I haven't signed into my Google+ account in ages and, frankly, I didn't even know it was still a thing until I saw a recent news article about how its shutdown date has been pushed up by four months to April 2019 because of a newly discovered security breach.
It was a security breach that originally spelled the end for the social media network, as the Wall Street Journal reported in October that back in spring of 2018, Google had found that it had exposed hundreds of thousands of users' information and decided not to disclose that to users.
After the Wall Street Journal expose, Google announced it would be shutting down Google+ in August 2019.
The internet seems to have greeted the news of Google+'s demise (and the subsequent speeding up of that demise) with a collective "meh." With all the various things going on in the world, seeing a social network that you never used close down was likely not on anyone's radar.
But, it got me thinking about what lessons could be learned from the demise of Google+. Here are four of those lessons.
1. You have to differentiate yourself enough for people to care.
I remember thinking when Google+ first came out that it was a lot like Facebook, which it was clearly trying to emulate and usurp as the social media channel of choice for people. Apparently a lot of other people thought the same thing because I remember seeing a lot of memes and jokes online basically saying that Google+ was like Facebook minus the people.
If you want people to choose your product or service over someone else's (especially if you're asking them to leave your competitor), you better have something different enough to make people want to try it. The reason Snapchat was able to compete with Instagram is because it had a defining feature -- its disappearing messages -- that differentiated it enough to interest people. You've got to have more than just a different color scheme to stand out.
2. A strong brand name alone isn't enough to guarantee success.
It's easy to see where Google was coming from with this product. Virtually everyone knows Google and many people on the internet already have a Google account, so the name recognition alone should have theoretically been enough to establish it as a viable alternative to Facebook.
However, name recognition alone won't automatically make a new product desirable to people, especially when you're (really) late to the game and not offering anything distinguishable from your competitors. The business graveyard is full of products launched by big brand names outside of their core industry that were supposed to sell based on name recognition alone. Anyone remember a few years ago when Amazon tried to get into the cell phone market with the Fire Phone?
Yeah, me neither. (I got it from a list of greatest product flops.)
3. Switching services is a pain for people.
If you live in an area that has multiple big-name internet service providers, you know this drill. One of the competitors of your current provider will try to entice you away with a sign up offer of a 30 percent discount or something for the first six months. If you do take that offer, your former provider is right there bugging you to come back with an even better offer.
I can only speak for myself, but I think the main reason people tend not to take advantage of sign up offers with competing service providers is because it's such a pain to switch services. You have to go through the trouble of canceling your service with one company (and navigating all the roadblocks they inevitably put up to make it as a difficult as possible) and then setting things up with the other company.
Most people couldn't imagine shifting all their photos, etc. to Google+, especially since all their friends and family were over on Facebook.
One thing I've seen companies doing over the last few years to help combat this is service companies that take care of the cancelation for customers who switch. Since canceling is the biggest hurdle, this is a stroke of genius by companies that offer it.
4. Sometimes buying is better.
Sometimes it's just better to buy something that works and already has a proven track record. Facebook did it with Instagram and Google did it with YouTube. If you have the resources, just snapping up a hot commodity can be easier than trying to build from scratch. Obviously Google wouldn't have been able to simply purchase Facebook, but it may have been able to snap up some other burgeoning social media site without having to build something from scratch.
If you're looking to expand your business and you have the resources, sometimes it's just easier to lay down some cash on an already established company.
Google+ isn't likely to be missed by many people, but hopefully we can all use the lessons from its demise to better our own businesses.