Neither predictions came to pass.
On the one hand, Google Plus grew at lightening speed. By December 2012, it had over 500 million users, on a par with Twitter, and around half of Facebook's total userbase.
On the other hand, Google Plus remains a a social media ghost town. Though it has half a billion users, almost no one actually uses it, at least not regularly.
Is it really worthwhile for freelancers to use Google Plus? Or is it best to watch from the sidelines to see what its future holds?
Let's take a look and see how using Google Plus can benefit you as a freelancer.
One of Google Plus's biggest wins over Facebook is its intuitive privacy settings.
Google Plus makes it easy to protect your privacy, as circles are intuitive.
Facebook's privacy settings are notoriously difficult to set, meaning that unless you're extremely vigilant, personal photos or updates can leak to clients.
Even if you don't use your personal Facebook profile to promote your business, if you're anything like me, at least some of your clients are on your friend list, so the lines between personal and professional are somewhat blurred.
With its Circles feature, Google Plus does away with the blurred boundaries. You can put clients into one circle, and send them updates about your niche and business. Friends and family go into another circle, into which you post personal updates. Your network of fellow freelancers can go into another circle, where you can openly discuss questions or problems you're having on a project without clients peeking over your shoulder.
Google Plus makes it easy to protect your privacy, as circles are intuitive.
Note: Facebook offers a similar feature to circles, known as lists. However, creating a list on Facebook is a hassle, and even when you've made them, with Facebook's constant privacy changes, they never feel as watertight as you'd like them to be.
Hangouts and Collaboration
Google Plus's signature feature is its hangout function. Hangouts provide free video calls with up to ten participants. Considering Skype charges for this feature, it's a big reason to get onto Google Plus.
As a freelancer, Hangouts are perfect for meeting with clients, networking with other freelancers, or simply creating a virtual co-working space. Set it up with freelancer friends across the country, or even around the world, and it's like having them in the office with you.
Hangouts are the main reason I use Google Plus as a freelancer. I use it for meeting with clients, getting to know other freelancers, and collaborating on projects. Nothing beats a face to face discussion.
Authorship and Google Local
If hangouts isn't a big enough reason to use Google Plus, then either Authorship or Google Local should be.
When you claim authorship of an article using Google Plus, your name and face show up next to the title of the article in Google's search results.
Google Plus authorship is ideal for freelance writers and any freelancers who use writing as a marketing tool.
When you claim authorship of an article using Google Plus, your name and face show up next to the title of the article in Google's search results. This boosts brand recognition. It also demonstrates authenticity, increasing the trust of potential clients.
Google Local, meanwhile, helps your business show up in local search results. This is ideal for freelancers whose clients are in a particular location, such as hairdressers, carpenters, lawyers or gardeners.
While a Google Plus account isn't required to register your business with Google Local, having a combined Google Local and Google Plus account gives your brand a unified presence in the Google eco-system.
For freelancers who want to engage their clients and prospects with more than 140 characters at a time, yet who don't want the hassle of maintaining a professional blog, Google Plus offers an ideal middle way.
According to Google, there's no character limit on Google Plus updates. User tests have found the actual limit to be 100,000 characters, which is the length of a short novella.
If you're thinking about setting up a blog to share your thoughts and expertise, it's worth considering Google Plus.
The Big Drawback
Now we've looked at the positives of Google Plus for freelancers, let's look at why it might be a waste of time. There's one big reason: No one's there!
Well, this isn't completely true. Google Plus has over 500 million members. And every day, millions of people move around the margins of Google Plus through Google Local, Hangouts, Picasa and Social Search.
Yet the core of Google Plus, its social network, is hardly used at all. It's a social networking ghost town.
Google Plus membership exploded in the first couple months after it launched, leading some to speculate that it would quickly go head-to-head with Facebook and Twitter.
That hasn't happened.
Research in 2012 found Google Plus users spend an average of three minutes a month on the network. That compares to six hours a month for the average Facebook and Pinterest user, and 1.5 hours a month for the average Twitter user.
Worse than that, even users who start off enthusiastic will gradually tail off their usage. Research by RJM Metrics found 30% of users who make a public post on Google Plus never make a second one, and for those who make more than one public post, there's an average of 12 days between posts.
Additionally, over time the number of public posts a user makes declines.
From that point of view, it looks like Google Plus is headed for the scrapheap.
All this begs the question: unless your kids, partner, family, friends, freelance colleagues and clients start using Google Plus, is it really worth being there?
Sure, it has better privacy, but what's the point of privacy if no one's listening?
A Phoenix From The Flames
Google Plus isn't Google's first foray into social networking.
Google Buzz and Google Wave both ended up in Google's graveyard, along with many other Google experiments including Google Sidewiki and Google Notebooks.
Is Google Plus headed the same way?
Given the level that Google has integrated Google Plus into its core product - search - this seems unlikely. Despite the struggle to win users over to its features, Google hasn't shut away Google+ in its closet of failures, as it did with Buzz and Wave, so it looks probable the network is here to stay.
Google is backing this horse, and when Google speaks it's worth taking notice.
What's more, the network is still slowly pulling in bloggers, YouTube viewers, small businesses and games.
Google Plus could still rise from its current position. Entrepreneur Dave Llorens recently put his neck on the line to back Google Plus. In a Fast Company article, he wrote:
"I'm willing to stake my reputation on the following statement: If Google Plus doesn’t have a staggering number of active users by the end of 2013, you can all come over to my office and pie me in the face."
Google Plus: Worth It For Freelancers?
The jury's out, but that's no reason to avoid Google Plus.
Google Plus is the best designed social network for freelancers, solopreneurs and small business owners. Features such as Hangouts, Local and Authorship make it attractive right now, even if engagement on the core network is low.
If more people start using it, it will become the place to go. But for now? It's worth being there, and there's no need to devote a lot of time to it to reap the benefits.
Why not sign up for an account - or log in if you have a Google account already - and take a look around?
Take some time to learn it and get a feel for it. Don't worry if it seems a little overwhelming. It always takes time to get familiar with a new social network.
If you need a helping hand, I'll be guiding you through Google Plus series of Freelance Switch articles devoted to Google Plus. I'll show you:
- How to set up and optimize your Google Plus freelancer account.
- Who to put in your Google Plus circles.
- What to share in your Google Plus updates.
- How to use Google Plus to boost your search rankings.
- How to find and connect with prospective clients.
- How to use Hangouts for business meetings.
- How to use Google Plus as a research and content curation tool.
All these Google Plus articles are coming in the next few weeks.
What Do You Think?
I'd like to know more about how you use Google Plus as a freelancer.
Do you use Google Plus? If so, how often do you post updates? Do use it to connect with clients? What are your favorite Google Plus tools? In your opinion, is Google Plus here to stay, and if so, is it worth it for freelancers?