Google’s Social Strategy: If We Can’t Figure It Out, Then We’ll Make Everyone Pay

Frustration: Google's social media strategyWord leaked out a few weeks ago about Google’s latest attempt at a social strategy: it would make sure that its success would be on the backs of their employees. Wait, what? Yes, Google’s efforts to develop a social strategy or at least have a product be launched without crushing it months later will be tied into their employees’ bonuses. So if the next Google Wave doesn’t succeed, then no one gets paid their year end bonus. Now that’s not really that bad, but with Google “struggling” to get its plan in place for a social play, it might be a while before the search engine giant is paying out any bonuses.

Could it be lack of innovation?

I highly doubt that because Google has clearly released some good products, but sadly what appears to be the issue is that it’s just not tied in together to create a viral effect. For the longest time, the company has managed to provide their workers with some allotted time to run with their own projects – very much like the style taken by other larger corporations and companies like 3M and Facebook. Probably from the freedom that the Google employees have, they’ve managed to piece together things like Google Buzz, Google Wave, apps for the marketplace, Google Maps and many others. And while granted many of these probably come from the brainchild of the Google leadership, it was probably thought of during someone’s “free time”. To that end, innovation is certainly not the problem with Google.

Google’s problem lies with integration and strategy

To me, it seems that it would be a perfect idea for Google to create a pretty impressive social network. Whether it could rival that of Facebook would be up for question and if it was possible, it would be a huge uphill battle. Nevertheless, look at what Google has rolled out? You have Gmail, Google Docs, Apps, Talk, Buzz, Wave and many other apps – way too many that you could build an integrated social network around all of these applications and tie them all together. Sure, it’s not going to possibly be to the scale of Facebook, which is more in tune with the personal associations rather than the professional, but that is a fairly good use of Google’s applications. But it’s not the only problem that they have. In addition to this integration, it’s the foresight to see that Google Buzz would not stand out on its own. They were trying to create the next Twitter, but Google Buzz could have been so much more when they didn’t focus on trying to mimic both Twitter and Facebook.

Let’s look at what the current social strategy that Google has: none. But are they leveraging what they already have? Their strong points are probably YouTube, the video social network that has generated over 2 billion views a day rivaling the three major US broadcast networks combined, and also Google Talk. Granted the latter isn’t really a social network, but taking that technology and mixing it together into this larger pot could go a longer way to help alleviate their social problems. On the downside, Google did buy Jaiku and that private network soon went nowhere and ultimately seemed to be terminated. There do appear to be a lot of “misses” when it comes to Google coming out with innovative products – have they lost touch with what we’d want in a social network? Is there only choice to outright purchase successful companies?

One is truly the loneliest number

Google's +1A few weeks ago, they launched this new service that they called +1 – I suppose it’s akin to the tech expression that if someone else wanted it, they would say/tweet “+1”. It’s a pretty cool name, but just WHAT does it do? Well first you need to opt-in for this experiment. If you don’t actively go to the +1 page and say you want to participate, you’ll never get to use it.  In a nutshell, here’s why you would mark something as a +1 in Google’s opinion:

Sometimes it’s easier to find exactly what you’re looking for when someone you know already found it. Get recommendations for the things that interest you, right when you want them, in your search results.

The next time you’re trying to remember that bed and breakfast your buddy was raving about, or find a great charity to support, a +1 could help you out. Just make sure you’re signed in to your Google Account.

The trick here is that this +1 button will probably only appear on search results. It doesn’t seem that you can take it and apply it elsewhere like you would with Facebook like buttons. You can watch the video about the +1 button here, but the point is that with Google’s sharing feature, it is limited to search, even though their searches are probably a huge majority of all searches out on the Internet today. So this is the only place where you can really +1 something. But once you do, what happens? Well until it hits widespread adoption, not many people would see your “recommendation”. Well that’s where Google Profiles come into place, or at least that’s what Google hopes will happen. When you +1 something, your recommendation is not only noted under that specific search result, but also with your Google Profile. How interesting to know that since not many people probably are even aware that they have a Google Profile.

Having your recommendation linked pretty much from your Google Profile and from individual search results (out of billions or trillions of websites) is a small step, but unless Google chooses to innovate and roll out some more features or services that will leverage the +1 (perhaps with YouTube or with Google Buzz), then 1 will truly be a lonely number and Google’s strategy will have moved away from the edge of success back to failure and ultimately the employees will suffer.

Editor’s note: Shane Barnhill (@shanebarnhill) disagrees with my assessment of Google’s +1  and says that we should “let it breathe” thereby giving +1 a chance to get its legs and take off.  I think he makes some good points and you can read his compelling point of view here on his post.

Scatterbrained or too decentralized?

Google is clearly interested in social and it seems that they’re growing in all directions. But by issuing an edict saying that bonuses hinge on this breakthrough success is a bit extreme. After all, the employees are coming up with these ideas, but with a large company infrastructure, how can an employee see the big picture across all the departments and services? The leadership must examine some cross-service platforms that these social tools can integrate with and roll it out with the big picture in mind. Don’t focus on creating the next Twitter or Facebook because it can’t be done – they’ll be here for quite some time. Instead, leverage the incredible applications at your disposal not only that Google created internally, but also with the App marketplace. Take advantage of everything in the Google universe to find a way to make things more shareable and maybe then people will start to use Google more than just within small groups and collaborate.

And the employees will become happy…

Photo credit: bigevil600 / sxc.hu

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."