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Would You Miss Google+ If It Went Away?

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Would You Miss Google+ If It Went Away?
[ Social Media]

Is Google+ dying or not? Some say yes, but Google says no, and it seems like loyal users tend to believe the company.

Would you miss Google+ if it went away? Let us know in the comments.

In case you haven’t been following, Google+ head Vic Gundotra announced that he is leaving Google last week. Shortly thereafter, the “Google+ is dying” posts began. The one that got the most attention was from TechCrunch, which declared Google+ “walking dead”.

That report indicated that Google would be shifting team members to other groups, and that Google+ would become a platform rather than a product, with Google turning focus to separate apps based on Google+ features rather than Google+ as a product itself. The Google Hangouts team (and probably its photos team), it said, will be moving to the Android team. According to the report, teams would be building “widgets” that utilize Google+ as a platform, but wouldn’t focus on Google+ as its own product. There would no longer be “required” Google+ integrations for Google products, it says.

Other media outlets like the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times reported similar things.

Even Danny Sullivan speculated that if Google is indeed turning its focus away from the Google+ social destination, it could follow a similar path to what Facebook is doing, in breaking out is various features into their own apps, as it is already doing to some extent with Hangouts. We could get more of these standalone apps, he hypothesized. He even went so far as to imagine Google bringing back Google Reader in some Google Plusified way.

After the initial TechCrunch report, the publication published a piece from Danny Crichton, who used to work on the product at Google. He also seems to be of the mindset that it’s dying. Here’s the conclusion of that one:

Google has promoted David Besbris to succeed Gundotra as head of Google+. This is striking, since he was selected over the head of product, Bradley Horowitz. This decision should make it clear to everyone that Google+’s time as a user-centric social network is over.

While most analysts will chalk up the initiative as a failure, I think that is putting it too simply. Google+ failed as a social network, to be sure. But the competitive threat of social and the resulting focus around Google+ finally forced the company to change its product culture, results that continue to benefit the company to this day. It has been more than two years since the headline “Is Google Dead” had any meaning whatsoever. Facebook’s threat to the company now comes from mobile instead of social. Few would have predicted that outcome three years ago.

For Gundotra, it was probably the right time to check out and begin a new track. He fought the good fight at Google, assuming the Herculean task of making a company formed by CS grad students into a forceful entrant in social. He failed, as almost anyone would. But he got the language infused in the culture, and that counts for a +1. Which, unfortunately, no one will ever see.

Google’s official response has been, “Today’s news has no impact on our Google+ strategy — we have an incredibly talented team that will continue to build great user experiences across Google+, Hangouts and Photos.”

We reached out to Amanda Blain (the 20th most followed person on Google+), whom we recently interviewed about how to get more out of Google+ for your business, about the reports. She was less than impressed. In fact, she wrote her own open letter to the reporters signaling Google+’s demise.

She thinks Gundotra left because it was time for him to try other roles, and that there wasn’t much room for him to move up the chain any further. “Much like Marissa,” she says. The TechCrunch report seemed to imply that he left because of Google’s alleged decreasing interest in Google+.

Google did just launch a new ad product based on Google+, so if Google really is moving away from it, that seems like odd timing.

After months of testing, Google opened +Post ads to all advertiser a couple weeks ago. These let you use Google+ photos and videos, and turn them into engagement ads. The format is open to all advertisers, but requires you to have at least 1,000 Google+ followers.

“More of the same ‘G+ is dead’ in a new flavor,” Blain tells us of the reports. “Vic was head of G+ yes, but him leaving means little. The new head is a guy I know and have met. He’s an active user of Plus. So is his family…I mean like a REAL user…posts all the time, regularly, stuff he’s watching, his thoughts etc. Him coming into head is a very, very, very good thing for Plus. He’s a smart product engineering guy.”

That would be David Besbris, who has been pretty quiet about all this.

“As i wrote in my post, G+ is the backbone,” Blain told us in an email. “That won’t change. Hangouts, photos, the sign in for Youtube, the sign in for Post Ads (with insane CTR)…Why on earth would they close the product out at this point? I’m not debating that they will focus more [on] Android, Hangouts specifically or photos, but they already do do that. Very little G+ marketing is done. Very little G+ social stream ‘use me now’ has EVER been done.”

She doesn’t believe the part about Google not requiring Google+ integrations into other products.

“I don’t see this happening,” she says. “This comes again from people who think that G+ is trying to be a Facebook killer. Never ever, ever. Google made you have a login for all its services. It gives them better advertising results ($$) period. This has nothing to do with G+ the social stream. I’ve always been of the mindset that Google doesn’t care if you use G+ the ‘social’ stream or not. If you do, they know more about you. If you don’t, you likely will start using it at some point because so many Google services tie into it.”

Moritz Tolxdorff, Community Manager Social and Chrome at Google shared Blain’s letter on Google+ saying, “Can’t agree more with this.”

In the comment thread, Chris Lang asked him about the reports of Google moving people away from the Google+ team, to which he responded, “No one is moving away from the team Chris…no one is moving anywhere. Everything will stay as it is.”

So, on one side, we have anonymous sources (at multiple publications) suggesting that Google+ as we know it may not be around for much longer. On the other side, we have Google saying that nothing is changing, and at least one person directly contradicting something specific from the reports.

If Google decided to pull the plug on its social product, it wouldn’t be the first time it has done so (Buzz and Wave come to mind), and it wouldn’t be the first time it killed a well-liked product (Google Reader). But would it make sense for Google to kill Google+?

Marketers better hope not because it’s catching up to Facebook in terms of user interactions with brands’ posts as a percentage of their fans/followers, according to Forrester. Of course it probably helps that Facebook is killing organic reach, but that’s all the more reason to use Google+ for marketing. Either way, it’s significantly ahead of Twitter in that regard.

“On average, top brands have collected 90% as many fans on Plus as on Twitter (In fact, the brands we studied have more followers on Google Plus than on YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram combined.),” said Forrester’s Nate Elliott. “Second, and more importantly, Google Plus generates much more brand engagement than you think. Recently we studied more than 3 million user interactions with more than 2,500 brand posts on seven social networks. The result? Brands’ Google Plus posts generated nearly as much engagement per follower as their Facebook posts — and almost twice as much engagement per follower as their Twitter posts.”

Shareaholic also recently released some interesting findings indicating that Google+ and YouTube are much better for generating on-site engagement than Facebook.

As brands grow increasingly frustrated with Facebook, it wouldn’t seem like a great time for Google+ to go away.

Would you miss Google+ if it went away? Do you consider it an important part of your online business strategy?Let us know in the comments.

Images: Forrester, Shareaholic

Would You Miss Google+ If It Went Away?
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