I wonder how many bloggers and journalists are eating crow this week after GlobalWebIndex released its GWI.8 (Q4 2012) study? The big story to come out of the report's findings is that while Twitter, the current darling of social media networks, continues to attract active users, Google+ surpassed it to claim the number 2 position in social networks based on active monthly users around the globe.
After the network's impressive launch -- powered by a limited access, "invite-only" sneak peak by savvy Internet users -- and the quick-to-market release of books and webinars by popular authors such as Jason Falls and Guy Kawaski espousing the virtues of the network, the media largely panned Google+ as a social media ghost town. Yes, Facebook remains the juggernaut of the social media networks, claiming 50 percent of global internet users each month but Google+ has grown by 27 percent this past month with 343 million users globally.
Savvy marketers have been making the case for an increased business presence and engagement on Google+; the most common argument is the social network's growing impact on Google's search engine ranking. Those fueling the Google+ for SEO benefit discussions make a good point. It's critical for websites to appear on Page 1 of Google, especially in one of the top three organic positions, as these spots receive 58.4 percent of all clicks from users, according to a new study from Optify.
Ignore At Your Own Risk
For the most part, however, their recommendations seem to have been ignored. I suspect the fact that YouTube (which GlobalWebIndex just started to track as a social network) came in at the number 3 position with over 20 percent of the global audience engaged on the site monthly, will finally capture the attention of business and marketing executives.
Google, through its various Web properties and deep integration with web- and social-based apps, is creating an interconnected database of users, content and relationships. This convergence of people, data and context is being referred to as the Web's trust-based network. Google search engine results will be reprioritized to more favorably rank content that has been +1'ed or shared using the Google share/like widget or created and/or shared by people in one of your Google+ circles. Of course, this presentation filter only works when you are searching Google.com while logged in to Google, but let's face it, with the growing number of applications and Web properties they control, the number of people permanently logged in is increasing exponentially every month. The goal of a search engine is to provide the most relevant information based on search queries and it now considers your social relationships a highly relevant factor in determining just what information is relevant to you.
Google+ : Social Proof or Social Influence?
Statistics have shown that consumers trust the recommendation of other consumers over a business' advertisements. By extension, a consumer is more likely to trust the recommendation of a person they communicate and agree with frequently, as measured by the volume and nature of their social engagements.
Further, in our socially-connected world, the personalization of search results drives greater social proof around a business brand. Social proof is the public consensus around an idea, opinion or mode of behavior that consumers look for when attempting to make a decision they're conflicted with, such as "Should I believe this?" and "Should I buy this?"
I suspect the opportunity for marketers will be even greater in the upcoming year. Consider how prioritizing search results based on social relationships will impact the growing trend around influence marketing. Social influence scoring platforms have come under heavy criticism for not taking into account the nature of the relationship between the influencer and his/her audience. Has Google inadvertently (or by design?) stumbled upon a solution to this challenge?
Analyzing the subject matter, sentiment and context of discussions across social channels like Twitter or Instagram is difficult because of the format limitations (140 characters, images vs. text, limited profile information, etc.). However, Google+ provides members the opportunity to expand on their conversation with more words and, when connected to other Google-synced solutions, can provide the context missing in most of the current social scoring tools.
Opportunity Is Knocking
There is an immense opportunity for marketers as Google's services are further connected through the G+ social layer. Google has advanced the definition of what "being connected" is today and it's using that relationship algorithm to stream more relevant data to each of us. Therein lies a golden opportunity for product managers seeking to influence consumers. Marketers would be well advised to focus on the recommendations created and shared within Google+ more than the other networks. That content is more likely to generate social proof from those more closely linked to the consumer and higher on Google's search engine.
Have you been ignoring Google+? Share your thoughts on the recent announcement of Google+ and YouTube's global popularity and what impact it will have on you -- if any.
Follow Sam Fiorella on Twitter: www.twitter.com/samfiorella