While many comments in the discussion found in Google+ referenced G+ growth with decline in Facebook and Twitter, this is not the case and was not the big story in our latest release. Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are all growing substantially (Twitter was actually the fastest) and at the expense of local players. G+ was number two in our Q2 data set as well, contrary to the reports that have gone out this weekend.
Social networks have evolved from mere repositories of personal information where we had a profile and kept in touch with friends. They are, increasingly, woven into the fabric of the internet: built into every webpage, sign on, mobile operating systems and search results. Social networks have evolved to become a set of tools and technologies that link an increasingly multi-platform internet, blurring the lines between our real and digital lives. This underlines why we’ve evolved the GWI survey methodology to take entire platforms into account rather than social networks.
In this regard, the social media landscape is becoming an oligopoly with the big 3 (Facebook, Google and Twitter) dominating on a global scale due to their level of integration throughout the web. This is a fundamental reason why Google+ has been so quick to grow. It links together and increasingly enhances all of Google’s other products from Android to Gmail to Search in a way that builds a complete digital experience for the user and works as a social layer, not just a network.
Looking at the chart below, if we look at the top ten activities that users have done via their PC (we also track mobile and tablet – but that’s for another day) we can see that, broadly speaking, (and as expected) Facebook users are more active and doing more with their profile. The number one activity on all services is to share photos, with 80% of Facebook users doing so. For Facebook, this is followed by “commenting on a friends post”, “messaging friends on a one to one basis” and then “posted a comment about my daily activities”. If we look at posting comments in more detail, we can see that 62% of Facebook users have “posted a comment about my daily activities”, followed by Twitter with 51% of users and Google+ with 42%. This is not the disparity you would expect if we were to believe the talk of Google being “a waste land and full of ghosts.” Also, if we look at other more passive activities like “clicking +1s or likes”, “sharing article links” or “following a brand,” the gap is much closer, and in many cases, Google+ users outscore Twitter. If we look at “sharing links to blogs”, 45% of Google+ users have done so in the past month, leading both Twitter and Facebook.
In short, the activities most valuable to advertisers, brands and businesses are happening in a big way on Google+, emphasizing the fact that it should feature alongside Twitter and Facebook in any comprehensive social strategy right now.
More importantly, if we track the change between GWI.7 (Q2 2012) and GWI.8 (Q4 2012) contribution to Google+ is exploding. “Posting comment about my daily activities” grew 100% compared to 8% on Twitter and a 2% decline on Facebook! This is generally mirrored across the board. For example, “uploading and sharing photos” increased 75% on Google+, 40% on Twitter, but saw a 2% decline for Facebook. Areas where growth is consistent are “bought a product or service” (up 113% on Twitter, 80% on Facebook and 64% on Google+) and “watched a full-length TV or film” (up 113% on Twitter, 73% on Facebook and 59% on Google+). It should be noted that in both cases the social platforms are unlikely to be the points of transaction, but rather the source of discovery for products and content that are fulfilled off site (we will seek further clarity on this in the Q1 2013 wave).
In short, this shows that the gap between the three services is closing and the perception of Google+ as a ghost town needs to be reconsidered.
One reason Google+ has grown so quickly and also a reason why many commentators have overlooked it is that growth has been driven largely by markets outside of the US and Western Europe. The internet today is far more global than when Facebook or Twitter emerged. Furthermore, Google’s existing global reach with core search products (83% of global internet user’s visit on a monthly basis) and the rapid rise of Android on a global scale (54% of mobile phones used) mean that Google has instant global reach to build Google+ usage.
This is reflected clearly in the top ten markets for Google+ penetration of the internet universe, with 52% of internet users in Thailand active in the past month. This is both an opportunity and challenge for Google, as products still tend to ship first in the US (e.g. Search Plus Your World).
If we look at the top ten growth markets, a different pattern emerges and shows the reverse dynamic in Google+ growth compared to Facebook and Twitter, with fastest growing markets predominately made up of mature markets led by South Korea, France and the USA.
The data is clear; Google+ is a growing success and is here to stay. The global internet will increasingly be defined by Facebook, Google and Twitter, representing a tremendous opportunity for marketers to build brands on a truly global scale. Currently, not enough brands and agencies have a Google+ presence, but this needs to change, particularly when you consider the following facts: