This is going to be a long post, but hopefully a good one. I’m just not getting Google+. At first, I blamed Google for another over-hyped, under-delievered digital toy. I got burned by Wave. And by burned I mean I invested time in that device that I’ll never get back. Admittedly, I haven’t invested too heavily in Google+ like I did with Twitter, Facebook and even Linkedin. But because Google owns search, I went ahead and set up a business and personal accounts on G+ last year and have tried to use it like I use the channels.

Whether you prefer Facebook, Twitter or even LinkedIn – every channel has a learning curve for engagement to feel comfortable. No one just jumps into any social network with total confidence.  It takes time. And practice. A few years ago when I signed up for Twitter, I was fascinated by the ‘discovery’ process and so I connected with people from all over the world who I found interesting. Facebook’s always been slightly different for me. It’s still me – just more personal. And Linkedin is a business suit that hangs in the closet wrapped in dry-cleaning plastic. I really don’t do much engaging there. Mostly just research.

Then there’s Google+. I’ve treated G+ like a combination of Facebook and Twitter, but with none of the results of the more established channels. For example, I can share the same exact thing on all three channels and get strong feedback on Facebook and Twitter – yet Google+ will remain dark. I just didn’t get it. So I posted a status about it on Google+ and my (really smart) friend Russell Tripp commented. His response was so solid that I told him I was going to post it here verbatim. So here it goes.

My original status G+ update: “The new layout has done nothing for enhancing engagement here. Still a dead zone. Twitter wins for general engagement. Facebook for more intimate engagement. G+ is no engagement. It’s not a terrible channel – I just don’t think most of us know how to use it. Or else – we’re so embedded in other channels that we just don’t have the time to come over here and invest.”

Russell Tripp: It’s a minor amusement to me when I see the occasional post from someone I had circled (usually because I knew them from some other social network – online or off), saying something along the lines of, “Is anybody here? This place is a ghost town!” – generally severalmonths after their last post… and sometimes not to Public but only to their own limited circles. (and no, this particular case does not apply to you, +Jim Mitchem , but… DUH. What do they expect?)

In regard to the “lack of engagement” here, Jim, my experience is quite different. I have far more (and deeper) engagement here than I’ve had in other spaces. This is not uncommon – and neither is the glaring disparity between those whose experience is closer to mine and those whose experience is closer to yours.

After some observation, I think I may have at least some idea why this is the case.

1) The nature of this space vs. others. I think perhaps because of a certain mindset that is more attuned with many of the folks at Google who actually made this space, the majority of those I’ve seen with high levels of engagement here are either a) technically-savvy artists/”creative types” (you’ll have to excuse me using that term, Jim – I just can’t think of a better one right now), or b) curators/supporters of the types of things group a creates. This is related to the nature of networking here vs. other places and brings me to thought number 2.

2) How people discover/are discovered here is different than in other spaces. Google didn’t frame it this way (and still doesn’t) in their “Circles” analogies, applying them instead to “real-world” existing social connections. I think that’s what they expected people to do, but, as often happens, what people actually do is not what you (or, in this case, Google) expect them to do. I think the #1 reason I, and others, experience higher levels of engagement here is because we have coalesced around ideas and ideology rather than factors that form connections in other social spaces. 

Why? Search. It’s Google, after all, and, in the early days of G+ (not that we’re not still in the early days, really), the search functionality was sub-par – which is more than a little ironic. However, it worked well enough, and has since gotten much better, but the point is that most of the people I’ve connected to here, I discovered by a process that originated with searching for subjects in which I am interested. 

I have never done that in any other online social space. There’s something akin to it on Twitter, but eventually, the majority of my connections there – at least the ones with which I actually engage(d) – are connections primarily because of their physical proximity to me in the “real” world. If you think about it, because of the real-time nature of Twitter, this makes sense. Things that are happening now and near me are of greater importance/consequence to me than (most) things that are happening now and far away.

Facebook is different as well. The vast majority of connections there are ones that originate from pre-existing social connections, usually offline ones. From there (for most people) the connections may expand outward somewhat, but generally not all that far.

So, how do those of us who are experiencing very high levels of engagement here on G+ get there? Like I said, it starts/started withsearching based on areas of interest. In the search results around those subjects, I (and others) discovered posts from people saying and/or doing things we found interesting in those areas. Then we interacted with them – by commenting on those posts. Often, that engagement/commenting takes the form of something like, “Well, that may be true, but have you considered this?” and an actual discussionensues. By discovering the other people who also commented on those posts, our circles began to fill up – with people who were engaging with each other, about subjects in which we were interested, and with unique viewpoints surrounding those subjects.

I still discover an average of 2 new people a day that I add to my circles by their comments to other people’s posts. If they add some thought, or are funny, or appeal to me for some other reason, then I check out their profile and see what they’re doing. Often, but not always, I end up adding them to my circles.

The other way in which my connections (and therefore my engagement) grow is from other people who do the same thing to me. Every day, 2-3 people generally add me to their circles. When I get the notification that they have, I check out their profiles and may or may not add them back. ( – and I don’t care if people I add to my circles add me back or not. Just because I want to hear what they have to say or see what they’re doing, doesn’t mean they care about what I’m saying or doing – and I’m perfectly fine with that.)

The thing I’ve noticed from the vast majority of people saying G+ is a ghost town/failure/whatever (and again, this particular point doesn’t apply to you, Jim), is that when I check out their profiles, they’ve generally posted maybe 1 thing every other month – and then, something that had no real cause for people to be interested and/or content that’s just copied/pasted from some other post somewhere else. That’s if they’ve posted anything to Public at all. Well, uh, no wonder there’s no one here for them … why would anyone circle them?

A lot of people seem to be waiting for enough of their Facebook friends to come over here and do something before they do, but that’s not how this space works (no matter what it was designed to do, it’s not how itactually works).

Another thing I’ve noticed is that high-engagement-level people on G+ tend to be more content creators vs consumers (Facebook/Twitter – which also kind of explains the higher level of activity there – there will always be – well, probably – more consumers than creators.)

My question/advice to you, Jim, if you want to see higher levels of engagement in your stream here is (since you already are posting some interesting stuff here), how are you engaging with other people’s posts? Find the people whose interests you share (Use that search bar… Google’s pretty good at that kind of thing), you’ll see engagement rise.

One other thought – I also think people have simply forgotten it may have taken them to build their networks on other platforms. I certainly know that I had to just stare blankly at Twitter for a while before I started engaging people, and then slowly building a network. Same thing here. It’s not like a space where all your friends are just going to show up here, too, and you’ve instantly got the same network. This is a place to build a new network.

Another thought, from Google’s perspective, it doesn’t matter if you ever engage here or not. It would be nice, to create additional data points for them, but they don’t need to care. Once you sign up for an account, that’s all they need. G+ (at least the user account part of it) is anidentity service. That’s hugely valuable to them for microtuning their customized ads to you – and in more spaces than just online in the not-too-distant future. That’s the business their actually in – data-mining, notsearch. (Kind of like how Honda isn’t in the car business, they’re in theengine business.)

One other other thought re: the redesign not leading to more engagement. That may or may not be true. I do know that I’ve used some features that I haven’t for a while and people are focused so much on the whitespace -> they haven’t noticed a few other features, like the “Start hangout about this post” on all posts now. That definitely makes me more likely to start a Hangout, since it can easily be topical around whatever the post happens to be. I also added a few more people into my circles specifically because I found them more easily with the new layout design.


So there you have it – Google+ is a different animal that requires a different approach. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the time to invest in growing yet another network, though. Which is to say it’s not G+, it’s me. So if you’re like me and your reception there is poor just remember that it’s because you’re holding the phone wrong.



Jim Mitchem

Little Things
Humans, Health and Care

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.