Google+ and the Problem With Making Everything About You

The search giant's social media offering may or may not be on the ropes after a major management shakeup, but the shakeup is a good reminder of the perils of organizing your projects too snugly under a single strategy.

You’re great, and you’ve done some really amazing things for your organization.

Now, with that back-patting out of the way, I’d like to be blunt: Stop being so self-centered. You’re not always right, and it might be good to look outside yourself for a little while.

OK, OK, that was a little harsh and unexpected. But sometimes you need to hear it! When an organization focuses too much on its own navel, it can make some really bad, terrible, no-good moves that undercut the things that won its members over in the first place.

Google had the right idea in connecting its many parts with lines of thread. But there’s a good argument that the company took things too far, pulling resources from products people actually used to something Google simply hoped people would use.

Google, a great company with a pretty good strategy and some really amazing products, made a few of those moves in the past few years, and the company just dropped a big-name exec in charge of a product that reflects the worst of them. The moves tarnished a golden reputation and surfaced some major flaws in a widely respected company.

Most of these actions had to do with Google+, the product run by Senior Vice President of Social Vic Gundotra, but they also extended to the ways Google+ bled into or usurped the experiences users had with the company’s most popular products. The most famous example was the decision to shutter Google Reader, whose capabilities Google+ partly tried to replace, but there are other notable ones, particularly the forced integration of Google+ into YouTube and the company’s search products, and a recent attempt to allow Google+ users to send emails to their contacts without knowing their email addresses.

The anger over these moves became palpable, because to many, Google’s goal appeared to be single-minded: It wanted to beat Facebook at its own game. Nice dream, but not a successful one.

“Google may have built a solid second-place rival to Facebook in terms of being a full-featured social network, but that’s like Bing being solid search challenger to Google,” Marketing Land‘s Danny Sullivan wrote last week. “It doesn’t matter. People who are happy with Google don’t shift to Bing; people who are happy with Facebook—and over a billion seem to be—don’t shift to Google+.”

There’s Some Good Here

It’s unfortunate, because Google+ had a lot of things going for it at first. Being a late mover on social meant that Google had some major conceptual advantages, that it could focus on clean design and creating a mobile-first social network. (Granted, Facebook and Twitter largely caught up, but still.)

It even launched some innovations so hard to ignore—Hangouts, in particular—that they became cultural touchstones for the company.

I’m not arguing that everything about these integrations was bad. The company, famous for having hundreds of products that didn’t always talk to one another, now has a way of ensuring that these pieces work together to create a unified experience. Your Google+ account is the glue that makes sure your phone talks with your email, your cloud storage, your search history, and all that other stuff that makes your Google experience work.

Finally, Google’s strategy to integrate search with social—often described as the main reason marketers shouldn’t ignore Google+—is sound. (Though I remember, and kinda miss, the days when tweets showed up in search results.)

Integration at All Costs Doesn’t Work

Google had the right idea in connecting its many parts with lines of thread.

But there’s a good argument that the company took things too far, pulling resources from products people actually used to something Google simply hoped people would use. It’s not surprising that some people are looking at the Reader thing as a massive missed opportunity.

It’s not clear that Google+ is dying (there are rumors that the team behind the product is being broken up, but let’s give the benefit of the doubt), but the failings of the approach offer lessons to organizations of all sizes.

It’s a good thing to streamline and integrate tools and push people to use something you think is awesome, but forcing it as part of a giant strategic move is questionable. Google became so focused on trying to make Google+ happen that it ended up angering people who were otherwise perfectly happy with Google’s offerings.

Likewise, your association has many products online and off, and it’s perfectly understandable that they should work as a piece. But you can’t do everything, nor should you throw out products that are working well individually for your members.

You already have a overarching organizational goal: doing what’s best for your members, attendees, and industry. A strategy that gets in the way of that—openly angering those beneficiaries at times—is not a strategy to build a business around.

Look in the mirror. Is your strategy about you, or them?

Departing Google Senior Vice President of Social Vic Gundotra, a driving force behind Google+. (photo by DESIGNBYFRONT/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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