Since Google launched their Google+ social network in June 2011 a lot has been written about whether it will be able to rival Facebook as a real alternative. Many people make a big deal of the numbers.
While Facebook currently has somewhere in the region of 800 million users globally, Google+ has around 65million. If a social network is only as valuable as the users it has, then clearly Google+ has some way to go before it becomes as useful or as important as Facebook.
However, to come to this conclusion is to completely miss the point. Google did not launch it's Google+ social network just to rival Facebook. Google's intention is not to compete with every successful online business until it is the only one left. No company could hope to successfully compete with the proliferation of online businesses that exist and be successful at all of them.
There is also the fact that any business with this strategy is likely to lose the goodwill of the general public very quickly.
Google did not launch Google+ to attack Facebook's domination of social networks. Rather, it launched Google+ to defend it's own position with regards to search.
The biggest influencer on human behaviour is 'social proof'. As human beings, we care what others think and it influences the decisions we make. That is why the book reviews on Amazon, or sites such as Trip Advisor, are so helpful when we are making buying decisions. As the Web evolves it is becoming more social. As the Facebook 'like' and Google '+1' buttons proliferate the Web, it will become easier for social networks to deliver search results that include what our friends think.
So, imagine searching on cinema listings and not only being given the times of films at your local theatre, but also being able to see the films your friends have recently rated as good. This would make search much more relevant for all of us. Google needed to create a social network in order not to lose it's grip on search as we enter the era of the 'Social Web'.
Google is already including information from Google+ in the search results it delivers. What this means for businesses is, that regardless of the numbers, Google+ is a tool that should not be ignored. Companies should have a presence on the network.
The bigger picture for businesses is that social mentions and 'likes' are going to become more important in search and 'being found' as the the Web evolves. Therefore, those businesses who do not take their 'social media presence' seriously are in danger of not being found in searches as the Web moves forward.
Google understood this fact and launched Google+ to ensure it does not get left behind in search. Make sure that you also recognise this trend for your business and, in so doing, help to safeguard its success in the future.