Google Giveth and Google Taketh Away

My journey on Google’s Suggested User’s List for Google+

In July of 2013 I found myself added to Google’s Suggested Users List (or SUL). The list is displayed to new users as they create an account as well as existing Google account users when they first go to use the Google+ social platform. Up until the second week of March 2014, I was displayed to millions of new users as someone “Fun and Interesting.” During that time, over 400,000 additional users added me to their circles.

My addition to the SUL came without much warning. I simply noticed a large uptick in followers and later received an e-mail from a Googler informing me that I was being offered as a suggested person for new users to circle. They asked me for feedback after my first couple of weeks, but initially I didn’t notice much of a change.

Over time as I first crested 100,000 followers, I thought being on the SUL was going to be a great opportunity for me to grow an audience overnight, become well-known for what I do and hopefully introduced to opportunities that I would have never found before.

Eight months later, I can confidently tell you that not many of those things happened. Just after I eclipsed the 500,000 mark (507 actually), I got yanked from the list. Again, no warning, no communication, I just noticed that instead of gaining an extra thousand followers each day, I was losing 50-100. This “falloff” happens for a couple of reasons. Mostly, I assume it is from the removal of spam and phantom accounts that have been reported. But, unfortunately, I think it comes from a number of users that actively remove me from their circles.

While I enjoyed my time on the SUL, I think it negatively impacted the way I thought about producing content. I focused my efforts on Google+, at one point abandoning Twitter and then later deleting my Facebook account. Now, as I look back, I realize that I ignored some pretty simple advice from a number of smart people, “don’t make Google+ your only platform.”

Platform is a funny word, when we think of it as it relates to technology, we don’t always think of it as something you stand on, but if you could imagine Google+ as being your only soapbox, regardless of how many followers you have, you’re standing atop one of the weakest soapboxes in terms of frequency of engagement.

Even with over half of a million followers, I rarely see over 100 +1’s on a post. To put it simply, that’s two hundredths of two percent. or 0.02%. That’s not very much engagement.

I think the reason for the drop in engagement with growth of audience is due to some very simple math. When a social media platform like Google+ evaluates the “relevance” of your post, it looks to see how much engagement you are getting in a short period of time. I imagine if your content eclipses that threshold, it will be “pinned” so that more of your followers will see it when they next log in. The problem with large audiences is that the more people that follow you, the more engagement you need to ensure the preservation of your posts in others’ streams.

Basically, unless all of your followers live in your time zone and you have a large audience, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Now, if you stick to traditional tactics like posting the about the most trending subjects or just humorous (but not otherwise valuable) content, you can game the system and gain traction that way. However, if you are trying to share original content beyond bumper sticker philosophy, funny GIF’s or the most popular news story, you are going to be met with a serious reality check.

When I was on the SUL, I felt like I censored myself more, trying to keep content within some mysterious criteria that would keep me in Google’s good graces. I wanted to do whatever it took to keep myself on the list so I could guarantee maximum audience exposure (it’s what almost anyone would do). However, in doing so, I did myself–and my followers–a large disservice. I was no longer taking the time to carefully craft the content that I did when I was being discovered organically.

Now that the ride is over, I am focusing on redesigning my blog, building an e-mail list and trying to build a tribe that is actually invested and grateful for my message. All of that is going to take place here, so if you’d like to become a part of it, I invite you to come back often and join the conversation.

This is my platform now. I make the rules, I decide when to change the design and I respect the people that come to visit and be a part of it.

Google may give, and Google may take, but this is my website and these are my stories and I’m happy to start sharing them with you again.

7 thoughts on “Google Giveth and Google Taketh Away”

  1. Hi Peter, welcome back to the real world 🙂 It sounds as though you’ve had quite a ride! In some ways, although I have a tiny following compared to yours, I can understand the intoxication of numbers. Luckily, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have found a group of people here who have become genuine friends through G+, and that engagement is much more important to me than simply gaining numbers. Good luck with your new world here on G+ and elsewhere, we’ve shared the odd comment on G+ but I’m looking forward to really getting to know you. Cheers, Chris

    1. The “intoxication of numbers.” I really like that. In fact, I think that would be a great way to explain things to business owners that think they need to reach a certain audience size.

      I appreciate you stopping by my blog, taking the time to read and the time to share your thoughts. I really hope to see more of you around soon!

  2. A truly honest account Peter. There have been a few I’ve met on Google Plus that make me wonder how their follower count got to where it was as they post nothing useful or original. You may have just answered my question. I can’t imagine handling a follower count even above 10,000 because how do you engage with such a vast audience? I love my little audience of under 5,000 as I feel I know quite a few of them and I can trust them with candid posts such as this one you’ve shared. I’ve met so many wonderful people and have collaborated on so many things that the loss of such a connection saddens me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve dreamed of being on the SUL (like any sane Plusser), but your post makes me rethink the significance of follower count and the real burden it would actually bear.

    1. Alexandra, to put it simply, if you try to engage with your entire audience, you will fail. The important thing to do is to quickly learn who is dedicated to reading and engaging with YOU. Once you have figured out who your fans are, if you show them the love, they will continue to read. However, as you have pointed out before, if you are constantly interacting and it isn’t noticed, you might want to move along to somewhere where your contributions are well regarded.

      The blessing of an “overnight” audience is that you have a higher likelihood of someone finding your stuff. However, it comes with the burden of thinking you need to do something specific to maintain your audience. I’m learning that just being myself and telling quality stories leads to the most opportunity through conversation. Thanks for reading my post and sharing your thoughts! I’m sorry it took me a couple of days to get back to you.

  3. Great/honest analysis Peter! I’ve found similar things are true with my own Google+ following. In my case, I was added to the SUL in the early days and basically peaked at the 937,000 mark. I was removed once, added back again and then removed again — but to be honest, it’s not something I really tracked.

    Like you, I find my engagement really varies, but if I’m honest, it’s almost never as high as on other platforms, despite having so many more followers. That said, with specific types of content, I tend to get a larger response.

    And I think you made a good decision to stop crafting content for an audience. Be you. Engage with who you can and don’t worry about the rest! Cheers!

    1. Christina,

      I literally had butterflies in my stomach when I saw your comment. The greatest gift of blogging and the social web is the respect you can earn from sharing thoughts and ideas and you are totally right, which is why I’m going to stress less and focus more on sharing what interests me.

      As a smart [and very attractive] female, I bet that your experience was (unfortunately) much different than mine. However, that is the nature of the Internet, and I am sure the rest of the world. You mentioned that you receive more engagement on other channels, where do you focus on sharing your original content? Is most of what you write exclusively on Mashable?

      Thanks for stopping by, I hope we keep in touch!

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