On March 2, 2015, Google announced that longtime product VP Bradley Horowitz had become lead for Google Photos and Streams. In other words, Google planned to break Photos away from Google+ as it had done with Hangouts and leave the status updates behind as a product called Streams.
In other words, Google+ as you knew it is dead.
Google has been splitting Google+ up for salvage parts for some time now. In addition to making Hangouts a separate product, Google killed authorship and stopped requiring mandatory Google+ signup for people who wanted to use Google products. Google may continue the existence of Streams to continue gathering data on its users, but for all intents and purposes, Google+ is being retired from the fleet.
Why Google+ Ran Aground
In its quest to be everything, Google+ never developed a real personality of its own. Its UX elements differed significantly from Facebook, and in some cases, like Photos and Hangouts, proved itself much better than Facebook. Its central structure, though, around a stream of updates, served a purpose that Facebook was already serving quite well. Family and friends were already on Facebook, and Google+ gave them no incentive to switch. Social networks that have thrived in spite of Facebook’s ubiquity, like Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat, offer something completely unique.
Considering the outstanding UX of Photos and the obvious utility of Hangouts, Google+ never quite became bigger than the sum of its parts. Most people are, as Harry McCracken of Time Magazine puts it, “absentee landlords” of their Google+ pages. The network does have some hardcore users, but for most people, it’s always just felt like another thing to do. It was easy to figure out how content marketing and social media went hand in hand for most networks. Google+ always came across as nebulous.
Should You Bail or Head for the Lifeboats?
If you haven’t been using Google+ for marketing, don’t start now. On the other hand, keep working at it if Google+ has actually meant something to you in terms of building brand awareness, generating leads, serving your customers, and networking. If your company creates a lot of visual content or if you’re a creative with a visual portfolio, you can still find value Photos. In addition to its gorgeous page layout, you get tons of storage and great editing tools for your images. You can also use some of its really fun features, like the ability to stitch photos into a GIF.
As for whether you should continue using Streams, the answer lies in asking yourself whether Google+ actually delivers value for your company. It’s okay to abandon ship if you’ve never quite figured out what to do with it. If your Google+ feed is a major traffic referral source, if it refers a lot of high-ticket customers, or if it’s an important connector for you, then keep on using it. Otherwise, give it a tip of the hat and let it float off into the sunset.
How to Disembark Gracefully
If you’ve put a lot of work into Google+, don’t feel like you’ve wasted your efforts. Before the ship gets scrapped, take these steps to salvage your Google+ efforts.
Inventory Your Content
Companies that created content exclusively for Google+ may still get value from that content on other networks. Comb through everything you’ve posted to Google+ and figure out what you can repurpose — this is a great job for an intern.
Keep an Eye on SEO
At this point, it’s hard to assess whether the breakout of Streams will lesson the Google+ impact on Google’s search algorithms. In studies by both Moz.com and SearchMetrics, Google +1s showed more correlations with improved search rankings than both Facebook shares and tweets. If you notice some slippage in your search rankings after you abandon Google+, keep a perfunctory presence for SEO value alone.
Bring Your Connections With You
Offer a lifeboat to your Google+ connections. Invite them to like or follow you in other places, and follow them in the other parts of their social ecosystems.
Google+: She Was a Good Ship
For Google itself, all of the Google+ components still present fantastic opportunities for collecting data. Google often gets ridiculed for its graveyard of discontinued products, but Google’s willingness to experiment distinguishes it in a world of play-it-safe businesses. Just because it’s good for Google, however, doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
Google+ icon image by Google from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).