Google, a household name synonymous with the internet, information and of course, marketing. The search engine tech giant seems to perform one miracle after another and are responsible for the ways that data, advertising and human-life are being shaped by the world-wide-web.

Impressive as their enterprise may be, Google doesn’t always get it right. Data scandals and current news aside, one of Google’s biggest project blunders in recent years has to be the dismal performance and popularity of their social network, Google+.

On the 28th of June 2011, Google ambitiously launched their social platform against the backdrop of smothering competition like Facebook and Instagram. Many believed that by being associated with Google, the platform would automatically overtake its rivals and become the new big thing in social networking… year after year went by without the platform growing in any substantial way.

Now, 7 years later, Google announces that they will be shutting the platform down following reports of a data breach in March 2018; but this breach only had a hand in the downfall of the platform. There were, in fact, a number of mitigating factors that contributed to its coming death.

Dead Before the Start

It can be easy to point the finger at the March 2018 data breach that exposed the personal information on some 500 000 Google+ users, but when compared to the scale of some of the recent Facebook information breaches, the Google+ scandal seems like a drop in the ocean; something that they could surely, easily recover from. So what factors then, contributed to the downfall of the social platform?

Many researchers and analysts would argue that it was dead before it started.

Even before its launch, Google+ was advertised as a social platform that could help users solve the problem of having multiple audiences (something that Facebook has been called up on a few times). They introduced social-circles into the platform to help users separate what types of content their friends and connections could view. This unique approach had a somewhat underwhelming reception, being seen as more of an inconvenience than a boon to G+ users; giving the social platform a bad rap from the start.

The second problem was one of an identity crisis. Google+ tried to appeal to too wide an audience, and in the process completely lost sight of its own identity. Facebook knows that it appeals to private users; LinkedIn knows that it works well for enterprises; Pinterest appeals to the self-help audience while G+… well they tried to become a jack of all trades, succeeding only in creating a lukewarm experience for everyone.

The third aspect that led to the platform’s eventual failure was that of Google underestimating their competition. While they are strong in many digital fields, Google simply couldn’t hold a candle to their competitors’ success, particularly where Facebook is concerned. But through being an already established household name, Google felt that their brand alone would be enough to put pressure on their competitors from where they could leverage a degree of success; a decision which evidently didn’t play out as planned.

The Final Straw: March 2018 API Bug

Then came what Google deemed to be the final nail in the G+ coffin; a massive data leak occurred in March of this year (2018) which left the information of about 500 000 users exposed. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, this was exactly the type of bad press that the social platform could have done without.

The breach came about as the result of a bug in Google+’s People APIs. Through it, users could grant access to their profile data, and that of their connections, to apps within the Google+ platform. The bug thusly allowed apps to access information that was shared with users, but were still marked as private. This info included details on their names, contact information, occupation, gender and many other sensitive details.

Google attempted to patch the bug after it was discovered, believing that it occurred after launch due to the way that their API interacted with changes in the Google+ code.

The real trouble was not as much a result of the bug, but more a result of how the G+ team handled it. Fearing a loss of user trust, they elected to withhold any reports about the breach for a few months before informing users of the breach; stating that there was no evidence of malicious intent by third-party app developers, or misuse of profile data.

This also came with a string of promises to tighten security through ‘more granular’ account permissions that give users better control over their privacy. But for the already limping social platform, it just seemed like too little too late. When their return on investment was compared with the cost and effort of solving the breach; perhaps they decided it was better to simply scrap the platform altogether.

Google+: Personal Vs Enterprise

So after all of this and a 7 year struggle with an inability to gain traction, Google finally announces that they will be shutting G+ down for consumers in late August 2019.

But there is a keyword in that announcement, and that word is ‘consumers.’ This means that while the average Joe will have no use for the platform, it will still be used to connect to enterprises who will still be able to use their profiles after the shut-down.

They have announced, however, that the enterprise version of G+ will be given as much attention as it ever has; and quite frankly, this decision makes some kind of sense.

The consumer edition of G+ has been a bit of an ugly mark on Google’s relatively stellar reputation.

Even now, 7 years after its launch, somewhere around 90% of consumers spend less than 5 seconds on the platform at any given time.

This means that they are either only navigating there by accident, or they are leaving as soon as they arrive; something that Google themselves uses as a marker for a bad website.

Although, this alone may not be enough of a reason to ‘sunset’ the project, as Google put it. When this is combined with the fact that the offending API (mentioned above) is integrated into well over 400 apps, it becomes evident that to rectify the problem, the near entirety of the consumer experience will need to be painstakingly overhauled. This will, of course cost a substantial amount of effort, time and money; all for a platform that may still fail after the efforts are expended to save it.

When looked at in this light, it is actually quite easy to see why cancelling consumer use of G+ is not just viable, but actually a smart executive decision.

A Lesson to be Learned

We all, at some point, remember being told not to keep all of our eggs in one basket; a trite lesson which convenience may beg us to ignore from time to time. The announcement of Google+’s closure is a stark reminder of this simple lesson.

If a platform created by a tech giant can close so suddenly, then what are the chances that it could happen to other social platforms, the ones that we have come to rely on like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn?

This should caution marketers to widen their area of expertise and not to rely on one (or only a few) social platforms, but rather offer services across them. To be fair, this shouldn’t be something new to savvy marketers, since each platform offers a different approach to social media marketing.

If you are looking for a digital marketing agency with a dynamic approach to social selling and marketing, why not contact a sales-representative from Right Click Media today, or visit our website to learn more about our advertising packages.

John Ottolman

John Ottolman

John Ottolman: Keyword whisperer, content creator, researcher and OCD stricken editor. The imprints of keyboard letters have long-since embossed themselves on his finger-tips. Thirsty for knowledge and hungry to share it, he is here to provide insights from the digital industry.

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