and maybe useful for others and probably also help in terms of creating digital footprints and index your web presence considering the page rankings being affected by sharing and bookmarking on Google+ these numbers and this analysis sets things into perspective, quite a lot. Ironically, I'm commenting via Google profile, which now is linked to G+ ;) Anyways thanks for such a great post! :)


Augie Ray said...

Thanks for the dialog and feedback, Srinivas. Much appreciated!

Terry said...

Ken's point is very important - each network has its use and audience and it possible that G plus has yet to properly define its space. FB is very much family and friends, Twitter is news, Linked is business. These are well defined now but it is hard to say why G+. It seems to work well for community discussions but that is a niche space and google is intent to position with broader appeal.

I like g plus but must admit that I have to make an effort to look at it. Having said that, I am getting more connections now on g plus than FB in part because my fb is highly selective

Augie Ray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Augie Ray said...

It's interesting to me that some people's reaction to my blog post is that I am discouraging participation on G+. I went to some pains to point out there may be good reasons to be there, but the bulk of the post is merely data.

I'm reminded a bit of the Truman quote, "I don't give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it's Hell." I think G+ has some usefulness; I also think it is wildly hyped by a select few who really, REALLY want it to be more than it is. As a former analyst, I just like to give people the data, share a bit of insight and let others make up their own minds.

I will add, once again, that I think relegating Facebook to "family and friends" is increasingly not accurate. Today, I get almost as much quality interactions with professional peers on Facebook as I do on Twitter and more than on LinkedIn. My professional network on Facebook has grown by leaps and bounds over the past year, and I am finding some worthwhile professional groups.

From what I can tell from available data, my experiences are not unique; for example, the National Assoc of Colleges and Employers recently found that 50% of employers use Facebook in hiring process. In addition, 44% of employers think Facebook will become more important in talent acquisition process while just 18% expect its importance to decline.

While Google+ may need more time to ripen, it's not like other social networks are sitting still. LinkedIn is developing its content strategy, Facebook is widening its engagement into professional directions and Twitter, well Twitter is still Twitter. I still foresee G+ staying niche, but there's nothing wrong with participating if one is that niche!

Judy Gombita said...

You may be simply analyzing the data, Augie, but it's on a one:one basis.

Do you really think it would be fair to grade a two-year-old versus a nine-year-old child when it came to something like math skills or sporting abilities?

Maybe that's something else to consider: how much do you trust the "parenting" skills of the founder(s) of Facebook versus that of Google?

Even analysis has inherent bias. You know that.