Google Plus is still not heavily used by many people. If you want to see a picture of a new edition to a far-off relative’s family or look at their vacation pictures, the odds are that they will be on Facebook.
However, Google is not concerned. Plus may be not be competing well as a social network in comparison to Facebook, but it is still a key to the future of Google. Plus serves as a lens that allows Google to look more deeply into users’ online activities and to gather a ton of personal data that is coveted by advertisers. Many analysts believe that Google has an even better understanding of users’ social activities than Facebook.
This is because after someone gets a Plus account it is the primary account used for all the services that Google provides including YouTube, Gmail, and maps. Therefore, Plus gives Google information on users’ behaviour on all of their services, even if they never use the social network.
Prior to Plus, Google may not have recognised that you were the same user when you viewed videos, maps, or search. With one Plus account, Google can construct a database of many of your activities.
Google claims that Plus has more than 540 million active users each month. However, nearly 50% of them do not use the social network. Google claims that Plus gives people the chance to be themselves and that it gives Google a better understanding of each user.
Google considers Plus so important, that it requires users to sign up for it to access other Google services, like YouTube commenting. Google has been so forceful in its efforts that some users have been alienated and it has also raised antitrust and privacy concerns. Google’s CEO, Larry Page, has even tied bonuses, across the entire company, to the success of Plus.
The value that Plus has to Google has increased over the past year as advertising on Search, which is Google’s primary source of profits, has slowed. Simultaneously, advertising that is based on the what users share, and talk about online has become increasingly important.
Ads are already targeted by brands on the basis of broad categories, like women interested in losing weight. However, as Google collects more information regarding user behaviour, the ads can be even more focused.
Analysts claim that the collection of all this user data in a database may be the holy grail of brand advertising that is more targeted and effective.
Google claims that the data it is collecting about its users via Google+ assists them in better product creation. Like transmitting traffic updates to smartphones or gaining more insight into what a user is looking for when they perform a search.
Due to Plus, Google has data on users’ acquaintances on Gmail, the locations they view on maps, and how they use over two million sites that are part of their ad network. This information is being gathered, even though many people don’t utilise Plus as a social network.
Currently there are 29 million Plus users on traditional desktops and 41 million on mobile devices each month (unique users) with some overlap. Compare this to 128 million desktop and 108 million mobile device users on Facebook. This is data that was recently collected by Nielsen.
Google has attempted to prod many popular brands to use Plus by offering them strong incentives, such as favourable placement in search results along with images. This is space that Google could make huge profits from if they chose to sell it. However, they are giving it to brands to get them to use Plus.
For example. Starbucks has over 3 million Plus follows, which pales in comparison with its 36 million Facebook “likes”. However, it continually updates its Plus page due to fact that it helps it place better on Google Search. Starbucks also regularly gets advice from Google on ways it can optimise its content on Plus for search. Starbucks VP of digital marketing even admits that when he posts on Plus, he considers how it will help with Starbucks’ search efforts.
A prominent publication “The Economist”, has focused on Plus and has more fans on Plus than on Facebook, due to the value of Plus as an SEO tool. Plus posts frequently are displayed in search results, which has prompted many brands to use it.
The manner in which Google is linking its dominant search engine, with the less popular Plus, has raised many antitrust concerns. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has expressed concerns in its Google antitrust investigations.
If you have a desire to use Google search, they’re going to press you to use Plus. Therefore, users are forced to use a product that they really don’t want, to gain use of a product they do want. This generates antitrust concerns. It is a bit reminiscent of the situation years ago when Microsoft wanted to be the dominant browser and to eliminate their strongest competitor Netscape. In this instance, Microsoft did everything they could to link Explorer to their ubiquitous Windows operating system.
Some users of Google products have been angered by Google’s forceful push of Plus upon them. Many of them have even curtailed their use of Google products as a result. It seems very intrusive to some users to find themselves accidently linked to Plus when they use Google’s other products.
When YouTube started to require a Plus membership in order for someone to post comments on YouTube videos, and YouTube founder (Jawed Karim) deleted the majority of his account. Another example of user dissatisfaction was from the creator of YouTube’s most popular videos who turned off commenting on his videos.
However, in spite of the complaints of several vocal users, only a small percentage have abandoned Google. Probably a sign of the sheer strength of Google on the internet.
If users have a strong desire to use Google’s platform, there is a lot they can get away with.