What’s the deal with Google+ anyway?

Google+ is dead. Google+ is a key component in digital marketing. Google+ can lower your insurance premium by five percent. The conversation about Google+ has been changing and becoming more confusing as long as it has been active, and there seems to be a lot of mixed messages and misunderstanding of the value of Google+ as a marketing platform, as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest have evolved to be. It didn’t help matters that in early June Google CEO and co-founder openly said that Google+ was “a mistake” while speaking at a Bay Area tech conference. This happened about a month after Vic Gundotra, the person responsible for running the social network, suddenly left Google without explanation.

However, marketing and technology experts are saying that it is still too early to give up on Google+. A recent VentureBeat article stated that most marketers are turning away from this platform because there are not as many users and there has been concern over strength of click-throughs and referrals. However, the issue may be coming from users’ discomfort with what they perceive to be violations of privacy. It may seem counterintuitive that social media users want privacy, but that is definitely the case. It is also definitely the case that Google+ has become synonymous among its users with breaking said privacy.

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Once upon a time, Google+ had a “real name” policy that required users to only use their legally documented names that had to be proven to Google. This was relaxed, sort of, but not until the problem had been dubbed the “Nymwars” scandal. Users can now use nicknames, but are still subject to Google’s searches and demands for name proof. Even changing the name on an account gets users flagged for review.

Then Google+ started unifying people’s identities in Android address books. This means that Google+ combined background matching of the user’s name and profile. Google did not publicly advertise or notify that this is happening. This process acted to anger its user base and Google’s nonchalant attitude toward the problem only exacerbated the situation. One woman even claimed that she found out about this new feature when she texted her co-worker and was outed as being homosexual – something that could have cost her her job. Google responded that it was user error and the woman should have understood the new and rather confusing configuration. Many other users, particularly those at risk, have fled the social media platform, especially those of the transgender community and anyone else at risk of losing their jobs or being the subject of violence.

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In 2013, YouTube was (and still is) hosted by Google+ and the platform changed permissions to only allow comments from Google+ accounts, meaning two things: you had to have a Google account to engage on YouTube; and comments were no longer anonymous. This was not taken lightly by the online community, even prompting harsh words from YouTube’s co-founder, and there is currently an anti-Google+ petition making the rounds that already has more than 240,000 signatures. The previous year Google changed the settings on its Play Store, a major component of Android apps, to only allow comments from Google+ accounts, and as a result app reviews suffered.

Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt told National Public Radio digital editor Andy Carvin that if people don’t want to use their real identities online, then they shouldn’t use Google+, which doesn’t seem viable, given Google’s reach. More so, it is not desired by marketers and their clients who seek to use Google+ as a sales and marketing platform. Over all, this confusing PR move was reminiscent when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that if Chicagoans don’t like the public transit rate hike, then they can drive to work, possibly forgetting that about 28 percent of his constituents were below the poverty line in 2009.

So the question is no longer can we market successfully on Google+, but instead becomes “Is this the best place to reach consumers?” if users are turning away in droves. It may also be undesirable to have your brand associated with such an incredible source of frustration for so many. Google+ is surely going to stick around for a while, so we’ll just have to wait and see what the analytics say.