Pop quiz for small business owners: When is the last time you updated your company's Google+ page?
On the heels of the Google I/O announcement today of a refresh of the Google+ platform, just as Google+ prepares to turn two years old, Reuters reported that major brands like Domino's and McDonald's have largely ignored the social network to date, preferring instead to focus on the big guns of Facebook and Twitter. The time when this could be brushed off as simple growing pains is rapidly coming to an end. No longer an upstart, it now begs the question of whether the service will ever truly compete in the social media market or whether it will ultimately go the way of Orkut.
The numbers aren't encouraging: There are 135 million active users on Google+ vs. 1.1 billion on Facebook, with the average user spending under 7 minutes per month on the site, vs. more than 6 hours per month on Facebook.
Google+ is the search giant's third or fourth foray into social networking (depending on whether you count Google Friend Connect), but it is clearly its most ambitious. Billed as a site that "aims to make sharing on the web more like sharing in real life," businesses were more enticed by the vague promises (or rumors) that a presence on Google+ would lead to better placement in Google's search results. That alone seemed to merit investing heavily in making Google+ a rich and regularly updated environment.
So what happened?
For starters, confusion and lots of it. Launched in conjunction with the +1 button, it was unclear how +1 votes interacted with search results and Google+ pages. While +1 was originally plastered all over the web (including the ability to give a +1 vote to search results you thought were especially relevant), today you'll find that +1 has largely vanished. In part that's because +1 was folded into Google+, and Google has completely scrubbed +1 from search results, replacing it with a weird system that indicates when a certain piece of content was written by a Google+ user.
Even if you get a handle on the above, you'll find that it was largely focused on individual users, not businesses. But with the introduction of Google+ Pages in November 2011, things actually got even more confusing. For many businesses, especially local ones with a physical presence, Google+ Pages help to provide an extra place where potential customers could get the basics about your business, including your location and hours of operation. But wait, how is that different from Google Places? Do you need to have both a Place and a Page? (Short answer: Yes, although numerous reports have claimed otherwise, just adding to the confusion.)
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