Commentary

Can Google Embody The Mantra of Its Social Network?

With Google+ formally moving into beta, also known as the Google equivalent of full-market release status, it's time to determine what role Google+ should play for consumers. Is it a cure to Facebook fatigue? A different way to do social, supplementing Facebook and Twitter? Or is Google+ more hype than promise and something consumers can dismiss? All are important questions; success hinges on one the Google+ conundrum. Can Google, the company, embody the mantra of its social network?

In a meeting with Google's head of social media, Vic Gundotra, and Bradley Horowitz, their head of product management for social, I realized the ambition for Google+ is nothing short of spectacular. The long-range plan is smart and fully obtainable from a technology perspective. It could well redefine the company everyone thinks they know. If Google+ is going to fail, it won't be because the vision isn't big enough for the market.

That said, I'm stunned by Google's reminders in recent weeks that the product was not even to the beta stage. It's as if Google was shocked by the early success and not ready to release Google+ into the world, without limitations. (This despite the numbers: 25 million reported users in the first 30 days and 40,000 businesses signing up for +Business access before the launch of that product extension.) Yet, Google realizes what they are doing and how it has to be positioned in order to succeed.

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And here, the Google+ conundrum enters the picture.

At a Google event in early September, Christian Oestlein, the company's head product manager for social advertising, stated that to Google, social is "a core human behavior, not a platform," thus putting Google+ still in the direct line of competition with Facebook in the battle for digital supremacy.

The reality is there is no success guaranteed to Google just because their name is before the plus symbol -- not when your competition has 750 million users globally and a firmly entrenched position with brands anxious to alter their communications strategy to become more social.

As the product reached its 90-day mark of the field test and as stories emerged about Google+ becoming "a ghost town," Google announced new features and beta status. The timing was curious; Facebook's F8 event introducing timelines completely overshadowed the Google+ stories. However, if Google is building for the long-term, it doesn't matter what either company does short term.

The timing of the Google+ announcement makes sense if for no other reason than they were starting to be doubted. They developed a quick fan boy culture that liked an alternative to Facebook. The risks of further alienating early adopters through lack of features or other users was not something they could afford, given Google+ is the company's third attempt to try and makes social a part of their world.

It is clear Google is building for the long-term with Google+. With 40% growth reported in Google+ sign-ups, now nearing between 45 million to 50 million users since moving to open sign-up status. Google is going to have a shot in this space.

Facebook may be mimicking some of the innovations of Google+, but it seems unlikely they will replicate in full. Facebook has a method to its madness as is are not going to jump the tracks over a start-up effort, even from Google.

What Google must do now is to make itsown culture mirror the "social as core human behavior" and be more transparent and public about what is to come. If social is a core human behavior, then Google's ultra-secretive product launches, infinite beta statuses and general black box approach to search algorithm must be retired.

Whatever is driving people to Google+, it is working. Now Google, the company, must enable more of it by embodying Google+, the social network.

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