Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) recently unveiled "Collections", a new feature which lets users create boards of images, videos, and other content based on specific interests on Google+. Simply put, Google is mimicking Pinterest, the social network that popularized "pinning" content.
Will adding Collections help Google's struggling social network gain any ground against market leader Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), or is it too little, too late?
The problem with Google+
When Google+ launched in June 2011, Facebook already had 800 million monthly active users (MAUs). That made Google+ a redundant service for many people, and its combining public and private worlds with Circles felt more complicated than simply "friending" or "following" other users.
In late 2013, Google claimed that the network had 540 million MAUs. However, The New York Times reported that half of those users -- which included those who used Google+ as a single sign-on for other Google services -- never visited the Google+ network. Earlier this year, an independent study by pseudonymous tech blogger Edward Morbius revealed that fewer than 200 million users made a single public post in nearly four years.
The devolution and transformation of Google+
Google has been streamlining Google+ by dropping and reorganizing features, but it's unclear if these efforts will prevent it from joining Orkut, Buzz, Jaiku, and Dodgeball in Google's graveyard of social media failures.
Last year, Google removed Google+ profile photos and circle counts from its search engine, claiming that they cluttered up search results. It also pulled the plug on Author Stats, a Google+ authorship-based metric found in its Webmaster Tools. Shortly afterwards, Google+ founder and chief Vic Gundotra resigned.
In March, Google announced that it would "unbundle" the network's Photos and Streams features into stand-alone products to compete against Facebook's Instagram and Twitter (NYSE:TWTR). Therefore, the recent addition of Pinterest-like features isn't terribly surprising.
Why imitate Pinterest?
Pinterest, which launched in 2010, is much smaller than Instagram or Twitter. Between March 2014 and March 2015, unique U.S. visitors to the site rose from 38 million to 53 million. The site had 70 million active users as of mid-2013.
What makes Pinterest unique is that its users willingly post ads for products. Instead of posting personal photos, like on Facebook or Instagram, many Pinterest users simply post photos and videos of stuff they like, want, or have. This makes it easier for marketers to seamlessly slip in "promoted pins". According to Shopify, the average order coming from Pinterest is currently $80 -- double the average of comparable referrals from Facebook.
Pinterest's user base is also overwhelmingly female at 85%. According to Comscore, women who use Pinterest are 30% more likely to shop online than the average woman. By comparison, only about a third of Google+ users are female.
It's about getting more female users
In regards to women, Google+ lags badly behind other social networks. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all more popular with females than males, according to Pew Research Center. The only other predominantly male social network is LinkedIn.
By imitating Pinterest with Collections, Google is clearly hoping to attract more female users to the site. Unfortunately, it's going to take a lot more than themed Google+ pages to convince women to start their own collections.
The main problem is that Google+ has already fallen too far behind the social networking leaders. Facebook finished last quarter with 1.44 billion MAUs, and Twitter now has 302 million MAUs. If Facebook or Twitter launched Pinterest-like features, they would probably have a better chance of succeeding due to their larger user bases.
Why Collections will fail
But even for leading social networks, "borrowing" another network's trademark features doesn't always pan out. Facebook, for example, cloned Snapchat with "Poke" in 2012, but quietly killed it off last year.
By comparison, Google+ doesn't really have any unique, defining features -- the entire network is basically a mashup of features from Facebook, Twitter, and other networks. Therefore, it's not surprising that Google added a Pinterest clone as well. Unfortunately, this strategy arguably dilutes the Google+ brand further and could confuse first-time users.
The key takeaways
Google's weakness in social networking leaves it wide open to disruption by Facebook, which is weaving a network of single sign-ons through third-party apps and sites. That thread tethers them all back to Facebook's main site and app, which makes it a streamlined and centralized platform for marketers.
Unless Google "gets" social soon, it could be left out in the cold as app developers, webmasters, and marketers rush to join Facebook's ecosystem instead of Google's. Unfortunately, emulating Pinterest (or other popular social sites) probably won't do much to improve the situation.
Leo Sun owns shares of Facebook. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), LinkedIn, and Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), LinkedIn, and Twitter. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.