Google+ has been mostly dead for quite awhile. But, as Billy Crystal reminds us, "mostly dead is still slightly alive." Google "mostly killed" Google+ a few months ago.
Now, it appears that Google+ is "all dead." If it wasn't before, it's clear now that the company's erstwhile social network will never be anything more than a punchline to a joke (and a social tool that is used by a very, very small group of people).
To recap, here's what has happened in the past 18 months:
- First, Google killed Google authorship. This was a feature that allowed authors to link their written work online to their Google+ profile so that their photo and byline would show up on the search result page. This was one featured that added value to Google+. But then Google killed it.
- Second, Google got rid of the widely hated feature requiring everyone to get a Google+ account to comment on YouTube videos.
- Third, Google separated Google+ accounts from Google business listings and basically stripped out all the social features on the business listings and massively scaled back the features on Google+, making it little more than a strange kind of Facebook/Pinterest hybrid for individual users.
Now they have also gotten rid of the requirement to have a Google+ account in order to leave business reviews.
Put another way, Google is so down on Google+ these days that they think it is more valuable to them to simply accrue a huge number of business reviews rather than push people toward Google+. That two sentence two star review for a local restaurant? Google's latest decision suggests they would rather get more of those than continue trying to force people onto Google+. Yikes.
What happened to Google+?
When Google+ debuted, it was billed as Google's answer to Facebook, but the story was actually more complex than that.
Ever since Facebook got big there has been a question as to which traffic source is more important for the average web user—search or social. Practically speaking, search basically meant "Google" while social meant "Facebook." But both companies could see that the other's method could handle queries that their own might struggle to answer.
Google, for example, could provide objective, relatively consistent information. This is great if you need directions or a step-by-step guide to doing a task. It isn't as great, though, if you want to know what your friends think about a movie.
Facebook has the opposite problem. Finding what your friends think about something or getting some other form of more customized, personal information is easy. But getting any kind of objective data about something from Facebook is going to be much more difficult. You don't go to Facebook if you need driving directions.
So while Facebook keeps trying to improve their search functionality, Google has tried different ways of personalizing search results. Google+ was one of the company's attempts to do that. They didn't just want Google+ to be a social network; they wanted to integrate it into their search results to help make their overall product more seamless and comprehensive.
If this had worked, Google would've been onto something: They had an incredibly powerful search engine already that has a ~66% market share according to many metrics but often seems to account for more like 90% of all search traffic.
If they could then improve their search results by including greater customization thanks to more personal information about their searchers, they might have a really powerful tool that would be difficult to beat.
Building a better search engine would be hard enough, but building a better search engine that also knows enough about you to personalize your results? That's pretty much impossible for any other company besides maybe Facebook or Amazon.
Why didn't Google+ work?
Unfortunately for Google, no one really wanted to use Google+. If they wanted a general use social media tool... well, they had Facebook. And the only thing Google+ had that Facebook (kinda-sorta) did not is their Circles feature.
But even the Circles feature could easily be replicated via Facebook Groups. By itself the Circles feature was not even remotely enough to entice people to take their social media posting over from Facebook to Google. So really all they had was "Facebook with easier privacy settings and none of your friends." And that isn't a product.
One factor that tech companies often fail to consider: Every person has very limited resources. I only have 24 hours a day to do things and between work, sleep, my commute, and family time, about 20 of those hours are already claimed. That leaves four hours to do all my online tasks.
This means I cannot simply find more time to play around with a new social media network just because it exists. I'm already swimming in media. I don't have time for any more:
Google+ didn't need to just be something people could use in addition to Facebook. It needed to be something that people could use instead of Facebook. But getting people to quit something like Facebook isn't easy. They know how to use Facebook. Their profile is already set up on Facebook. Their friends and family are on Facebook. Google+ doesn't have any of those things.
For all these reasons, the failure of Google+ was probably more or less inevitable. If anything, it may be surprising that it took Google so long to finally kill change Google+.
What is Google doing now?
Well, the decision to eliminate the requirement that someone have a Google+ account in order to leave a business review is one more step toward segmenting out the different services Google uses. The idea of Google+ had been to pull everything together:
- Search results were customized based on Google+ data
- Authorship for bloggers was run through Google+
- YouTube comments were run through Google+
- Reviews were handled through Google+
Google+ was the personal data repository that pulled together all of Google's other products. But with Google+ eliminated, or at least scaled back, the momentum seems to be in the opposite direction:
- Search results now function as one standalone product.
- Authorship is dead so there's little customization available to authors and journalists.
- YouTube comments are once again separate from Google+.
- Reviews are now handled on a separate basis as well.
To be sure, you still need a Google account to access all of these things and, unless you create separate Google accounts for separate software applications from Google, these things are still happening via the same account.
So Google still kinda-sorta has the same information that they can use to pull together and personalize how users interact with their different products.
But it's no longer as straightforward nor is the connectedness of the different applications as apparent to the typical user. And that's significant. Google+ was Google's attempt to pull all their stuff together into a single "product," as it were.
But Google's users didn't go along with it. So now Google is having to step back and rethink how they pull together their different product offerings.
For businesses, this means that they've stepped back from the attempt to make Google+ into a kind of all-in-one online business listing and social media solution. Instead, they are now focusing on the more modest goal of making Google My Business easier to understand and use for both businesses and consumers alike.
What will this mean for apartment marketers?
The apartment search vertical figures to be one of the verticals to benefit from this change. By eliminating the need to have a Google+ account, Google has made it slightly easier to leave reviews on Google listings.
You'll still need to sign in to a Google account to leave a review, but now it's not quite as difficult as it may have been in the past to leave a review. This should help communities get more reviews posted, which, especially for community's with a bad average review rating, is very good news.
How do you publish reviews for apartment communities?
It's now pretty easy. Start by Googling whatever the community's name is. If the name is a more common one, you may need to extend the search to include the city and state. So, for example, you'd search "Stadium View Apartments in Chicago, IL" instead of just "Stadium View Apartments." Once you've done that, you'll see a screen like this:
Once you have clicked "Write a review," Google will ask you to log in to your account. Once you have logged in (or if you are already logged in) you'll see this screen:
As you can see, Google has made it very easy to publish reviews. The reason why is simple: The easier it is to write a review, the more reviews Google will have. And the more reviews they have, the more valuable their business listings are.
This is why Google no longer requires users to have a Google+ account to post reviews. They've decided that forcing people to use Google+ is a losing battle and it is now more valuable to them to bin that strategy and instead to lower the bar as much as they reasonably can for posting reviews.
Google's strategy with their secondary applications like Google+ is always in a state of flux. Search is the heart of Google's work and, thanks to AdWords, it's where they make the bulk of their money. The other products they offer usually derive their value from how they improve the search experience for the typical Google user. When a product fails to do that, it is probably not long for this world.
By mid 2015 it was apparent that Google+ was not making search better. Rather, it was simply adding barriers for people who wanted to use Google but didn't want to sign up for another social network. And so now we are seeing them move away from their social network more and more with each passing month.