A new RJ Metrics study is revisiting the old “Google Plus is a Ghost Town” chestnut alongside the “weak user interaction metric” which has them cover two bases rather than one.
R J Metrics used data from the public side of 40,000 Google Plus accounts of which one third, just 13,000 in other words, were employed in the study. For the record I am a heavy user of Google Plus and have never experienced a slow day, so my personal view is already biased because it is tainted by my own, direct, positive experience.
The very word “study” however implies that RJ Metrics employed an unbiased, scientific approach which revealed hard data which needs to be taken seriously. I will agree that it is data which was revealed and it does need to be considered but before we analyze it and apply it to Google Plus as a whole let’s actually quantify it.
RJ Metrics took 13,000 profiles which had public data and analysed them in terms of posts and interaction. It found that:
The average post has less than one +1, less than one reply, and less than one re-share.
30% of users who make a public post never make a second one. Even after making five public posts, there is a 15% chance that a user will not post publicly again.
Among users who make publicly-viewable posts, there is an average of 12 days between each post
A cohort analysis reveals that, after a member makes a public post, the average number of public posts they make in each subsequent month declines steadily. This trend is not improving in newer cohorts.
A methodology based at gauging engagement should look at engagement between existing contacts which know each other (i.e. like in Facebook) or between profiles which are linked by at least one interaction or share (which would group them into interest groups like LinkedIn). To look at profiles which share a ‘hello world’ post on G+, for the first time, essentially sending a message into the public void and waiting to see if that message is actually responded to may be interesting from the point of view of psychodynamics in a social network environment but it is not an accurate assessment of engagement as we popularly understand the word.
In view of this the numbers unearthed above are actually incredibly encouraging. If I got that kind of response to my “Hi” at cocktail parties, right now I would be brushing up my victory speech as UK PM at the next elections.
RJ Metrics are making a big thing out of the 40,000 G+ profiles they looked at. Of those they only used a third, which gives us 13,000. Google says that there are 170 million users on Google Plus at the moment which means that RJ Metrics based their analysis of the network on 0.007% of the membership base.
My guess is that if I took the same percentage of profiles in Twitter and looked at which of those got a Retweet or a response, it too would appear like a ghost town where no interaction ever takes place. Heck, if I applied the methodology (i.e. posts sent from stranger to strangers for the first time ever) in Facebook and looked at responses there it would appear to be not just an indifferent but most probably a hostile environment. So as far as the size of the sample goes it falls well below the acceptable statistical margin of error of 1% most scientific studies use which renders it meaningless as far as drawing conclusions about the network is concerned.
RJ Metrics expect to draw a lot of attention with a link bait title which exhibits all the classic signs of a link bait title created to attract links and traffic (OK, it succeeds).
As a study it can hardly be used to draw conclusions on the level of engagement which Google Plus actually fosters. Discussions there are frequently deeper than Facebook’s with a greater aggregation of posts, data and links. But the data does draw attention to a hugely important point: Google Plus presents a threshold entry barrier for new users who do not have a ready-made network of contacts or friends there.
Admittedly some will bring their friends there, or go to meet their friends and will share data and messages on a limited basis to a close friends circle, thereby emulating the Facebook experience they are familiar with in the G+ environment. But those who do not have friends in the network and who visit it for the first time must find it an intimidating, cold experience. They will look at a stream which has no data (they are not following anybody yet). Their first post gets a lukewarm reception (one +1 and one interaction is not bad going but I would hardly call it a welcome) and then, nothing.
If they are not inclined to become social butterflies themselves, they will probably remain inactive users, waiting for the network’s next phase or the moment when their friends also join. It is these users perhaps that Google should be working to activate with some means of actually helping them become more engaged.
Perhaps through a suggested followers list based on their interests? Perhaps through a wild card choice or even a £Felling Lucky” selection? Hopefully this is something Google will address, in the meantime the burden falls on those of us already active in the network, to be as welcoming and friendly as possible.
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RJ Metrics study