One of the hot questions right now about social networks is, how long before Facebook is dethroned as the largest social network, and which network will ascend to that throne? Marketers, public relations professionals, and business executives ask us frequently about the other big networks like LinkedIn and especially Google+. Will Google+ take on Facebook in a meaningful way? Let’s find out if we can.
One of the benefits of doing marketing and PR for a wide variety of clients, colleagues, and friends is that we are privileged to look at the web analytics of many different kinds of websites. To answer the question about which social networks were working best, we took a web analytics snapshot of the fourth quarter of 2013 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31) for a collection of friends, clients, prospects, and other organizations we’ve asked to look at.
In this snapshot, we looked at the unique visitors to the websites in total, and then unique visitors from Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to see which social network was driving the most people to destination websites. Our collection of examined sites runs the gamut from wildly popular sites with a million or more visitors to niche sites with just a few hundred visitors. The collection is roughly balanced between B2B and B2C sites, and noted as such; to maintain confidentiality, the sites themselves have been obscured.
What’s the verdict?
Right now, for our non-representative sample, the network driving the most visitors to destination websites is Twitter; 76% of socially-sourced traffic comes from the little bird. Facebook comes in second with 24% of socially-sourced traffic, and Google+ comes in at 0%. For every site we looked at, Google+ was not delivering the same kinds of traffic that its competitor websites were, even after significant changes by Google, such as requiring YouTube commenters to use Google+ in November 2013.
When we dig down into the numbers, Google+ doesn’t crack 1% of socially-sourced traffic for any site, whereas for some sites, Facebook represents up to 31% of a site’s traffic (in one B2C client’s case). More importantly, Twitter is consistently the winner when it comes to driving traffic, especially for B2B sites; it’s a split in terms of “winner” between Twitter and Facebook for B2C sites. Despite having significantly fewer users than Facebook, Twitter is clearly punching above its weight for actually getting visitors to destination websites.
It’s important to note that this data is not representative of the Internet at large. It’s a reflection only of the companies, brands, and websites that have chosen to give us access to their web analytics, and while there is a healthy mix of different company types and website sizes, you can’t make an automatic extrapolation to the Web at large. Certainly, if Google+ is outperforming others in your own web analytics, don’t fix what isn’t broken!
Does this mean you should abandon your nascent Google+ strategy or not bother with the service? Our answer is an emphatic no, because Google is forcing more and more of its services to rely on Google+, which means in time it may deliver better results. Have a Google+ strategy, be using the service, but don’t invest a ton of time or resources into it until it delivers better results. Be there, but don’t live there.
Our overall recommendation, then, is that you should be participating on as many social networks as you can devote time and resources to, testing out new ones as they come along, but it’s reasonable to expect Twitter to hit the hardest for B2B, Facebook and Twitter to do well for B2C, and Google+ to not knock your socks off.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology