ContentLEAD reported that Google+ grew by 27 percent in 2012 to reach more than 343 million monthly active users. This data, as provided by the Global Web Index, sparked a web-wide debate on the actual reach of Google+, but a new report from BrightEdge may put skeptics’ doubts to rest.

According to the source’s “Social Share” report, Google+ has experienced a 9,400 percent year-over-year increase in active members. The company also evaluated social media marketing trends from the BrandZ top 100 list, which includes organizations like Apple, Google and BMW. Of these brands, Google+ plays a vital role in adding search exposure, and smaller businesses are realizing the network can also help them get an SEO edge.

Google Plus Brand FollowersGoogle+ has emerged as an essential platform, with 75 percent of surveyed brands maintaining active accounts. As more companies turn to Google+ marketing for various gains, web users and smaller businesses will also jump on board.

The top 100 brands on Google+ serve 20.9 million fans, which is up from 222,000 connections in 2011. Of various industries active on the network, the auto space accounts for about 40 percent of the top 10 spots in terms of followers. BMW leads the way with more than 2.2 million followers, and SMBs in the auto vertical might want to get in on the Google+ action.

“This is an extremely significant increase for the automobile industry in particular, where figures have grown substantially from absolutely nothing in 2011. Mercedes-Benz now has 2 million followers and this number is rising every day…Marketers are increasingly promoting Google+ via their own homepage and these efforts are paying off in terms of [search] results,” BrightEdge’s Chief Executive Jim Yu said to ClickZ.

Business owners beginning their social media marketing campaigns must use Google+ as much as they update Facebook and Twitter. The search-engine-owned network continues to expand rapidly, and early adopters may see higher returns on their investments.