Google Plus may be the #2 social network in the world?

One of my favorite bloggers, Amanda Blain wrote a piece this past week that made me take notice.  Entitled “Google+ Is Now The Number 2 Social Network For Active Users,” Amanda shared some data from British analytics company, globalwebindex indicating that in Q4 2012 Google Plus had surpassed all platforms except Facebook to become the #2 social network in the world.

Google Plus is probably not as popular as this study indicates (I’ll detail the reasons why), but the plausibility that Google Plus could surpass Twitter or Pinterest reinforces how powerful a social network it has become.

Disparate data

The big problem that I have with this data-set is the incredible increase that took place in a small period of time.  In February 2012, ComScore reported that users were spending 3.3 minutes a month on Google Plus, and in its report “State of Social Media 2012,” Neilsen ranked G Plus 7th in PC users and 4th in mobile app users.  If Neilsen’s numbers are to believed, Google Plus would have had to have increased their audience by 23 million active users in three months.  That’s not an unprecedented number: Facebook increased at a higher rate during Sheryl Sandberg’s first three years at the company.  But they did so with monthly time on site nearly 100 times greater than Google Plus.

There’s also an observed element that may indicate that Google Plus probably hasn’t yet surpassed Twitter.  Despite the popularity of Hangouts, there doesn’t appear to be a mainstream movement towards Google Plus.  Twitter seems to be filling a microblogging niche that I haven’t observed mainstream media or personalities embracing with Google Plus…. although G Plus certainly has momentum.   And it’s worth remembering that Google Plus rolled out its communities feature in the time-frame that globalwebindex claims Google Plus had a growth spurt.

Now what?

It remains to be seen if G Plus is gaining users at the expense of other networks.  I disagree with the analysis that it is coming at the expense of Pinterest or Tumblr (and Neilsen’s State of Social seems to substantiate that opinion).  It would be shocking for Pinterest to gain 1000% of its active user base from 2011 to 2012 and then to be decimated by a network that isn’t a reasonable facsimile.  Same goes for Tumblr, which is very strong in younger demographics.

According to GPlus Data, Google Plus is still 65% male (which is a social anomaly) and only 1/3 of its users are from the U.S. (though that number is probably under-reported).  So despite its momentum and the possibility that it could surpass Twitter, it still remains a bit of an enigma.

Regardless of whether globalwebindex’s data is correct or not, the consensus opinion seems to be that people should be taking Google Plus seriously.  In one year, G Plus has grown to the point that there is a lot of value in the network.  The addition of Communities, assimilation of Places and affiliation with Google should be more than enough reason for Plus to continue its growth spurt.

What do you think about Google Plus?  Do you believe it is bigger than Twitter?  Is its success at the expense of another social network?

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Michael_N

    Jim, I don’t think it’s bigger than Twitter, but I do think that they are putting some serious resources behind it and the innovation is admirable. I plan to run some events through their Party Mode and Hangouts on air this year as these features are cool and n/a anywhere else. I also really appreciate the lack of ads. As Facebook injects more ads in to the News Feed it’s driving people to want a cleaner interface right as Google+ innovates, keeps it clean and connects it with all the other Google properties. Continued growth seems inevitable in my opinion.

  • Ron Rule

    There is an SEO benefit to Google+ that makes it worth using, but the engagement rates still seem on the low side compared to FB and Twitter. Its like everyone is at the party, but they aren’t mingling.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Ron for reading and commenting. I see some really robust engagement on Google Plus but agree with you that it isn’t as prevalent there as on FB or Twitter. Cheers!

  • Steve Hughes

    Hey Jim – Hope all is going well. Twitter is definitely more mainstream than Google + …Twitter is the media darling. We hear, “check me out on Twitter” more than G+ or even FB in my opinion. People love to message, and you can message anyone on Twitter.

    Most people I know that are Social Media active may have dipped their toe in G+, but most have stayed cozy and feel more comfortable with Facebook. G+ is niche compared to FB, with Technology and Photography demanded a lot of attention. Facebook is more well rounded as a social space, and that will make it tough for G+ to overtake FB. Your Mother, Aunt, and Grandfather are more likely to have a FB account than a G+ account. I love FB here as stock as well in the 31 area. It will see 50 before it sees 10.

    All that being said, I’ve spent time everyday on G+ for about the last three months. You definitely can find pockets of engagement and activity if you look hard enough, but there is a lot of what I call “post and run” where people just post haphazardly post and don’t seem to be interested in sharing or commenting.

    Google Plus

    is how I see it right now…

    • jimdougherty

      Absolutely brilliant Steve – so grateful that you’d share your experience. I suspect that Neilsen and ComScore will substantiate your observation, although a year ago how many people would have believed that Google Plus would have bene on the precipice of the mainstream? Great stuff – thanks for sharing!

  • Talking Finger

    Great article and though provoking…The G+ numbers though? It’s all horsecrap imo. Sorry for being blunt…but G+ is not #2 nor even close from where I see it. Since Google decided that everyone must create a G+ to make a Youtube channel or gmail now, they are using these false indications to claim they are more than they are. It was a slick move by Google to create a reason to have a G+, but with our 200+ clients in social, and half of them with G+ presences, the metrics we have collected since G+ day one has been that it is incredibly poor for engagement for business. Content pushed out across the networks (and yes, we stagger times and the language for each network so it isnt ‘cookie cutter”) G+ consistently performs not only the worst, but abysmally.
    While some individuals have used G+ well, most of them are not driving any kind of revenue steam or true “ROI” from the network. The ones who have engagement are typically thought leaders or people who find G+ more “fun” than LinkedIn. In my opinion, G+ is more akin to LinkedIn for the way it is currently used successfully…except without a B2B or B2C actual sales funnel of any kind.
    Can it change in time? Sure. With it’s huge SEO component , that alone should win some play time. But until “consumers” (whether b2b or b2c) actually embrace G+, it will remain an ancillary piece to boost SEO and nothing more.
    We also speak at colleges and universities and we typically ask what networks they are using (thus how we found out about Instagram’s rapid growth just before it was mainstream news: we had it from the mouths of babes) and G+ is barely ever mentioned. Even less than Pheed!
    My .02 :-)

    • jimdougherty

      Don’t hate on Pheed. I’m on record as thinking it was a better idea than it is! You’re spot on from a business perspective – of course user sentiment isn’t always congruent with business perspectives. But for Google+ I agree that it probably hasn’t transitioned to the mainstream quite yet. Thanks so much for your comments!

      • Talking Finger

        I actually LOVE Pheed. I popped it into there as an example that Pheed actually gets mentioned more than G+…and Pheed is a tiny entity compared to the Google machine. We use Pheed continually and have actually had a Page there since it came out :-) We get to really go off the wall there. NO ROI on it yet, but that site is too much fun not to waste some time there

    • Sean McGinnis

      I’m just going to +1 this entire comment Talking Finger. The data is nudged and does not reflect active users of the social aspects of G+. And it is exceedingly difficult for brand to have positive outcomes (other that SEO value of sharing content) on the network.

    • bloodymurderlive

      I think the thing to remember, though, is that Google sees Google+ as a social layer atop its *already existing* services, like Gmail, YouTube, etc. So I think the real question is whether these other services are benefiting from the Google+ layer, not whether Google+ by itself is a success in the way that Facebook is a success. Facebook’s social network IS Facebook. Google, on the other hand, is much more than Google+. Google+ really is a different kind of thing from Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, etc., at least in its inception, although it’s possible that in time, it may also achieve some semblence of parity as a stand-alone social network.

      • Jim Dougherty

        A great point, Brandon. G+ benefits and contributes to the Google ecosystem to a far greater (and more reliable) extent than any other social networks do themselves or Bing. No question it is a huge part of its identity and attractiveness.

  • Paul Matencio

    Google is Facebook, twitter and more, therefore I am not surprised by these figures.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Paul. In Guy Kawasaki’s latest book he also recommends blogging on G Plus, so it’s certainly an agile platform.

  • Frederic Gonzalo

    Hello Jim,

    Yeah, I also saw that post and report about G+ now being #2 of social media in terms of active users. “Active” meaning having accessed the account in the past month, for whatever that means… Having said that, I am noticing a clear shift and regained interest about Google+, which was not the case in 2012. It seemed the buzz had come and gone after the great intro in 2011, but I certainly see more value today, have discovered some great folks and can follow topics easier on this platform than any other.

    But is it bigger than Twitter? Most likely not. Yet… I am also hearing some folks ditching Twitter because they are tired of the lack of responsiveness and discussion there, which I have to agree with to some extent.
    So I am certainly keeping a close eye on G+, and I think brands will too, but it’s not reason yet to steer away from Facebook and Twitter.


  • Stuart

    Favorite blogger? Sycophant much?

    • jimdougherty

      Well, I would qualify that by saying that I see every post that she writes through Triberr and respect her writing a lot. If I’m not allowed to show appreciation for other writers, then I think the syncophant label might apply. That said, I learned about the study from reading her post and wanted to attribute that to her. On second thought, if I have to explain myself to some random jackass who leaves worthless comments on one of my posts, I’ll concede that I am probably far too appeasing.

      • Stuart

        Disqus ate the italics on the word “blogger”, so I think you missed my point.

        She isn’t a “blogger” at all – and she sure can’t write.

        Exhibit A, the “piece” (really?) you attributed : 56 words, four ellipses, two emoticons. As you’re aware, this is not an outlier. This is pretty representative of “her writing”.

        You learned something through something she shared – cool. It’s great and impressive that she has such reach. But the cult of personality that is growing around her – like people who can actually write saying they “respect her writing a lot” – is getting a bit much.

        • jimdougherty

          Thanks Stuart for the clarification. I’m a horrible writer, and I think there are plenty of people like you (my wife is one) who have a higher standards for the quality of writing that they expect. That said, Amanda’s style is tailored for mass consumption (evidenced by the fact that she is followed by millions of people on G+), and the fact that she shares stuff like the G+ data is valuable to me. I read a lot of people’s writing that is self-revealing but without a lot of value. When I say it, I mean it from a genuine place – I learn from her blog and appreciate it agnostic of ellipses and emoticons.

  • Alex Joseph

    G+ numbers are probably less relevant than the increasing value it provides – through its own features (e.g., Hangouts) or integration with other Google services (e.g., Circles in GMail). It is also quite a young social network – Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn took far longer to get to mainstream. It’s probably not the greatest place for a newbie to start posting content, but it’s a better place to consume content and engage with others who share similar interests easily – without the issues of Twitter (140 char and firehose) or Facebook (Friends from the past who may not share your current interests). I see myself spending more time on G+ recently, especially after communities, and regardless of the user numbers, feel G+ is becoming increasingly mainstream and valuable.

  • Brian Vickery

    I’m a believer in Google Plus, and I definitely leverage the Hangouts feature. I do not think it is bigger than Twitter. Like you said – celebrities and athletes are not talking about their shoes/dates/games on Google+.

    However, I read a blog recently that recognized the power of “passive usage”. Because Google+ was doing Search…and even Search + Your World…long before Facebook, users are using Google+ without even realizing it in some cases.

    I think Twitter will have a long run at the short-form, instantaneous communication platform. Facebook, with all of its stumbles, also has a long future. Google+ will find ways to steal time from Facebook, but users will probably adjust to using all three platforms (along with Pinterest and Instagram). Whatever time Google gets just helps their perception as a social platform as well as ever-evolving search algorithms.

    • Jim Dougherty

      Great insights, Brian. I know I admire your example on G+ and have reaped the benefits of your sharing. When you mention Instagram, I wonder if you feel that usage on any of these platforms will be generational? Do you see a youth movement on G+?

  • Joshua McGee

    I am trying to get my friends to get on board with G plus…however they are reluctant to do so. I do not believe G plus is bigger than twitter. Just look at sports and broadcasting. One the sidelines of sporting events there is always some type of # on the field or court. Broadcasters have their twitter name under their real name on the news. Twitter is a different animal than G plus…at least right now it is. I love G Plus! Wish more people would hop on board with it!

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Joshua, if you think about the widespread adoption of Facebook there was a three-year stretch where it took off and although I’m a horrible sage, I think the perception of Google Plus has changed enough that more people are open to trying it out! Thanks for your comment!