Google has quietly done away with the mandatory integration of Google+ for new Gmail users, adding fuel to the fire that is the speculation of the social network's demise.
Back in 2012, Google made the adoption of Google+ mandatory for all new Google service users. When you signed up for a new account for YouTube, Gmail, AdWords, or another Google product or service, you were registered for Google+ as well.
Now, the mass enrollment of all Google users into Google+ has been quietly discontinued.
The change wasn't announced, but I noticed it and asked Google about it. An official spokesperson confirmed the changes to me via email, stating: "We updated the signup experience in early September. Users can now create a public profile during signup, or later, if and when they share public content for the first time (like a restaurant review, YouTube video or Google+ post)."
The Slow and Systematic Disassembly of Google+ as a Social Network
The abrupt about-face on Google's part is just the latest step in a series to dissemble what the company fought so hard to bring together over the last several years: Google+ as a social layer over all Google products.
- This April, Google+ godfather Vic Gundotra suddenly announced his departure from Google after eight years, causing a lot of buzz about where Google+ might be heading.
- Late in June, Google killed its Authorship program by removing author photos and Circle counts from Google+ from search engine results.
- Hangouts has been one of the unique features of Google+ since 2011. However, this July, Google made Hangouts available to Apps users even if they didn't have a Google+ account.
- Last month, anonymous sources told Bloomberg that Google intends to open its photo service up to user without a Google+ account, in a new service called Google+ Photos.
Those events are bizarre when you consider how hard Google has fought to shake the "Google+ Ghost Town" perception. Those changes all have the potential to reduce engagement and user time on site.
What's Next for Marketers in a Post-Google+ World?
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that Google+ has been massively deprioritized internally and is being disassembled, piece by piece.
Those changes mean marketers should consider doing the following.
- Start moving your eggs out of this basket. Getting fans and followers into your own ecosystem (rather than on an external property) is a best-practice in social networking. Make the effort to get fans and followers into your own email lists or other contact database.
- Re-evaluate Google+ as a network of priority. Marketers should be evaluating and prioritizing their organic social investment regularly, but that doesn't always happen as often as it should.
- Plan to point users elsewhere. A lot of companies have used their Google+ profile as a simple landing page to point users to more active networks all along. You knew it would rank in search, and you wanted to be found there... but not many people could justify the time investment. If you've crunched the numbers and scaling back on Google+ makes sense, have a plan to continue to monitor notifications while directing users to the network of your choice.
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I'm not suggesting a mass exodus from Google+. If you've invested in building an audience, don't leave those audience members hanging. Just come to grips with the fact that Google+ as a social network will probably suffer a decline in engagement and time on site with these recent changes. New membership is almost sure to fall rapidly now that enrollment isn't a mandatory part of joining other Google services.
If you don't need a Google+ account to use Google's photo services or Hangouts—and you aren't forced into adopting the network to use its more popular features—why use the social network at all?
That's the reality facing users in light of Google's loss of interest in their social network. The writing is on the wall: Marketers need to prepare an exit strategy.
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