One of the main points of feedback I received from last week’s post, Google+ Implications for University Recruitment, was that college students may never use the service like they use Facebook. I don’t discard this criticism. As a fact, I think it’s relevant to much of the conversation about social media and higher education, including my two favorite social networks: Twitter and Google+. We know almost all of our students are on Facebook, but we quickly seem to forget that the popular platform has been around for over seven years. Facebook is not a new technology for this fall’s incoming freshmen; it started when they were eleven years old.
Twitter, by comparison, is only five years old and has experienced a much slower adoption rate than Facebook. Officially, Twitter has over 200 million users, although some sources are reporting that figure to actually be 300 million. However, others say that only 25 million Twitter accounts are active, and an even small number, 7 million, are “meaningfully active.” Compare that to Facebook’s reported 750 million active users, half of whom log on every single day, and you’re not comparing apples to apples.
So, what does usage look like in the 18-24 demographic? A recent PEW study found that 18% of 18-24 year-old internet users reported using Twitter. How exactly they define internet user and non-user, I’m not sure. One thing I am sure of is that Facebook blows Twitter out of the water in this area: 80% of 18-24 year-olds use Facebook at least once per month. In a social media rock, paper, scissors game, Facebook is a bulldozer. It will still be quite some time before Twitter becomes standard operating procedure for online young adults, if that time even comes. (In the mean time, don’t forget that there are data-supported educational uses for Twitter.)
Then, along comes Google+. Sure, it only has 20 million users. We don’t have any demographic data of who those users are, but I think an educated guess that the majority of them are not college students would not be off-base. So why am I still talking about Google+? Because it has 20 million users…after 30 days…in beta.
How long did it take Facebook to reach 20 million users? Just over three year—a full 19 months after it added high schools to its networks. Forget the Facebook bulldozer, Google+ might be a bomb waiting to drop. If it continues growing at its current rate, Google+ will hit 100 million users in about 5 months. Facebook had 100 million users after 4 and a half years.
I predict that high school and college students will migrate to Google+ much faster than Facebook or Twitter. Why? Google will begin to integrate its already popular services into the platform, and it will become second-nature to them. They’ll use Google Apps for Education, Google Calendar, Google Reader, and maybe they’ll make the jump to Gmail. Have you noticed that Google began a push to “save your friends from outdated email” in the last few days?
If you haven’t logged into Google+ yet, this is what you see:
I suspect that when it’s out of beta, Google will have figured out how to seamlessly integrate Google+ into the rest of the Google suite of products. I expect that to happen soon, and when it does, I think college students will be there. They’ll probably use the service much differently than I do, but they’ll find their place. Will colleges and universities be there to greet them?