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.