Survey Results: To What Degree is Marketing Punished in Google Plus?

by Rod Dunne on April 24, 2012

in Marketing

To what degree is marketing by individuals punished in Google+? This is precisely what I wanted to find out with my survey. But I also wanted to establish how reactive people were in punishing those who plied their wares using Google+ Profiles (as opposed to G+ Pages).

I’ve not seen any surveys like this online as most reports focus upon the actions, tools & techniques of marketing specialists, rather than ask the users of social media themselves how they feel about the marketing they see daily.

Well, the results are in (April 2012) and I hopefully have some interesting data and observations to show you.


    • The goal of the survey was to establish how readily Google Plus users punish attempts at marketing within the stream.  Punishment includes reporting, un-circling and demoting to rarely viewed circles.
    • It focuses on the types of marketing performed by sole-traders, since many of these people use Google+ Profiles rather than the business-oriented Google+ Pages.

  • Frequency of posts & positive reaction rates were out of scope so as to avoid this information being used by spammers.
  • The original 6 survey questions did highlight some interesting differences in G+ user reactions based on context, direct vs. indirect marketing approaches, etc. which have a bearing on how to market in G+.


  • Image marketing is punished MUCH LESS than text marketing
  • Indirect marketing is punished LESS than direct marketing
  • There is no discernible difference in reactions between product marketing & service marketing
  • ALL forms of marketing are punished to some degree (demotions, uncircling & reporting)

Full Results of the Survey

The original survey introduction:
How do you react to seeing products & services in Google+ posts? This survey hopes to highlight some of the unwritten rules about Google+. In particular, I’d like to establish how you feel about direct & indirect marketing of products and services via Google+ profiles. Please assume that the persons below are:

  • New to your stream (added as part of some small circle of ‘Engaging People on G+’)
  • Using a Google+ Profile and not a Google+ Page

Overall Reaction to All Marketing (Average of All 6 Questions)

Survey Results - Average Response to All Forms of Marketing

Total # of survey participants: 287


  • All forms of marketing are punished to some extent. Whether this is something quite mild (being demoted to an infrequently read circle) or in the most extreme case being reported for spamming.

QUESTION: A person posts to G+ a professional quality photograph from their latest collection. How do you react?

The picture is an inoffensive shot of a child. Their photo-studio website name is overlaid on the image.

Survey Results - Photographer

Nature of marketing:

  • Direct marketing. This is self-promotion of the owners website along with the potential to buy prints as well as commission photography services.
  • Note with all of these questions that it starts with ‘A person posts…’. As this person is new to your circles you cannot be certain if they are professional photographers plying their wares or not. As this survey tested the response to that initial first post, it is testing the gut reaction to social marketing irrespective of the perceived nature of the posters profession.


  • While some small amounts of punishment are present it is nowhere near as bad as some of the other contexts. In this case, the nature of photography as an art form allows for the pictures to be enjoyed without any need for purchase. People are more tolerant of this form of marketing in this context/profession.

QUESTION: A person posts on G+ a picture of themselves receiving an award relating to web security services. How do you react?

Their website name is overlaid on the image.

Survey Results - Web Security Specialist

Nature of marketing:

  • Indirect marketing, image only. The specialist (and this could’ve been any type of service) is actually promoting their level of authority in a very public way. But this is quite subtle in that it does not appear to be overt. Note however that the expert’s website name is actually overlaid on the image.


  • The lack of severe punishment for this form of marketing is interesting. The large majority of individuals do not realize that this is an indirect form of promotion and marketing. They are displaying their authority without using any form of words. If the person viewing the post was in need of a web security specialist then without doubt this individual, with their supposedly expert status, would seem like a prime candidate to contact.

QUESTION: A person posts the 1st chapter of their new book in a G+ post. How do you react?

The amount of text is 1000 words long. At the bottom is a link to the book on Amazon.

Survey Results - Author

Nature of marketing:

  • Direct marketing, text-only. This is quite an overt way to market a book by providing a teaser chapter for people to read first. While there is no obligation to buy, this option can prove effective for pulling people in to buy the book in order to see how this story ends.


  • It was surprising to see how many people actually demoted & uncircled the individual for doing this. Perhaps the fact that it was text-only did not appeal to a great many people (i.e. who are more image oriented).

QUESTION: A person posts to G+ a ‘How To’ guide about the crowd-funding systems they are using in a startup. How do you react?

The post is 500 words long. At the bottom is a link to the startup website and crowd-funding page.

Survey Results - Crowd Funding Entrepreneur

Nature of marketing:

  • Indirect marketing, text-only. While this may seem like some helpful startup entrepreneur providing information about the tools that they use, it is in fact a way to get people interested in their business and contributing venture capital to their fund. The presence of the crowd funding page link is an indicator that this entrepreneur wants readers to head on over to their site and potentially invest in their startup.


  • Given the expense involved investing in startups (which can run into the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars for individuals) it was surprising that more people did not feel offended by this approach. They would certainly be looking for a lot more money than the cost of a Halloween costume. While a great many people uncircled or demoted the person this could have been in part due to having no interest in startup companies.

QUESTION: A person posts on G+ a picture & brief description of Halloween costumes for sale. How do you react?

The picture used is original. The description text is 20 lines. Their website name is overlaid on the image

Survey Results - Product Seller

Nature of marketing:

  • Direct-marketing combining text and image. This is in fact what would traditionally be seen as the most undesirable types of product marketing. It is deliberately quite a tame product being promoted and would in fact be valuable to many parents around Halloween time.


  • While the picture may be original and there is only a small amount of text, it does appear that Google+ users punished these type of marketers more than others. While these marketers may have the same commercial goals as others (i.e. to make a few dollars selling costumes) the picture itself has no artistic quality which can be admired in the same way the professional photographer’s picture was.
  • Had the picture been artistic or of a comedic nature then perhaps the punishment levels would’ve been lower.
  • A more ‘spammy’ product would have upped the lower limits of tolerance and increase the punishment.

QUESTION: A person posts to G+ a list of life coaching services they provide. How do you react?

The post is 20 lines long. At the bottom is a link to their website.

Survey Results - Life Coaching

Nature of marketing:

  • Direct marketing, text-only. This was the most blatant type of self-promotion out of all six questions.


  • The nature of the post itself is blatantly commercial, provides no real value-add to the reader unless they are in the market for life coaching.
  • Life coaches and other service providers should not be disheartened by this. It is merely the fact that the promotion is so direct and text-based that the punishment levels were so high. Providing indirect marketing posts containing stories from your profession or general advice freely would not receive the same amount of punishment. Or follow the lead from the ‘web security experts’ question and post pictures showing off your standing/authority/achievements in the community.

Comments/Analysis/Insights: Add to discussion on this Google+ thread.

Comparison of Punishment Levels (excludes ‘Take No Action’)

Survey Results - Comparison of Punishment Tolerance Levels


  • It’s quite apparent that the direct marketing approach for promoting products or services really doesn’t work consistently across the board. The one exception to this is promoting professional photography. This does appear to be quite an anomoly on the face of it as professional photographers share their pictures in an effort to find customers/markets willing to buy their prints/books or commission their services. The difference is that the pro-photographers work has an aesthetic beauty to it which can be enjoyed on face value, whereas the product marketeer’s picture of a Halloween costume does not.
  • Comparing the 2 artisic endeavors – Photographers & book authors – there is a massive difference between the punishment levels with writers.

Product Marketing Versus Service Marketing

Survey Results - Product Vs Service


  • The level of punishment for those marketing products versus those marketing services was negligibly different.

Direct Marketing Versus Indirect Marketing

Survey Results - Direct Vs Indirect


  • Overall, indirect marketing is punished significantly less than direct marketing. Of course, the actual content of the product/service being promoted has a bearing as regards what degree of punishment can be expected.

Text Marketing Versus Image Marketing

Survey Results - Text Vs Image


  • There is a major difference between punishment levels here. Image-based posts are generally perceived as being less likely to be blatant marketing campaigns. For this reason, all posts should contain some form of image and preferably one that is aesthetically pleasing so that it may be enjoyed in its own right.

Comments/Analysis/Insights: Add to discussion on this Google+ thread.

Additional Information – Survey Goals, Scope & Nuances

Goal of the survey

Please realize that I spent several days formulating the scope, questions and response options of the survey specifically towards set goals. Having a broader scope would have meant more questions & answer options which ALWAYS reduces participation.

GOAL 1: Establish your first impressions & reactions to marketing techniques in G+

The survey asked how you would react when seeing the first initial marketing post from somebody who you had just circled. This represents your gut feeling towards marketing as a whole. It is completely distinct from seeing marketing posts from individuals you’ve known for a period of time.

The survey wanted to establish how you would punish someone after seeing one marketing post. This is the absolute lower limit of your tolerance to marketing. In many instances, with the speed that posts pass through your stream, you may only get a one chance with followers to make an impression (both good & bad).

One key thing to note is that ALL question started with ‘A person posts…’. The profession of the individual was not given, since in real life you do not know upon first impression what individuals actually do. In fact, most people will write articles on a variety of different subjects so pinpointing their profession may only be worked out using their About profile (that’s if you bother to even check).

GOAL 2: Focus on negative punishment reactions only, not rewards (ROI).

There is an unwritten rule in many social networks that “marketers should beware”/”marketers not welcome” and that they should not attempt to ply their wares.

However, as this is unwritten, nobody really knows what percentage of marketing-related posts actually get punished. Google themselves do have this information via their statistics on reporting & blocking but this data is not publicly available. So a survey like this is the only possible route to take.

Some commentators thought that I personally had a negative bias against marketers due to the survey questions. But this is not the case. In actual fact, I myself am a writer, musician, website marketer and ex-photographer and have to use various marketing techniques on a daily basis.

GOAL 3: The survey was specifically detailing sole traders who use Google+ Profiles

There is a general understanding that large businesses should use Google Pages for use in the social network. However, the plight of sole traders, individual freelancers or small operations (e.g. startups with one or two people, professional photographers) is a lot more fuzzy. Should they use Google Pages or Google Profiles? In reality, most sole traders use Profiles.

This was of major interest to me as many of the individuals, artists, entrepreneurs, writers and techies I communicate with on Google+ are sole traders themselves. However the majority do NOT market or promote their works openly whether due to politeness, self-consciousness or fear of being reported/blocked.

The number of people drawn to ‘sole-trading’ online is also seeing MASSIVE growth. So having a clear view of what marketing is acceptable is crucial to avoid falling at the first hurdle.

Note also that each of the 6 questions were all examples of marketing and self-promotion. While its apparent that the Halloween costume seller has a commercial goal and wishes to find buyers (their target market), the same can be said for the photographer, life coach & other sole traders. Ultimately, all direct & indirect promotion is attempt to find target customers & markets with the goal of making money & sales.

GOAL 4: Establish reactions to various marketing techniques

Some of the nuances to the questions and types of marketing are as follows:

  • Product/service: Some of the marketeer’s were promoting products (photos, books, etc) while others promoted services (life coaching, web security specialist).
  • Direct/indirect marketing: The reaction to direct marketing (explicitly promoting a product or service) can often be quite severe. Whereas reactions to indirect or non-invasive marketing techniques can be quite benign (individuals don’t realize they’re being marketed to).
  • Text/image marketing: Does the presence of an image make the promotional technique more or less likely to be deemed as explicit marketing? Does text on its own without an image get perceived as less spammy?

The questions touch upon each of these nuances.

Out of scope

For some of the above goals there was an inverse element which was out of scope. These were as follows.

Out of Scope A: Prolonged exposure to marketing by an individual you know

One common situation is that you circle someone and over a period of time they post a mix of general interest articles as well as marketing posts about their wares. The reader will feel differently about this type of marketing as they have built up a rapport and relationship with the individual.

However, the survey did not analyze this as it focused on that first impression of seeing a marketing post. In this instance, the marketeer may not get a second chance with this reader, even if they normally post a higher percentage of general interest articles. Or to put it another way, while some followers may grow to accept your marketing, there may well be a huge volume of people who cut you lose upon seeing that first piece of marketing.

Out of Scope B: Establishing the upper limits of tolerance to post frequency

One question I was asked privately by several friends was with regard to the frequency of posts. For example, if you received 10 posts in your stream within a day from the one person marketing their wares then perhaps the survey should have answered how users would react (e.g. 5/10/15 posts a day).

However, being able to establish an upper limit of tolerance with regard to frequency of posts would be irresponsible to query for your sake (G+ users), Google’s sake and for me.

Say if the survey was able to establish that five marketing posts a day was acceptable then this would become a spammers charter. Those individuals who do spam social networks would adopt this upper limit in order to avoid being blocked/reported. This would result in more spam information in the stream which would affect all social network users.

Moreover, Google themselves would not appreciate me highlighting this information and I would receive a great deal of flak for helping spammers avoiding being blocked. Generally not desirable!

Out of Scope C: The positive reactions and rewards of marketing were not highlighted

This was deliberate. The positive actions of someone approving of some promotional technique are so varied and can change depending widely upon the context. E.g. details of a new song by musician can result in music downloads. These are the elusive Return on Investment (ROI) statistics which many traditional business leaders wish to find.

I deliberately chose to avoid this subject as formulating the questions and contexts would’ve required a lot more than six simple questions. Moreover, companies need to realize that the ROI cannot often be traced through sales/sales-leads since engagement in social media is so much more about building a presence, connecting with customers & new ideas and building your brand.

In addition, listing a variety of ‘positive’ reactions would have bloated the survey. Having the 4 – 5 possible responses is optimal. A greater number would reduce participation.

Comments/Analysis/Insights: Add to discussion on this Google+ thread.

And a big thank you to…

A massive thank you to everybody on Google+ who shared the post, those who +1’d it and everybody who participated filling out the survey. In addition, several people contacted me directly with votes of support, fresh ideas and viewpoints and possible suggestions for future surveys which was most helpful. Finally, thanks to Patrick Sharpe for reviewing and contributing question ideas prior to the survey going out.

Author Rod Dunne...

Blog owner and sole writer Rod DunneI am the owner and sole writer on This is my personal blog detailing troubleshooting tips for small businesses. Posts are based upon 2 decades in consultancy & innovation management within startups/maturing companies.

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