The Google+ social networking service, launched in June 2011, has reached a total of 400 million members, according to Google SVP of Engineering Vic Gundotra. That number includes 100 million monthly active users, counting the mobile app.

Certainly reaching that many members in a little more than a year is an impressive accomplishment that speaks to the popularity and influence of Google. Facebook, the world’s largest social network, reported 901 million active members in an April 2012 SEC filing. Google is also growing at a much faster clip than Facebook did, although an “apples to apples” growth rate comparison is difficult since Facebook initially launched as a service for college students only and social networking was much less popular.

Google+ As Business Tool

Sheer numbers of users are one thing, but how much value those users offer is another. While Facebook has been struggling to prove the actual worth of its users since its May 2012 IPO, there is no denying it is quickly becoming an established marketing and e-commerce platform, which should ultimately bolster its value proposition. Google+ has not had time to develop the same foundation among business users. However, solid evidence exists to indicate that Google+ is becoming increasingly recognized as a business tool.

For example, in August 2012, Google launched an initial set of Google+ features designed specifically for businesses, and moved into a full preview mode for Google Apps customers. Google said it developed the new social business features in response to the “dramatic” changes Web-based collaboration and social tools have made in how people connect. Features included restricted posts that are private to an organization, integrated video meetings and increased admin controls for activities such as restricted Hangouts to facilitate private meetings within the company.

And as reported by CMSWire in May 2012, a Simply Measured report showed that 64 percent of the Interbrand Top 100 had an active Google+ Brand page (up 3 percent from December 2011), 22 percent of the brands had circler counts more than 100,000, up from 13 percent, and more brands were posting more frequently: 43 percent were posting more than three times a week (up from 15 percent in February). Among the top brands, the study showed that engagement on outbound posts is growing. Circle engagement was up 112 percent since February and content engagement was also on the rise as it increased 65 percent since February.

As far back as July 2011 a CMSWire article opined that the network’s heavy focus on organization, in addition to business-friendly features such as the “virtual watercooler” Hangouts and Sparks automated research tool, created a valid enterprise use case. In one very recent example of Google+ being used as a CRM vehicle, the Los Angeles Times hosted a Google Hangout on the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers NBA teams for its readers on Sept. 25.

How Are Consumers Using Google+?

So we can see there is a business case for Google+ and that business users are showing at least some interest. But what about the consumers businesses want to reach and analyze via Google+ services?

According to a June 2012 feature in The Atlantic, consumers are not really “using” Google+ that much. “People are on’ Google Plus, but they are not really ON Google Plus,” states the article. “The infrastructure is there.” Citing data from comScore indicating the average Google+ user spends about three minutes per month on the site, the article recommends that Google build Google+ engagement by taking its “social spine” and building more “cool integrations with their existing products," such as the GMail integration.

Although it is not clear how many of the 400 million current Google+ users are unique individuals and how many are actually duplicate accounts (to be fair, it’s not clear how this phenomenon may inflate the user counts of other social networks), it is clear that Google+ has built a large user base in a short period of time and businesses are taking notice.

Google+ would be wise to follow The Atlantic’s advice and do more to integrate its offerings with features from its parent company. It also may turn out that Google+ is better used as a branding/customer outreach tool (such as the LA Times example) rather than as a full-blown e-commerce platform. The only certain thing right now is that the infrastructure and built-in user base of parent company Google do not guarantee the long-term success of Google+, but they do give it a fighting chance.