Marketing Cruncher

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Why You Can't Call Google+ A Ghost Town

This past week, media outlets were abuzz over a recent bit of data from comScore that compares user engagement between "rival" social networks Facebook and Google+. According to the data, during the period between September 2011 up until January 2012, users spent an average of about 3 minutes per month on Google+ compared to six to seven hours per month on Facebook (without taking into account mobile usage). This bit of data then became the basis for the Wall Street Journal to proclaim Google+ a "virtual ghost town", a place where users sign up but end up not doing much.

Google's new social network has a lot of catching up to do. But is it a ghost town?

Is Google+ truly a "virtual ghost town"?

Sure, comScore's data may objectively be accurate, in terms of measuring the actual minutes logged by users on those sites on average. After all, comScore has been in the business of digital measurement for quite a while and has become a trusted source of information in the industry. But the conclusions drawn from comScore's data, such as the one drawn by the Wall Street Journal, may in fact be misleading.

Mike Elgan, a Silicon Valley-based technology writer, provides a simple yet effective explanation, incidentally posted on Google+'s ghost town, as to why the statistic may result in misleading conclusions. (Note the number of +1's, shares and comments that this particular post received.)

His post boils down to two things:
  1. Averages don't paint the whole picture. As they're only a measure of central tendency, they don't measure the variance within a data set. There can be all sorts of combinations that add up to Google+ users collectively spending 3 minutes on the site on average. This number doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't a significant number of users who are actively engaged on the network.
  2. You can't compare apples to oranges. Sure, both Google+ and Facebook are essentially social networks. But Facebook had a couple years head start. Facebook's engagement is what it is today because of all those years that it took for people to get familiar with it. I would even argue that they serve completely different purposes, but I'll save that for another blog post.
It can be very easy to cherry-pick the day's hottest statistics to your liking. While statistics can be highly useful tools to inform decisions, people must be very careful of the conclusions drawn from them.. It's important to take a step back and take these statistics in their proper context. Otherwise you risk not being able to see the cherry forest for the cherry trees. (All this talk about fruit is making me hungry.)

I personally don't have as many people in my Google+ circles as I do in my Facebook friend lists but that doesn't make Google+ any less valuable to me. I, for one, spend a bit more than 3 minutes per month on it. I guess that makes me above average in this ghost town.

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