Perhaps no question is more debated in social media circles (pun intended) than Google+'s success or lack thereof. Some say G+ is growing and thriving, while others describe it as a "ghost town." I went digging for recent, objective, third-party information and found data from Pew Research, Gigya, ComScore, Nielsen and others. The story this data tells is that Google+ may not have tumbleweeds rolling through it, but the social network is a long, long way from competing with Twitter and Facebook (or even Pinterest and Tumblr) for time, attention and engagement. What follows is a summary and analysis of the data along with an interactive infographic.

From the moment G+ launched, some social media "experts" immediately began to push Google's social network as a "Facebook killer." Early blog posts included charts comparing Google+'s near-vertical growth to that of other social networks, but these aggrandizing posts and diagrams ignored that Google was merely adding G+ into its huge existing user base while Facebook and Twitter had to fight for each new user one at a time.

Since that time, the hype has continued. In some cases, the headlines were caused by the fact Google has played fast and loose with its own figures. Because Google has merged Gmail, search and other parts of its platform, it has been difficult to compare Google's announced data to the information shared by other social networks.

At other times, the people writing articles simply do not understand the figures they are reporting. In the past two months, there have been a raft of stories about how Google+ is now bigger than Twitter, but this is based on the number of account holders and not on activity or usage. If number of account holders were what mattered, then MySpace would still trump Google+.

But I think there is something more at work here than simply inflated and misunderstood data--I believe there is a reason why so many folks are quick to jump on any news story that suggests Google+ (or any other social network other than Facebook) is succeeding. The fact is that many marketers and social media professionals are tired of Facebook. Low brand engagement, the uselessness of large fan bases and the gaming of Facebook EdgeRank have left many marketing and communication pros weary of Facebook. (Of course, customer care professionals feel differently, but that is a topic for a different blog post.)

Moreover, consultants and agencies are finding it is more difficult to sell clients on services for Facebook, which is relatively mature at this point. This is why so many social media professionals are today promoting Tumblr, Vine, Instagram and Pinterest (regardless of whether these platforms are proving appropriate or successful for their clients' particular verticals).

People employed in social media seem desperate for something else to come along and shake up the industry, but look at the data--the real, objective data--and it is hard to escape Facebook's continued domination of the social networking space. Take, for example, the oft reported claim that teens are dumping Facebook. Everyone seems to have an anecdote about their own child or some qualitative data about teen attitudes, but look at Pew's data and it tells a different story. From 2011 to 2012, the percentage of teens using Facebook grew. Sure, it increased by just one percentage point, but it is hard to earn increases for services and tools that are approaching complete saturation--94% of teens said they used Facebook at the end of 2012.

As for G+, there have recently been some contradictory figures on the adoption of the social network. GlobalWebIndex claimed more than a quarter of consumers use G+ while Pew Research Center did not even include G+ in its report of US social media usage. The reason Pew omitted Google's social network is that they found consumers were unable to distinguish G+ from other Google services. Consumers are so confused as to what constitutes usage of G+, Pew decided to completely omit it from their report (which has to call into question every other study on self-reported Google+ usage, don't you think?)

You could overlook Pew's decision to bypass measuring Google+ usage if, in fact, there was strong evidence that G+ was actually seeing substantial adoption; however, the third-party data tells a pretty consistent and convincing story about consumer use of G+:

My goal is not to convince companies or people they should ignore Google+. As always, firms should evaluate their audiences and make smart decisions about where to engage; in addition, we all recognize G+ can be an important tool in enhancing a company's search engine relevance. That said, I strongly believe we should evaluate the social networking space based on actual, objective and accurate data, not hype and misanalysis. By all means, go ahead and embrace Google+ for your firm's (or personal) social networking; just do it with your eyes open and your expectations set appropriately. 


Below is an infographic with all of the pertinent and objective data I could find from late 2012 to the present. I created it using a new tool, Infogr.am. This free tool is in beta, and as you can tell, it does a nice job of creating interactive infographics.  It is somewhat kludgy to use and is missing some important features (such as the ability to copy charts or retain color choices when changes are made), but it is in beta and shows a lot of promise. You can check out the interactive version of this infographic or create your own infographic  at http://infogr.am/Facebook-dominates-social-sharing/.