Google+ passes Twitter to take number two social network slot behind Facebook

Something appears to be happening around Google’s Google+ at least this is what some new numbers tell us from GlobalWebIndex. It says Google+ has 343 million active users which makes it the second largest social network globally. That is likely surprise some, if not many as it is still difficult to see how much of this activity is because Google pushes its network so hard to anyone who has a Google profile.

Essentially Google+ has gone, according to these numbers, from being a ghost town to being the new number two social network. Better still GWI has YouTube as its third largest social network.

GlobalWebIndex (GWI) says the growth in Google+ demonstrates “the immense opportunity of linking Google’s services through the G+ social layer” and says this is a key indication of why Google+ integrated with the Google product set is key to the future of search and the internet”.

You can’t argue with that. The way Google+ is linked to search means more and more people are considering it just for that purpose. I wonder though how substantial it is in terms of what those users are doing.

What I mean is that while for instance while many media brands are very active on Twitter that is simply no the case on Google+. For instance the New York Times has made nine Google+ plus posts in the last week. Likewise the Guardian has also posted nine times. Hardly prolific although both are among the biggest media brands on Google+.

What is certainly true is that Google+ has closed some of the gap between itself and Facebook, which of course remains the biggest of the social networks by a long way.

GWI says that Facebook has almost 700-million active users, which is someone who has been on the site within the last month. That is obviously a long way from one billion figure we hear a lot of, but that one billion figure includes many who rarely visit the site and the well publicized issue of duplicates and fakes.

As for Twitter it remains the fastest growing social network, but GWI puts its active users a long way behind Facebook and Google+. Twitter grew 40% in 2012 to 288 million active users across 31 markets.

It would be interesting to know what GWI makes of the millions of Twitter users who post little, but use it follow many.

Global over local

The study found that the growth in the large, global social platforms is coming broadly at the expense of local services like MeinVz, Hyves, Copains d’Avant. Even more interestingly, GWI says it is seeing a serious decline across the board in local Chinese services with Tencent Weibo, Kaixin, Sina Weibo and QZone all falling substantially. In the case of Tencent Weibo this is up to 57%.

The case of China is interesting, but not unexpected. Social networks / services grew massively from 2009 to 2012 and some saturation is expected despite China being the world’s most socially active market. There are, however, some other reasons for declines in active usage that we have identified:

1. There are many networks, and it’s inevitable, despite China’s huge population and growing internet penetration that such a large number of mass market networks cannot be maintained.

2. Growing government clamp down with real names and phone number becoming the required standard for signing up.

3. Shifting of usage to more informal social media including blogs and forums, where privacy is easier to maintain;

4. Growth of apps and mobile;

5. Growth of international networks through proxy servers, VPNs, access through multi-national company networks and mobile apps.