Thursday, April 23, 2015

Five Reasons that Google+ is Alive, Well, and Thriving

The past month has seen a few articles claiming that Google+ is dying or dead. I have no idea why certain individuals in the media dislike Google+ so much that they have to proclaim its demise every few months, but I can assure you that none of it is true. I have been on Google+ since it was only 9 days old and, if my experience means anything, it sees more engagement than it ever has. While I have not done an in-depth analysis of how much engagement my posts have received over the past year, it appears to me that it has increased. In fact, it has been a few years now that I have been getting more engagement on Google+ than I ever had on Facebook.
Not only is Google+ very active, but Google seems to be showing no signs of abandoning it any time soon. It was only recently that Google+ revamped the look of Communities on Android devices (for those of you who are not on Google+, Communities are something like Groups on Facebook). The look of Google+ Help was also given an overhaul on the web version of the social network. Google recently launched "Google My Business", which according to Google "...connects you directly with customers, whether they're looking for you on Search, Maps, or Google+ (emphasis mine)."  All of this would seem to indicate that Google is still committed to Google+ as much as they ever have been, probably much to its naysayers' chagrin. And, given how much engagement actually takes place on Google+, there is little reason Google should not fully support it.

As to why Google+ is an active, thriving social network despite the bricks occasionally hurled its way by its detractors, I can list at least five reasons, although I could list many more if I wanted to write a book rather than a blot post!

1. Your Posts Are More Likely to Be Seen: I am sure all of us have had it happen at some point or another. You post a link to a blog post to Facebook or perhaps a picture of your new niece or nephew only in the end to receive very few "likes", let alone comments. The reason for this is that Facebook's News Feed  is filtered by its notorious algorithm.  In theory, when viewing the Top Stories News Feed, Facebook's algorithm is supposed to show one those stories in which he or she will most likely be interested. In practice it sometimes hides those stories in which one will most likely be interested. Your friend is having a baby? Facebook might conveniently bury that story in the nether reaches of the Top Stories feed, all the while displaying the latest Kardashian memes so they are easily seen. Now one can always switch his or her News Feed to "Most Recent", which displays posts in reverse chronological order, but then one runs into the problem of real posts being buried among "So-and-so liked such-and-such" and "So-and-so commented on someone-you-don't-even-know's post". Anyhow, the end result is that it is all too easy for someone's posts on Facebook to go unseen.

While on Facebook users are at the mercy of its seemingly capricious algorithm, on Google+ users have much more control over what they see. One sorts his or her followers into Circles (which are something like Facebook or Twitter's lists). From there one can decide how many posts from people in any given Circle appear in the Home Stream (More, Standard, Fewer). The end result is not only that one is more likely to see posts in which he or she will be interested, but that his or her posts will more likely be seen by his or her followers. This makes Google+ a much better promotional tool than Facebook. Indeed, my blog posts get proportionately more hits from Google+ than they do from Facebook.

Here I also have to point out that Google+ is the second biggest social media site after Facebook. That's right. Google+ is actually bigger than Twitter. One's posts on Google+ then stand the possibility of being seen by a much larger audience than one's tweets on Twitter. While Twitter is a very good promotional tool, many people might actually find more success on Google+.

2. You Control What You See: As I discussed above, on Facebook one is pretty much at the mercy of its algorithm. Other than simply creating lists of one's closest friends, you can't guarantee what posts you will actually see there. Indeed, even creating lists is no guarantee of seeing those posts from the people closest to you, as sometimes Facebook will even fail to display every post by people on list feeds. In the end much of what one sees on Facebook is pretty much determined by the site's algorithm, over which one has no control.

On Google+ one has much more control over what he or she sees. As mentioned above, one can set how many posts from any given circle he or she will see in the Home Stream. Do you love knitting? Do you want to see more posts on knitting in your Home Stream? Then all you have to do on Google+ is create a circle filled with your fellow knitters and set it so that more posts are shown in the home stream. One can also mute followers? Do you have a follower whose engagement you enjoy on your posts, but you don't find his or her posts particularly interesting? You can always mute him.

3. More Control Over Who Sees What you Post: Provided one's posts are gets past its algorithm, Facebook does give one control over who sees his or her posts. One can make posts so they are seen only by friends, specific lists, specific Communities (something like Facebook's groups), or even specific people. This is true of Google+ as well. One can make posts so they are seen by one's Extended Circles (sort of friends of friends), all of one's Circles, specific Circles, or even one specific individual. That having been said, Google+ goes even further than Facebook. One can set one's account so that it is only seen by people over 18, over 21, or even seen only by people in a specific country.

4. Communities: Google+ Communities are a lot like Facebook Groups, only in many respects they are superior. Just like Facebook, Communities can be public or private. What makes Google+ Communities different from Facebook Groups is that one can create various categories or topics for discussion in Google+ Communities. For instance, the TCM Fans community I moderate on Google+ has such categories as "TCM Programming", "TCM Cruise", "TCM Classic Film Festival", et. al. These categories make it much easy for Community members to find posts that interest them.

Google+ has a wide variety of Communities devoted to various interests. And Communities have proven popular with Google+ users. In fact, I know a few people who spend most of their time on Google+ in the various Communities. That having been said, I do have one complaint about Google+ Communities. Quite simply, Google+'s spam filter often intercepts legitimate posts as spam! While I appreciate that no spam will reach my community, I hate having to approve legitimate posts that should have gone on through.

5. Google+ Listens to Its Users: Remember when Facebook rolled out its double column Timeline? Remember how many people hated it? Remember how many people protested it? Now remember how long it took Facebook to give users what they wanted, a single column Timeline. Facebook is not only notorious about making unpopular changes to the site, it is notorious about not listening to its users.

Fortunately, Google is more open to listening to users' suggestions. Many of the changes to Google+ over the years have come about because of we users. At one point Google+ changed the cover pictures on profiles so they were absolutely huge (they covered most of my desktop PC's screen). After complaints from users it was only a matter of months before they changed the size of cover pictures so that they were smaller. When there were complaints about Google+'s original name policy, Google+ changed that as well. Google+ is much more open to suggestions than many other social media sites, particularly Facebook.

Here I must point out that Google+ listening to its users goes beyond making changes to the social network based on users' suggestions. Facebook is notorious for its lack of customer service. This is not the case with Google+, whose customer service is among the best of any social media site. A while back after changes had been made to Hangouts/Chat, my Hangouts/Chat stopped working. I notified Google+. Now it did take two weeks to fix, but the entire time they kept me and other users affected abreast of what was going on. Another example of the quality of Google+'s customer service is when they introduced the multi-column stream. Many of us did not care for the multi-column stream and said as much. Google+ let us know right away how to change our stream to a single column. While any complaints or bug reports might all on deaf ears at other social networks (*cough* Facebook *cough*), Google+ does seem to honestly care about its users.

Over the years for whatever reason Google+ has had many detractors. What is apparently lost on these detractors is that Google+ is a thriving social network filled with users who post to it multiple times a day. It is a place where lively discussions take place on topics ranging from classic television to psychology takes place. I have made many dear friends on Google+ over the years. What is more, Google+ is a far better tool for promotion than any other social media site except perhaps Twitter. Not only do my blog posts get more hits from Google+ than any other social network, but I have sold more copies of my book through Google+ than any other social network except possibly Twitter. Contrary to what its naysayers have been claiming, Google+ is not dying, let alone already dead. It is well and thriving.

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