More than 2 years after launch, Google+ continues to struggle as a social network. For users, the problem is relevance. “I don’t know anyone using Google+, so why should I?” is the common refrain. For marketers, the problem is bigger. We know people are using it, but we don’t know exactly how many and how often, in part because Google’s “active user” reporting is hazy. Reversing its Beijing-like silence on that smog will be critical to Google in rolling out anticipated new ad formats for Google+ in 2014.
In October, Google proudly announced that Google+ hit 300 million monthly active “in the stream” users, ranking the social networking service behind Facebook but just ahead of Twitter. But according to a report by Amir Efrati, “the reality is less impressive.” According to Efrati (and later confirmed by Google to AllThingsD):
“The Google+ stream is broadly defined. In the past, statistics about active users in the stream included anytime a person clicked on the red Google+ notifications in the top right corner of their screen while they were using Web search, Gmail, or other Google Web services. The person didn’t actually have to visit plus.google.com to be counted as active.”
This is not to say that agencies and brands should not be excited about the potential for advertising on Google+. Over at Search Engine Watch, John Lee names the possibility of Google+ ads as one of “5 Social Media Advertising Trends to Watch for in 2014.” And it’s important to keep in mind that Google+ is a “social layer” — not just a social network — and the potential for advertising and marketing extends far beyond the desktop site and mobile app and into the Google SERP, blogs, Gmail and YouTube accounts and more.
There is no doubt that with appropriate design, Google+ can be leveraged for effective advertising by marketers in the year ahead. But in addition to offering engaging ad formats and new targeting options, Google must be more transparent in reporting on Google+ user activity if it wants to win marketers over to Google+ advertising in 2014.
Google knows all about accuracy and relevance. In assessing future advertising opportunities for Google+, we as marketers should demand more.