Minus Google Plus? Probably Not

There were big rumors swirling around the online advertising industry this week about the potential demise of Google Plus (G+). It seems that the chief engineer for Google’s social network was leaving the company and there were reports that top engineers had been taken off the project and put into other departments around the company.

I definitely have no insider knowledge of what is going on at Google. I read the same reports that everyone else did. But I don’t think that Google Plus is really something that could just be turned off and forgotten about. I know that there is a sense that Google Plus is a total ghost town, and you don’t really hear people using Google Plus in the way they talk about using Twitter or Instagram, let alone Facebook. No one has ever stalked an ex-girlfriend on Google Plus.

And, I know, Google has a long history of killing off products. Often these were big and ambitious projects, like their Health service or Google Wave, that never really caught on. Google Plus is a little different, though, and while it is very possible that G+ is ready for a new evolution, there are a number of reasons why you should plan on sticking with G+, especially as an advertiser.

First, though, I want to provide a quick h/t for this thread on the Social Media Subreddit. It was the inspiration for this column and a source of some of the data. Worth an upvote!

The first is simple: Google Plus is at the heart of Google’s inclusion of social data into its search system. Search and social are increasingly intertwined, as people’s actions of sharing are highly analogous to Web pages providing links to sites. Those links are at the heart of how Google figures out what page is most relevant to a search – a link is a vote for relevance. One person sharing a page or an article, or providing their ratings on something, is the same idea, only at a much larger scale, since way more people have social media profiles than control websites. That data needs to be integrated into search and, while there may be some relationships around sharing of data, Facebook has not really shown any willingness to let the engine into their treasure trove of insight.

The other big reason is that Google Plus isn’t necessarily as dormant as people may think. Back in October of last year, they reported 540 million active users. Plus a lot of brands have already invested in Google Plus. There is a chance that they did this because of two reasons: 1) why not (there is no cost associated with setting up a Google Plus page) and 2) boost SEO rankings.

But the last reason why I don’t think Google Plus will go away is that I think this is their moment. Google Plus has been a bit of a marginal player in the social landscape and everyone knows it. But we also know that this is going to be a year of change for social networks and business. Facebook’s algorithm shift and increased focus on providing ad packages is going to be a catalyst for massive change in the industry. Twitter is getting very serious about both aligning with broadcast and providing analytics. Pinterest and LinkedIn and other players are making some strong plays for their particular target audiences.

As we see social networks becoming a more integrated part of the marketing mix, there is a new chance to make an overture to advertisers and a new pitch. If I were in charge of Google Plus, I would be looking to take this opportunity as a moment to reconsider how they are positioned. The person who was at the helm was an engineer and a technology guy. Perhaps they need to appoint someone new into this position – or a small team of people. That team would have engineering as a core part (this is Google, after all). But it should also have an advertising person, someone who has been on the agency side or within a strategic or creative department.

The bottom line is that Google Plus is a great set of technologies and very well integrated into their overall set of services, including YouTube and Gmail. Plus, it is well built into Android, which means that it is in a prime position to take advantage of the mobile revolution. If Google decides to shut down Google Plus, it means that they are walking away from a real integrated vision.

And I just can’t see them doing that.

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