The culture of Google+ has changed in the past three months. It’s a very different place now. And if you’re a serious user of the platform, you need to adapt and change how you do things if you want to survive and thrive.
First I’m going to tell you why and how it’s different now. I’ll also point out in which ways it’s still the same Google+ it’s always been. Then I’ll give my best tips for kicking butt on the new Google+.
Three events have taken place in the past three months that have transformed the culture of Google+.
The first event happened three months ago when Google’s Social chief Vic Gundotra announced that he was leaving the company. That was a shock to hardcore Google+ fans because Gundotra was so heavily involved by constantly posting, interacting and engaging with everyday users. He was also the “face” of Google+, personally announcing all the major features at Google I/O and special announcement events.
The news of Gundotra’s departure triggered a series of articles speculating (falsely) that Google would shut down the social network. It also sparked a wave of snide, eye-rolling comments on social media similar to the early days where people joke that nobody uses the service.
The second event was that Google announced the termination of Orkut and invited all those users to come over to Google+.
The third event happened last week: Google officially dropped its ill-fated, poorly enforced and controversial “real names” policy. The company stopped even checking to see if new users are who they say they are.
As a result of these three events, Google+ has become less elitist, for lack of a better term.
In the first couple of years, Google+ was dominated by conspicuously smart and talented early adopter types who were very passionate about both the topics they discussed and also Google+ itself.
Over time, as the masses came flooding in, it became less exclusive and the average quality of conversations was, shall we say, watered down a bit.
Now, with a new flood of Orkut users and the ability for trolls and spammers to create accounts using any name they can make up, the signal-to-noise ratio in comments is conspicuously low by Google+ standards.
There’s a lot more people posting comments like “Hi” or acting like it’s a dating service instead of interacting with the content of the post. I find a higher percentage of people commenting on the picture, without reading the post, or asking questions that are clearly answered in the post.
I also see another trend: People are passive-aggressively flagging legitimate comments just because they disagree with them (flagging a comment hides it for everyone except the person who posted it.)
How Google+ has stayed the same
While the culture of Google+ has changed, the essential qualities that make it (in my opinion) the best social network ever are still present. Google+ is still beautifully designed and clutter-free. It’s ad-free. The blocking and muting features are great. The comment system is perfect. Google’s photo magic, (that automatically creates new photos and animated GIFs from your pictures), video hangouts and search are obviously and probably superior to anything else out there.
Despite the false reports that Google is ignoring the platform, the company keeps adding updates, improvements and integrations. (You can get a sense of all the stuff that’s happening with Google+ in the past three months on the company’s Google+ page.)
Most importantly, the site is still growing fast and is still very active.
I have my own little system for judging the rate at which Google+ grows, which is my own follower count. Here’s how it works.
How to Survive and Thrive on the New Google+
New users are presented with different categories of people and pages to circle. I’m on this list in the “Technology” category.
I have no idea what percentage of new users chooses to follow the “Technology” category, but I assume it’s a minority and I assume it’s fairly consistent. So if my own rate of circle growth declines, I figure the rate of new users to Google+ is also in decline. But it’s not declining. I get about 2,000 new followers per day, and that’s been pretty consistent for a couple of years.
In short, while Google+ has become less elitist and while the quality of conversations has declined by default, it’s still the best place to blog, in my opinion, and the best all-purpose social network.
The first thing to remember about Google+ is that network effect doesn’t apply.
Network effect is the concept that the value of a network goes up as the number of people using it goes up. The telephone system is the classic example of network effect. If only one person had a telephone, the value is zero. If everyone has a telephone, it’s so valuable that you can’t function without being part of the network.
Network effect is not present on Google+ for three reasons. The first reason is that a public Google+ post is just another page on the Internet, accessible to every human on the planet with a Web browser and discoverable via search. So if you have a message for the world, a public Google+ post is a great way to reach everybody.
The second reason is that any post can be addressed to anyone’s email address and they get the post as an email.
And the third reason is a service Google offers called +Post Ads. If you have a page for your business, you can turn a post into a banner ad that’s targeted to specific types of people outside the Google+ network. They see an ad, but when they click on it, the Google+ post fills the screen on that Website (it doesn’t take you to Google+).
So Google+’s three most powerful ways to target and reach people—a Web page with SEO, direct email addressing and targeted advertising—are perfectly ambivalent about whether the target does or does not have a Google+ account. The fact that Google+ posts are internally viral is just icing on the cake.
My best advice for surviving and thriving on the new Google+ is: Be active and aggressive.
In order to maintain Google+’s high quality conversations and community, you’ve now got to work harder than ever to block trolls, spammers, haters and idiots. Don’t even think twice about it: If anyone bugs you for any reason, block them and never look back.
You’ve also got to now click on each post’s “Show comments removed as spam” link at the top of the comments section, and use the flag tool to restore legitimate comments. In my own experience, I’ve found that every comment has good comments flagged and sidelined for the wrong reasons. They have to be unflagged.
It’s very helpful to be active in other ways too by selecting the comment, plus-one, mute posts and must people features. These actions tell Google’s algorithms what you want and what you don’t want.
Google+ is changing. It’s becoming less exclusive and elitist. That’s both good and bad, but it’s also inevitable.
The good news is that Google+ has all the tools you need to create the community and the quality you want.
You’ve just got to use them—now, more than ever.