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Google is arguably one of the most innovative companies to launch in the past century, but when it comes to social media, the company has found it hard to keep up.

Time and time again, its attempts to build social products to compete with the likes of Facebook and Twitter have come up short. But Google isn't ready to give up.

In fact, it appears that under new CEO Larry Page, Google is upping the ante. According to reports, Page sent a company-wide memo indicating that 25% of the annual bonus paid to Google employees will be based on the success of Google's social initiatives.

According to the reports, Page goes so far as to state, "When we release products, try them and encourage your family and friends to do the same".

Google, not surprisingly, is not commenting on the report. If it is true, however, it would raise questions about Larry Page's strategy as Google's new CEO.

Is social important? Yes. Does Facebook's rise pose a threat to Google? Perhaps in some areas. But should Google, a profit-generating beast which generates close to $30bn in revenue each year mostly from search advertising, seek to tie a sizable portion of employee bonuses to social efforts most probably aren't involved with? Probably not.

Far more important are the little things, like providing a higher level of customer support to paying customers.

Clearly, however, Google thinks social media is one area it has to compete in. But if Google thinks it can use force to coerce its employees to use its social products and expect them to be successful, it will learn a harsh lesson: when a company has to resort to a carrot/stick approach to convince its own employees to use its products, it has already failed.

Notwithstanding the fact that Google's focus on social is looking more and more like an illogical, unhealthy obsession, the company should consider that a better approach to social media product development would be to rethink who it hires to build the products.

Last week, Page reorganized Google's leadership and appointed Vic Gundotra to be SVP of Social. Gundotra, previously VP of Engineering, has been with Google since 2007, and before that was at Microsoft for more than a decade. He was involved with Google's ill-fated Buzz product launch, which may have been Google's 'Microsoft Moment', and he's basically been leading Google's social efforts since mid-2010.

I think it's fair to say that since that time, Google has lost ground to Facebook, so it's unclear why Page believes he can continue turning to the same people and get different results.

Obviously, beating Facebook is going to be hard for Google to do, and if it is even possible, it won't happen overnight. But Google's engineering-driven (and homogenous) culture is probably a big part of the reason Google has struggled to build social products the public loves, and it seems that under Page, the Google culture isn't going to change -- it's only getting more geeky.

For employees not involved with social whose bonuses are now apparently tied to social, that may be a scary thought.

Patricio Robles

Published 11 April, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2457 more posts from this author

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Jenny Simpson

Jenny Simpson, Head of Digital PR & Content at Stickyeyes

I just quipped on Twitter, it's their Fermat's Last Theorum.

They can't resist the challenge of creating a seemingly impossible algorithm.

almost 6 years ago

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David Quaid

What is the point of failure if you are not allowed to learn from your mistakes? Some of your points don't make any sense:

What if after every mistake Apple made they weren't allowed to try again?

This Facebook -v- Google concept is crazy.

For years, we've hated companies that maintain monopolies - Microsoft with Office, Windows and IE.

What happens when we allow half of a new generation to think that Facebook is the only site on the Internet?

How much of what Google does is send traffic to other sites, so people can explore them?

What is the point of this statement: "But should Google, a profit-generating beast " ?

So Facebook and LinkedIn aren't profitable? Beast?

almost 6 years ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Chief Marketing Officer at Mynewsdesk

Patricio - you raise a point towards the end of your post that I think is the key one: Google is too geeky. As Robert Scoble posted (http://scobleizer.com/2011/04/10/dear-vic-heres-your-google-bonus), Facebook's strategy is all about finding ways to help you 'waste your time'. Where is the 'fun factor' in Google's products? Name one feature in Google Buzz that is genuinely new, fun and has mainstream appeal?

Technology-wise Google definitely has what it takes to take on Facebook and Twitter in the social space. And if they can integrate search with social recommendations and bookmarking, then that could be hugely powerful. But they won't get the social momentum going until they start launching (and properly marketing) features that are simply great fun.

Google - in a typical geeky way - always seems to have its fingers in a million different pies. When you go to the Google homepage, you rarely get any information about products or features that you might like (except for Chrome). Take Picasa for example - look at the landing page (http://picasa.google.com) - it's so boring! Where are the social features? How will this service help me to share photos with my friends? They choose to describe the product as 'photo editing software' - how geeky is that? So it's just like a crap version of Photoshop then? With Google it's always all about the technical functionality, not how the product actually brings joy to my life. Google could easily have built Color (http://color.com) - but the idea is too much about 'time wasting' and fun for them ever to have conceived it.

I don't see anything wrong with the 25% bonus thing. It might encourage the workforce to think more creatively - more like regular folks, and less like geeks. I think we need to wait and see what they come out with in the social space over the next couple of years before dismissing the approach.

Facebook is definitely not infallible. In many ways it is actually quite limited in the functionality and services it provides. Google just needs to find some genuine (non-geeky) customer needs, and focus on delivering on these. I want them to succeed, as Facebook needs some decent competition.

almost 6 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Adam,

"I don't see anything wrong with the 25% bonus thing. It might encourage the workforce to think more creatively - more like regular folks, and less like geeks. I think we need to wait and see what they come out with in the social space over the next couple of years before dismissing the approach."

Unfortunately, you can't simply use a bonus as means to change the way people look at the world. Google's homogenous, engineering-driven culture attracts certain kinds of people, and puts the perspectives of certain kinds of people above those of others. In other words, Google's bottleneck in social isn't money, it's people.

More practically, it must be noted: the vast majority of Google employees do not work on social. Google is not a social networking/social media company. Tying a bonus to something that most employees have little to no ability to influence is just bad form and shows a real lack of management skill.

almost 6 years ago

Suleman Abdullahi

Suleman Abdullahi, Managing Director at Proedice

Nice post,

I think in business you are suppose to build on your strength while effectively managing your weaknesses. And you can't be all things to all people.

Google should build on their search which is there strength and manage their weakness (social).

How social do they really need to be? search is still very big and still one of the top three web activities everywhere. Jakob Nielsen reported in his alertbox that for a lot of users search engines are turning into "answer engines". Here is the post http://www.useit.com/alertbox/search-skills.html.

Why not concentrate on being a better "answer engine" which seems to be much more profitable than trying to be too social to such extend.

almost 6 years ago

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Peter Birganza

Hi,
As a new CEO of company he can take any step what he wants. He is eligible for this post that's why he is the CEO and we have to learn from the steps going to be taken by him. If 25 percent increment can improve performance of employees and can motivate them positively to work hard than i do not think so that its a wrong step. Social activities are really very important in our business fields specially to get better output from our employees. I appreciate to new CEO because social involvement is really very important for your business growth.

almost 6 years ago

Mike Gomez

Mike Gomez, SEO Analyst at Epiphany

After the release of their latest experiment - 'Google +1' - it is again another example of how Google simply don't get Social.

After the failure of Wave (great innovation but too confusing and over hyped) and then the unpopularity of Buzz (again, over hyped), +1 was in for scepticism and adding it to just the search engines was the wrong move for many reason - mainly that once a user has visited a website from search, they are unlikely going to go back to the search results to '+1' it.

I think there too much desperation inside of Google and instead of working Facebook or Twitter in with their own model, they insist on pushing out continuously flawed models.

By this I mean they simply don't follow a user's natural engagement or usability principles and add that fact that Facebook and Twitter are so established, Google offer nothing new, nothing innovative to grasp the audience and say "come to us, we're so much better". Instead it's feels more like "well - at least we're out there in the social mix and having a go".

Mike
@alwaysmikegomez

almost 6 years ago

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