According to a recent report three quarters of the worlds top brands have Google+ pages, with a combined following of more than 20 million fans.
This is a massive 9,400% increase since December 2011 when only 222,000 people followed them collectively.
But while writing a recent series of posts looking at how some of the world’s top brands use social I noticed that the amount of effort put into their G+ pages massively varies, while user interaction with content and posts is almost non-existent.
So to find out whether this is a common theme, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how the UK’s top 20 online retailers use G+ and the levels of engagement that they achieve.
Just to clarify, this post isn’t about the SEO benefits of G+ or the potential for +1s to become more important in future, it’s an evaluation of how brands use G+ and how their fans respond…
Amazon.co.uk doesn’t appear to an official Google+ account, but Amazon.com does.
It was last updated in September 2012 and only a few times per month prior to that, so clearly Amazon hasn’t bought into Google’s social platform.
Argos has a verified account, but hasn’t posted any content or updated its ‘About’ details.
Unsurprisingly, Apple hasn’t bother with G+ at all.
It appears that Tesco is somewhat of a late adopter of G+, as it posted its first update in January this year, but has since maintained a steady stream of content.
Most of the content is repurposed from Facebook, but then there’s nothing particularly wrong with using duplicate content on different social networks.
Tesco’s follower count has increased to almost 12,000 followers in just a few short months, but to put that in some context Sainsbury’s has almost 60,000.
Next maintains a particularly active G+ account, updating it at least once a day with content that is mostly shared with its Facebook page.
This includes videos, images and sales promotions, but despite having 54,000 followers the updates generally get fewer than 10 +1s and comments.
M&S has a slightly erratic approach, sometimes posting several updates in a single day then other times going several days without posting anything at all.
Even so, its wall is constantly updated with new content, but as with Next engagement is extremely limited.
John Lewis maintains an active Google+ and post daily updates. Some of the content is repurposed from Facebook, but it’s mostly unique to G+.
As is common with this network the amount of user interaction is limited, with no more than a couple of comments and around 10-20 +1s per post.
When responding to comments the social team identify themselves by name, which is the same tactic used on Facebook and adds a personal touch to the conversations.
As a result of the effort put into the platform, John Lewis has clocked up 105,479 followers, which is a healthy number but way off ASOS’s 1.4m.
ASOS has one of the most attractive and active G+ pages among the retailers on this list, as it posts one or two updates every day and uses unique content rather than repurposing Facebook updates.
As a result there is a decent amount of user activity on its page, with each post achieving around 50 to 100 +1s and up to 10 comments.
It has 1.4m followers making it the most popular UK brand on the network. In comparison, fashion brand All Saints has 1.2m followers while Net-A-Porter has 600,000.
Debenhams has slightly fewer than 50,000 followers and posts several updates per day to keep them entertained.
As with most of the other brands, all the content is repurposed from Facebook and get very few comments or +1s.
Travel agent Thomson has more than 150,000 followers and posts updates on an almost daily basis.
The content is almost exclusively of exotic travel destinations and looks great, however engagement is extremely low.
Expedia generally posts several times each day featuring gorgeous holiday locations, but while it has been regularly updating its wall for around a year it still only has 7,000 followers.
As with Argos, easyJet has a verified account but hasn’t bothered to post any updates as of yet.
There is an official joint account for Currys and PC World, however it only posts content about once per month and gets barely any user interactions.
In fact despite establishing the account last July, Currys has just 1,750 followers.
Thomas Cook’s G+ page looks broadly similar to Thomson and Expedia’s, however it achieves a much higher level of engagement than the other travel brands.
It posts images of tropical holiday destinations every few days and achieve tens of comments and +1s from its 150,000 followers.
LOVEFiLM has been posting several updates per week since January 2012, but has only managed to attract 2,000 followers.
It does make you wonder whether it’s really worth the effort?
Topshop has a whopping 1.1m followers, making it one of the most popular UK retailers on G+.
But despite its high follower count and daily updates, Topshop’s posts don’t attract many more comments and +1s than Thomas Cook which has 150,000 followers.
This suggests that are willing to follow brands that they like on G+, but aren’t necessarily inclined to actually interact with wall posts in high numbers.
Far more interesting for fans are Topshop’s recent Google Hangouts, which gave a behind-the-scenes look at London Fashion Week.
Fans could chat to celebrities and bloggers at a Topshop fashion show, as well as getting a view of what it’s actually like to be on the catwalk.
The footage gained more than four million views across G+, YouTube, Twitter and various other platforms, and was subsequently used to allow customers to vote on the products they wanted to see in-store.
As with Argos and easyJet, B&Q has been awarded a verified account by Google+ but has yet to do anything with it.
New Look has been posting updates to its G+ page several times per day since March 2012, yet has only managed to attract 2,400 followers.
As a result, the posts obviously get very few interactions.
Asda is another latecomer to G+, first posting on January 31 and following up with several updates per week since then.
It now has 1,200 followers, but its posts go largely unnoticed.
The Train Line joined G+ in January 2012 but has posted just nine updates since then, the last one appearing on December 11 2012.
It’s hardly a ringing endorsement for the platform, though it’s interesting to note that The Train Line has managed to attract 2,300 followers which is almost the same number as New Look.
If you were looking for positives in this brief survey you could point to the fact that 19 of the top 20 brands have established Google+ accounts (Apple is the only exception), however the reality is that only 13 of them update their pages on a regular basis.
Argos, easyJet and B&Q have all established pages then done nothing else, while Currys, The Train Line and Amazon have posted a few updates but generally seem uninterested.
And even among those that maintain active pages, if you look at the level of engagement in terms of comments and +1s then it’s hard to gauge what value G+ has in terms of being a ‘traditional’ social network.
At a very basic level we measure a brand’s success on social by looking at how many users are engaging with and sharing their content, but nearly all of the content these brands are posting goes entirely unnoticed.
For example, Topshop has 1.1m followers but its posts never get more than a handful of interactions, which does make you wonder whether it’s worth posting content on a daily basis.
It could be that the tactics need to change. Most of the brands that maintain an active account use content that is also posted on other social networks, and it’s unlikely that somebody is going to comment on the same post on both Facebook and G+.
From a user perspective the only feature that really differentiates G+ from its competitors is Hangouts, so perhaps brands should focus on how they can make better use of that unique feature rather than sticking to the same old publishing strategy.
I’ve already mentioned Topshop’s success with this feature, while Cadbury has experimented with Hangouts by hosting chats with its Olympics athletes and here at Econsultancy we’ve also used the platform to promote several of our reports.
Admittedly the results were mixed, but it’s certainly something with which we will continue to experiment.
Overall though something’s got to change, as it’s pointless for brands to continue publishing content on G+ that just gets ignored.