There have been countless articles written in over the last year saying that Google+ is a ghost town. It was the hot headline for a while, used by those claiming to have authority in the world of social media. Well, I’m here to put those ghost stories to rest and make sure that these “experts” are shown for what they are– clueless.

I want to debunk these ghost town reports for you because I hate when people are fed misinformation. These failure fairy tales thrive on the limited understanding of the general public and continue to spread ignorance. I think you’re smarter than that, and you deserve better. So here’s my 10 devastating blows to the Google+ Ghost Stories and Failure Fairy Tales.

Inaccurate Data Comparison

300-statsThe primary flaw in the Ghost Town reports and Failure Fairy Tales are their misuse of, or limited access to the actual numbers they’re reporting. A lot of these articles have data-sets or maybe even a pretty infographic to go along with it.

The problem is that they ignore a few fundamental aspects that make their numbers worth less than the paper they’re not printed on.

I’ve broken this down into 3 sub-sections:

Public Data

Firstly, they use only public data. Since Google hasn’t given out access to it’s API, the only data these companies can collect are from public posts. It doesn’t take into account that the majority of activity that happens on Google+ is not public.

The very nature of Google+ is built around only sharing things with specific circles of people– making privacy and relevancy a priority. This is completely unlike the social networks Google+ is compared with, whose data is publicly available to the world, or anyone with an API key.

Basically their comparison is like sitting in a mall parking lot going, “From the looks of it, there is no business taking place out here”. The activity is on the inside, dummy. (Okay, maybe not the best comparison, but you get the point.)

Additionally, most of these reports don’t have the ability to gauge mobile activity, which makes up a good portion of the activity and traffic. Failing to take this into account shows a complete lack of understanding of where technology and the rise of mobile is going. Anyone who fails to take this into account (or at least mention it) in their reporting is completely inept, and shouldn’t be given credibility in such matters.

The Real Numbers

Just in case you’re wondering what the real numbers are, here’s where Google+ is at as of December 2013 Google+ has:

Ghost town, eh?

 So as of December 2012 Google+ is now the number two social network in the world.

Comparing Apples to Apple Martinis

compare apples to apple martinis

A lot of the comparisons between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ are flawed. From the very beginning the Failure Fairy Tale tellers have been making bogus comparisons that just don’t hold up. They compare an established, already successful network which has embedded it’s functions (such as “Like” buttons) and connections (connect via Facebook) across the internet for nearly a decade, and say that Google+ is a failure because it isn’t seeing as much activity.

They fail to report on the fact that Google+ managed to gain 100 million users in under a year, while it took Facebook and Twitter almost 5 years. Even if they do mention that part, they make weak arguments as to why that’s not a big deal.

The bottom line is, they just don’t know how to gauge the success rate of Google+. They’re too ill-informed about how it works, and they don’t have access (or inclination to get) all the real data. It’s not Facebook, yet they try to analyze it like Facebook. Just because it shares certain traits of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like, doesn’t mean that it can be compared in the same way. It’s like comparing an apple to an apple martini. A similar taste, and maybe a few shared traits, but many more ingredients to account for.

API Access Makes a Difference

Like I mentioned above, Google+ has not allowed access to their API, keeping 3rd party developers from creating apps, or automated programs that can interface with Google+.

The other social networks however, have hundreds (maybe even thousands) of 3rd party applications that have access to their API. This makes it very easy to create automated accounts, duplicate accounts, and all sorts of other non-human powered interactions on the networks. This allows the actual engagement numbers to be inflated well beyond the reality.

Twitter is all too familiar with the plague of spam-bots and fake followers. Even worse, Facebook has recently been exposed for fake “Likes” happeningpeople who are deceased are “Liking” things! It’s also been recorded that the number of fake accounts on these networks is astonishing. Huffington Post recently published an article stating that Facebook’s 1 Billion users may in reality be less than 500 million! A lot of this can be attributed to API access making it easy to automate and hack these networks. This is probably why Google+ has not given access yet, and the engagement there is more authentic, and less spammy.

You’re Doing It Wrong

Another thing that bugs me about these so-called “experts” is that the real reason behind all their erroneous and ignorant reporting is that they don’t seem to even understand how to use the network they’re bashing.

Just go investigate some of their Google+ profiles. I bet you’ll find that the “Ghost Town” reporters have very few people in their circles. No wonder they’re saying it’s a ghost town– they aren’t getting any stream activity because they’re not following any one! Try using that method on Twitter– sign up for an account and follow 12 people who also just signed up and don’t know how to use it. I bet you’ll see loads of interesting stuff (sarcasm).

Maybe if they tried my Anatomy of a Perfect Google+ Post formula, they’d actually see that Google+ has a significant level of user engagement.

Likewise, those Failure Fairy Talers probably haven’t gained any sort of following, therefore it is a failure to them. Since their efforts (or lack of efforts) have failed, they blame it on the network.

Let me ask you this– would you take medical advice from a guy who dropped out of med school because he didn’t have a degree after 1 semester and is now saying med school doesn’t work? No, I’m sure you’d just realize that they’re weird, and walk away.

Underlying Motives

underlying motives

This section will address the motivations behind these Google+ nay-sayers. I’m willing to bet that anyone who is touting the “failure” or “ghostliness” of Google+ has one or all of these underlying motives at play.

Vested Interest

When you have a vested interest in the success of a product, you will inevitably criticize, bash, and oppose any new competing product. Those who have bought stock or have some sort of financial attachment to one of the other networks will certainly be doing all they can to ensure the success of that network– which includes cutting down the new network on the block that poses a threat.

On the payroll

Some of these articles and infographics have been created (or paid for by) companies or individuals who are on the payroll of another network. This biased presentation goes undisclosed the majority of the time.

Lazy Mofo’s

Some of these folks have put a lot of time, effort, and even money into building their platform on other networks. Having to “start over” on another network can look intimidating, daunting, and down right frustrating. They don’t want to do the work of learning new things, and building yet another platform.

Those are the same people who said the same thing about Myspace. History repeats itself.

It’s much easier to try to keep your current audience where they are, then to build a new digital location to learn, strategize for, and manage.

Let’s face it– the internet is always evolving and if you’re unwilling to change with it, you’re ensuring your own digital demise.

An article from The Creativity Post had an interesting insight along the same lines:

“Expect the experts to be negative. The more expert and specialized a person becomes, the more their mindset becomes narrowed and the more fixated they become on confirming what they believe to be absolute. Consequently, when confronted with new and different ideas, their focus will be on conformity. Does it conform with what I know is right? If not, experts will spend all their time showing and explaining why it can’t be done and why it can’t work. They will not look for ways to make it work or get it done because this might demonstrate that what they regarded as absolute is not absolute at all. This is why when Fred Smith created Federal Express, every delivery expert in the U.S. predicted its certain doom. After all, they said, if this delivery concept was doable, the Post Office or UPS would have done it long ago.” [12 Things You Were Not Taught In School About Creative Thinking]

Bonus Reading

As an added bonus, I wanted to let you know about a couple great posts from Google+ enthusiasts that will further emphasize what I’ve mentioned above:

Amanda Blain does an ironic case study of one such Failure Fairy Tale by a respected Social Media News site. Check out her original post here.

Morten Myrstad addresses one specific Ghost Story that was published– check out his detailed breakdown of why the story was wrong here.

Mike Elgan (one of my Google+ heroes) writes a fantastic post, brilliantly titled “Google+ Ghostbusters Kit” which will effectively show you how to make sure your Google+ experience is never that of a Ghost town.


let the haters hate

I pray that when you see these “Ghost Town” and “Google+ Failure” headlines, you will be more equipped to see through the nonsense. Remember, just because someone spits out a bunch of statistics and has a pretty infographic to go along with it, doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about. Odds are, they’re still clueless, and just trying to sell headlines.

From my own experience, I can tell you first hand that Google+ is now my #1 source of referral traffic. I get almost twice as much referral traffic from Google+ as I do both Facebook and Twitter. Not only that, but I’ve found some valuable connections and developed some great relationships that I would have never found on any other network. My stream is full of interesting content, and a very high level of engagement.

Has your experience on Google+ shown it to be a ghost town? What is your response to the Google+ Failure Fairy Tales? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


  1. says

    Here is how I not only view your article here, but also how I have come to understand your perspective of Google+:

    – A good article tells you the opinion they have about a subject and you have done that. [check]
    – A really good article gives you the supporting facts to those opinions [check]
    – An excellent, over-the-top article shares all sides of the stories, not only the good, but the bad, and the ugly [blank]

    I think you are a huge evangelist for Google+ and always will have the facts to stop 97% of people who have something bad to say about it. That being said, if you know Google+ well, you also know some of the problems.

    My father was an excellent salesman and man of God. The first thing my dad taught me of business is to be 100% honest because that is what God would want and then He will bless you. They will have 115% trust and in some regards consider you without question.

    I feel like you are a really good advocate for Google+, but I am still stuck at just really good and do not remember one time you initiating about saying something bad about it…

    Just my two cents and wanted to share my vantage point by someone who listened to you and bought in with it, but still not drinking the kool-aid all the way.

    • says

      Thanks Jeremy! And a fair enough evaluation. I actually have said there are some things that Google+ hasn’t gotten right– I just haven’t published them formally. However, my next Google+ specific blog post will be about what they need to do to get things cranking.

      But to address a few issues that I do have:
      – Events on Air have some significant bugs to work out.
      – The mobile app still isn’t as solid as other social apps.
      – Communities has some drawbacks that will start to show up really quickly.

      So while I may come off as thinking Google+ is perfect, that’s not how I feel in reality. I just see where it’s doing things right, and how it will take social media to the next level– which will still take another 2-5yrs before it becomes evident to the masses.

  2. Winston says

    1st. Awesome article Dustin.

    I have met awesome people on G+, and it is almost impossible not to +1, not to comment or share their stories. I use G+ more than I use any other social site. I love the fact that I’m in control of the people I’m sharing stuff with. G+ is its awesome and I lime it works the way it does. A big +1 for Vic and the G+ Team

  3. says

    I second Winston, excellent article. I myself have posted on Google+ a few times about how I don’t understand this GhostTown concept running around. Mashables has actually become a useless website to me. Its like a collection of personal opinions about everything from people who, at first seems to be pundits of the topic but turn out to be people who do half-baked research and based their articles mostly on personal opinion and bias.

    I have a FB account only because my wife has one and she is an avid user of FB mostly because of family and friends (obviously) where as I had an account before and cancelled it after realizing it was full of people that were never really friend simply people I went to school with or somewhat knew but in reality my relationship with them was lame even on FB so I deleted the account and started all over only adding family members and a few close friends. To this date I visit FB once maybe twice a week for a few minutes. My older son and wife spend a lot of time on it but perhaps its because I am the techie one in the house and G+ tends to be more techie oriented. But I have a feeling its only a matter of time before they make the switch.

    I also have a Twitter account but rarely use it because, well, my name is Chatterbox Chuck online and 140 characters are not enough for someone called Chatterbox. Just look at some of my G+ posts to see what I mean.

  4. Karan says

    I agree that Google+ is much cleaner when you create your circles. I also feel Google+ creates groups of similar interests.

    However, the rate at which Google+ managed to reach 100+ million users can be accounted to the knowledge consumers have today. Some of the credibility should be given to facebook. Facebook has created the interest in social networking. I am sure that is one of the reasons it took facebook 5 years to reach that mark. (Food for thought).

    In this era of information overload, I feel consumers will stick to what is relevant to them. We tend to forget the end users should have some vested interest in it. It doesn’t matter if Google+ is better or facebook. It is the interest of consumer or user who wants to access certain kind of information over other (Food for thought).

  5. Mark-John Clifford says

    If Google+ is a ghost town, then New York is not the city that never sleeps. If it was a ghost town how could some writer/posters have over 2 million followers or how could I have gone from 2500 to 14K in less than a month. Come on everyone wake up.

    Great article Dustin and everyone of the so called naysayers should be reading this,

  6. says

    Great read.

    About 3 years ago I was against G+ because of the thought of people having to rebuild and I just didn’t think that they would. As time has gone on I have seen the migration and myself have gotten more comfortable with G+.

    Today, I can say I spend as much time on G+ as any other platform and I can tell you that it is for one simple reason: ENGAGEMENT.

    The conversations on G+ go two ways. Unlike other platforms where comments just seem to die on G+ the conversations seem to go on and you always walk away (or shutdown) knowing something more than you did the day before.

    I will certainly be sharing this article from my companies Twitter account.

  7. says

    Truth be told, I ignored Google+ for a long time. It really wasn’t because of what the experts were saying though. I had the “one more network” mindset that prevented me from using what is quickly becoming my favorite social network.

    Anyway, I’m glad you’re debunking the myths and shining some light on a great service.

  8. says

    Will keep this brief – I’m one of those mobile stats right now…

    Great post. I do not believe the entire ghost town thing – traffic to my site – Google now in 2nd place and FB dropped to 3rd. Also my stream is filled with the most amazing and informative information – every day.

    I have learnt more from others ion G+ – not only about G+ but other social platforms too.

    Google has done an amazing job and can visualize how disruptive they will be.

    However with all things being equal my focus is the customer. Even if G+ is a ghost town – it is not – I’m an avid believer that my clients must be on G+.

  9. Selene says

    Dustin this is great! I’ve been trying to tell social marketers around me for months that Google+ is a force to be reckoned with only to be met with that all to familiar incredulous look and “ehhhh”.
    On another note, I love Google+! It’s cleaner, less cluttered and more informative…FB is simply a social playground.

  10. gekko says

    Bueno Dustin antes que nada me disculpas, ya que no se Ingles. Espero me leas si.
    Quiero decir que tocas puntos muy importantes en el nervio de las redes sociales.
    Yo mas bien pensaba que esto de “pueblo fantasma” ya había quedado en el pasado. Pero bueno, leo que seguimos en lo mismo.
    Tengo amigos, familia y conocidos que aun no despegan y siguen en facebook. Es algo que no comprendo, que como teniendo una alternativa tan brillante cono G+ no se hayan pasado. Pienso que hasta un sitio mas acorde con la familia es G+ ya que puedes reunirte con familiares lejanos por medio de los hongout. Y puedes organizar de mejor manera las publicaciones dirigidas a “familia” por medio de círculos. A su vez creo también que sería lamentable recibir un contingente de gente de facebook si fuera el caso que decidieran cambiar de red. Ya que en G+ nos caracteriza una cultura, que es la del sentido tecnológico y el de ser mas serios a la hora de hacer nuestros post. No me imagino a un plusero posteando “voy al sanitario” “voy a salir”
    No se, son cosas tontas que comúnmente pasan en facebook. Y hasta la falta de ortografía. Es otra cosa que uno en G+ trata de cuidar.
    Gracias por leer. Saludos desde Costa Rica.
    Mi perfil en G+ es “Gekko Lectro”
    De paso te agregue a mi círculo geek

    • says

      Gracias por comentar Gekko! Estoy de acuerdo, g+ es un gran lugar para conectarse con familiares y parientes. Es una lástima que la mayoría de las personas se resisten al cambio y tomará un tiempo antes de aceptar algo nuevo, como Google+. Con el tiempo van a ver la luz, aunque! lol

  11. says

    Brilliant article Dustin. I am a lover of G+ too. Kind of fatigued by Facebook. Pretty much fed up with it…Don’t mind Twitter. Linkedin OK, it can be helpful for connecting on a professional level. But for me, personally, G+ hits the balance just right. Not quite as invasive as FB and allows for proper conversations. I’ve met some outstanding and interesting people thanks to G+. Ssssh maybe we shouldn’t tell too many people or we’ll have people sharing their dinner like on FB? 😉

    • says

      Thanks Alana! I am right there with you. I’ve met so many great people on Google+ and had such rich conversations that I am often tempted to just keep it to myself. lol

  12. says

    Dustin obrigado por mais esse excelente trabalho. Realmente é inaceitável os “especialistas em tecnologia” continuarem se referindo ao Google+ como uma Cidade Fantasma. Já a algum tempo essa rede se tornou a minha rede social preferida. Você foi muito prático e objetivo nas suas explicações. Gostei também da sua colocação ao responder o primeiro comentário. no lato da página reconhecendo que o G+ não é uma rede perfeita. Ainda tem espaço para muitas melhorias. Mas é uma rede sensacional assim mesmo

    • says

      Graças Rivison! É inaceitável que estes especialistas tout suas opiniões com tanta autoridade assumida. Google+ sempre foi a rede mais interessante para mim e eu estou feliz que você tenha tido a mesma experiência!

      Por favor, desculpe o meu Português se parece estranho. Eu usei o Google Translate para escrever essa resposta!

  13. Simon says

    What I personally find so irritating is the heavy-handed way G+ has been introduced. If it were just a social media site that everyone was free to join or not, I wouldn’t have much objection. By tying in all Google services to rely on it, not having an account cripples everything, including the mobile phone I bought. Imagine my pleasure when I found out I can’t rate an app I paid for without a G+ account.

    Note this isn’t that I prefer Facebook or Twitter or ???. I simply don’t use social media. I get little benefit from it and dislike the leaking of personal information. I have no desire to see more kitten photos, freemium games, etc.

    Trying to force me to use G+ does nothing to engender my good will, just makes me hope ever more fervently that it will die a rapid death. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m that lucky.

    • says

      I hear you Simon– that’s what most people see wrong though. They’re not trying to force you to do anything you haven’t already asked to do which is use Google services. They’re uniting all their services to be seamless and highly integrated to make things better for users. Imagine Google’s problem– a hundred different services that fracture user profiles and are clunky and hard to use together if you want. What they’re doing is for the benefit and evolution of the entire Google ecosystem and it’s users.

      • Simon says

        I do see your point. However, if you’re talking about a unified logon systed, it already existed via Google’s excellent adoption of OpenID.

        If you want something a little more coherent, having a core authentication system for all other services would definitely make sense (and probably my support).

        Where G+ falls down is that it a) was Initially marketed as social media site and b) insists on trying to share everything I do publicly.

        Example: I want to comment on a video on YouTube. I expect my comment to be public (and link to other comments/videos by me). What I don’t expect is that it also links to my photo gallery, mobile phone, etc, etc.

        Now instead of just posting, I have to consider whether the linked information as a whole could allow some nutjob to hunt me down for [Insert reason]. Every time I comment, I double-check the “Publish to G+” box isn’t ticked.

        I may be more sensitive to this than most but since I work in IT security and one of the services we offer is exposure reports for clients, the sheer volume of information is troubling. Having it all joined together is just begging for someone to take advantage of it.

        Can you tell me why a single sign-on system wouldn’t be sufficient without forcing users to join a social media site?

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