Google+: The social platform that brands forgot?

Brands could stream content through Google+ long before Meerkat and Periscope were on the scene, which begs the question: do marketers care about G+ anymore?

As Meerkat and Periscope became the shiny new objects in the marketing world last month, the folks at Google must have felt like Mugatu in Zoolander — that they had somehow ingested crazy pills.

After all, Google+ has offered that kind of functionality for years now. While brands like Starbucks and Red Bull were gobsmacked by the streaming opportunities on Twitter, they may have forgotten. Do marketers care about Google+ anymore?

Sort of. Despite its questionable status as a social network, brands haven’t completely given up on Google+. However, since their content on Plus isn’t often exclusive, it feels like a placeholder designed to maintain good SEO.

Looking at the Interbrand 100, a list of the top global brands, researcher Simply Measured found 92% have Google+ pages, which is up from 73% in 2013. However, in March, only 68% of the brands posted. Among those who didn’t post at all were Adidas and Nike.

Why don’t more brands follow Nike? "I think the biggest benefit for Google+ is that it factors in really heavily with their search rankings," says Kevin Shively, senior content strategist at Simply Measured. "We’ve talked to a lot of brands that use it mainly as a content syndication channel so they’ll publish things elsewhere but they’ll also publish them on Google+."

A rep for Google declined comment on brand activity on Google+.

Google launched Google+ in June 2011. For the first few months, only a few brands – Toyota, Ford, Pepsi and Macy’s – in addition to some entertainment, media and sports brands. Google opened up the platform for brands that November.

Within a year, it was clear that Google+ wasn’t going to replace Facebook. One damning stat from comScore in February 2012 showed users spent just three minutes a month there, on average, from September 2011 through January 2012. That compared to six to seven hours on Facebook.

Since then, Google has been coy about Google+’s stats. In October 2013, Google claimed that Google+ had 300 million monthly active users. However, it wasn’t clear how much those people were using Google+.

The following year, Plus began to crumble. Vic Gondotra, the lead manager for Google+, resigned in 2014. After that, reports emerged that Google was no longer considering Plus a product but a platform, and elements of it – like Hangouts – were migrating to other parts of Google. Last month, Google announced that Gundotra’s replacement, David Besbris, had left and was replaced by Brad Horowitz, a longtime VP of product at Google.

In his post on the move, Horowitz didn’t mention Google+ but instead referred to Photos and Streams, giving credence to the reports of Plus’s demise.

With Plus’ future uncertain, most brands are keeping up appearances, but some – like Louis Vuitton and Toyota — are still hosting lively communities. As Shively notes, categories like tech, fashion and autos still do well on Plus. Anyone who writes about Plus also knows that there are still lots of vocal people on the network who are very sensitive about charges that it’s a ghost town.

Scott Monty, EVP of strategy at Shift Communications and Ford’s former social media guru who was integral to getting the brand on Plus early in 2011, says that there’s still a lot of activity on Plus and marketers would be smart not to abandon it completely: "Regardless of the direction that Google takes it, I still think there’s something smart about associating your brand – particularly at a local level – with everything Google offers." 

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