Google+ is a social network which is in steady decline. Despite its 418 million active users, the platform can be considered a niche network for heads of state and governments, very few of which are active on the platform.
The social network enjoyed explosive growth after it was introduced in 2011, reaching 25 million users in just a month. Through the integration with other Google products such as Gmail and YouTube, many users were forced to sign up to Google+ but have not been active on the platform. While the initial fan count exploded, the engagement on the social network did not follow suit. The New York Times even compared Google+ to a ghost town, as half of the 540 million monthly active users did not even visit the social network.
Burson-Marsteller’s research team has identified 271 Google+ pages of heads of state and government and foreign ministers. However only a third of these pages were active in the past six months and very few on a regular basis; 122 pages have been dormant for more than six months and 55 pages have never posted content. While all of the pages combined have a total of 22,270,176 followers, the engagement rate of the pages surveyed is often well below 1 percent. Fifty-four pages are officially verified and carry an official verification badge. Only a quarter of all pages have a custom URL preceded by the + symbol and only slightly more than half of the pages have uploaded a custom header picture.
Most Followed World Leaders on Google+
Barack Obama is the most followed world leader on Google+ with 6.2 million followers, almost twice as many as the White House (+WhiteHouse) with 3.2 million followers. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (+NarendraModi) is in third place with nearly 3.1 million followers. The +EuropeanCommission is in fourth place with 1.6 million followers and UK Prime Minister David Cameron is in fifth position with more than a million followers. HH Sheikh Mohammed, the Prime Minister of the UAE; the government of the Philippines; India’s Foreign Ministry +MEAIndia; the government of Brazil; and Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also make the top 10 list of the most followed Google+ pages. Eight pages surveyed do not display the number of followers.
Although governments have gathered respectable followings, they are barely active on the platform and a post on Google+ is often done only as an afterthought. Barack Obama’s page has been dormant since March 2015 and the page of the UK Foreign Office and the Philippine government have been dormant since mid-2015. David Cameron posted his last update on January 1, 2016 to wish his followers a Happy New Year, and the last post from Brazil’s president was on her birthday on December 14, 2015. Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy’s page, which was used during his election campaign, has been inactive since his election in December 2011.
The White House has only posted four posts this year, namely three clips and a picture from the annual #YouTubeAsksObama interview with top YouTube creators conducted in the White House in January 2016 after Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address. HH Sheikh Mohammed, the Prime Minister of the UAE, posted only one post in 2016, a link to his LinkedIn publication on why the UAE has created Ministers for Happiness, Tolerance, Youth and the Future?
Most Active World Leaders on Google+
The Brazilian government has the most active Google+ page with 1,455 posts since the beginning of 2016. The page is linked to its website, automatically posting, when a new story is published on the website. However, the page only received on average five interactions per publication and has one of the lowest engagement rate with 0.0008 percent interactions in relation to the number of followers.
The Indian Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department have posted 550 and 428 posts respectively in 2016, mainly sharing videos from their YouTube channels, posting picture galleries of official meetings and links from their websites. Both Foreign Ministries receive on average 40 comments, likes and shares on each of their posts, but the U.S. State Department has a slightly better engagement rate as it has only half as many followers as its Indian counterpart. Both pages essentially recycle their Facebook posts on their Google+ pages, with the State Department even posting an invitation to a live Facebook Q&A on its Google+ page.
Most Effective World Leaders on Google+
The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the most effective world leader on Google+. His posts get on average 1,899 interactions and he has received a total of 478,000 likes, comment and shares on his publications in 2016, with an engagement rate of 0,0615percent The White House is in second position with an average of 594 interactions on its four posts and HH Sheikh Mohammed received 462 interactions on his single post in 2016.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is in fourth position, with an average of 119 interactions, and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko averages 71 interactions on his posts. The European Commission tailors its content to Google+, even sometimes tagging other Google+ users in its posts.
The EU Commission can claim an average of 62 interactions per post on Google+. The EU Commission has also created a set of 10 interest-based collections for Migration, Europe’s External Action, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Digital Single Market et al. which users can follow to receive topical posts.
What’s the Plus of Google+?
Some people argue that the single most important reason to have an active Google+ page is for search engine optimization. Until recently, Google+ pages were displayed prominently on the right hand side next to Google’s search results.
However, Google+ pages are no longer displayed alongside search results unless the social media profile is linked from the official website using structured data markup. Only the pages of Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier have linked their Google+ profiles from their respective webpages and their social media properties are displayed below the Wikipedia pages in Google search.
Hanging out on Google+
Probably the most important reason to set up a Google+ page is the possibility to organize live video calls, known as Google Hangouts. These videos chats allow direct interaction with up to 10 people in a live video broadcast, the recording of which is available immediately afterwards on YouTube.
Barack Obama participated in one such Google+ hangout, moderated by Google’s Steve Grove in January 2014, and India’s Narendra Modi conducted a Google+ hangout on his channel to answer questions from citizens in 2012 when he was still Chief Minister of Gujarat State. The two-hour long conversation, now available on his YouTube channel, has been watched 770,000 times since. Other leaders who have used Google Hangouts to talk directly with their constituents include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.
In essence, Google+ seems to suffer from social media fatigue, as it is often the last social network a community manager will actually service, often reposting posts from Facebook. World Leaders are slowly abandoning the platform and even the high interaction on live Google+ Hangouts has been supplanted by Facebook live and Periscope broadcasting applications.
About this Study
World Leaders on Google+ is Burson-Marsteller’s latest research into how world leaders, governments and international organizations communicate via social media. The research builds on Burson-Marsteller’s highly acclaimed annual Twiplomacy study, now in its fifth year. Initially focused solely on Twitter, the 2016 study has been expanded to other social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and more niche digital diplomacy platforms such as Snapchat, LinkedIn, Google+, Periscope and Vine.
Burson-Marsteller has identified a total of 271 Google+ pages of governments and world leaders. Data was collected on May 6, 2016 and the full Excel data table can be downloaded here.
Thank you to Matthias Lüfkens for his ongoing strategic guidance on Twiplomacy and the World Leaders on Social Media series.