Google+ is probably not gaining enough ground to go mainstream as a social media platform and to do so, they need to “go Jay-Z.” This is what I mean …

Has Google+ been successful in attracting a large and engaged audience?

Certainly there is a lively, passionate, and involved group of users — and it’s hard to cut through the hype — but there is some indication that the social platform is languishing with key demographics.

Yes many people have accounts, perhaps they even peek inside to see what is going on once in awhile, but I think the business case for Google+ right now is “Let’s be there … just in case.” As long as that is the major value of the platform, it’s going to be a difficult proposition to compete with Facebook.

Now, I know there are many passionate advocates who will say “but I LOVE it!” but we can look at some data to get an idea that Google+ probably is not making a dent in the core Facebook audience.

The line below indicates when Google+ was rolled out. You could logically argue that Facebook usage has accelerated since then:

Last week, Edison Research revealed that a staggering 80 percent of the U.S. population between the ages of 19-34 are active on Facebook. The report concluded that essentially Facebook IS the social web for this demographic.

But don’t just look at the research. Go out and talk to young people and see what they say.  In the past eight weeks, I taught classes to about 350 business/journalism/design students ranging from 19 to mid-30s. I always try to get a sense of where they are with social media with a show of hands.   About 25% had Google+ accounts. But NOT ONE had been active in the past week. Both Pinterest and LinkedIn had more signs of life.

So why is Google+ apparently struggling when industry titans like Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki and Chris Brogan are pumping it up like it’s social media crack?

The Kids.  Don’t.  Care.

Somehow, some way, Google needs to make Google+ “tip” with the cool kids. And by cool kids I do not mean Guy Kawasaki. I mean cool KIDS.  The brand needs to be legitimately addictive and relevant enough to get young folks to move away from Facebook in droves.  That is going to be extraordinarily difficult. But here’s one place they could start …

Celeb identity game

When my clients are in the process of defining their brand image, one of the tricks I use is to ask them, “If your product were a celebrity, who would it be? So, for example, a line of eco-friendly, cause-oriented fashion accessories chose Sheryl Crowe. So we began to explore the colors, images, textures, sights and sounds of Sheryl Crowe that could be incorporated into digital and brand imagery. This exercise provides a concrete, visual reference point for people working on the brand.

The celebrity I would associate with Google+ is “Tom Hanks.”  Safe. Wholesome. Mainstream. Reliable. Somebody you would bring home to mom. The problem is, the age group they need to appeal to wants Jay-Z or Justin Bieber. Maybe both: Jay-B?

Today, Google+ does not fill any significant need that is unmet by Facebook. They don’t care about hang-outs or possible implications for SEO.  Google+ is invisible to this generation. Kind of like Tom Hanks. Somehow, they need to get in a Jay-Z frame of mind.

Unless Google’s goal is to always be the “niche for geeks” they simply must break out of that Silicon Valley love-fest bubble and get out on the street with the kids. Google+ has to figure out how to appeal to the 19-34 demographic deeply, rapidly and NOW if it has any hope of really going mainstream.

And the winner is …

My hunch? They can’t do it. It’s just too far from who they are as a company.

Like so many tech companies, I think they believe if they build a better product they’ll win. That is not necessarily the case.  History is filled with better products that lose.  To win, you also have to build an emotional tie with your audience. Do you think the kids can better relate to Facebook’s founder, a college drop-out millionaire in a hoodie or the Google engineer with the Stanford degree in the button-down shirt?

What do you think?  Can Google “go Jay-Z?” Is there a formula for them to win?

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