Is Google Turning Into a Social Media Company?

Perhaps Google’s stiffest competition in the immediate future is not Bing and Yahoo, but rather it’s Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, etc.  Just as we no longer search for the news (24 of the top 25 newspapers have shown record declines in circulation) in the future we will no longer search for products and services rather they will find us via social media.   Google has google-wavemade billions by being the masters of the search world.  As these new social media players look for potential revenue streams, monetizing search will certainly bubble to the forefront for the executives.

This will occur on two main fronts a) consumers searching for products and services b) companies searching within the millions of conversations and meta data to garner relevant and real-time customer feedback as well as potential leads and sales.  One of the most powerful items about Twitter is the ability for companies to go to and put in relevant brand or product terms and being able to have insight into what is being said about their product or service.  This is one of the main drivers behind why Facebook has been adjusting some of their platform to be more in sync with Twitter.  Facebook understands there is “gold” in these conversations.   

Speaking of adjustments.  Google has made advancements in their search algorithm over the years as well as adjustments to other products.  However, for the past few years they haven’t been pushed hard by any major competitor and they haven’t made many MAJOR adjustments to their core business.  You can’t blame them, why fix something that isn’t broken.  As a result they’ve also been able to supply the world with many free tools that we use in our day-to-day lives.  However, as a result, search hasn’t advanced as much as it could have if there was a more competitive environment.   Also, people care more about what their friend thinks than what an algorithm does and that is where social media has a potential advantage on Google in the future.  However Google is looking to close that gap as evidenced by some of their adjustments:

Google Wave:  This is Google’s collaboration tool to combat Twitter and Facebook – some have dubbed it 21st Century e-mail.  Computer World’s Sharon Gaudin titled in article “Google’s Wave could prove a threat to Facebook, Twitter.”  This same article quotes analyst Rob Enderle, “Thus Google, with its marketing clout and good name, may have a good shot at disrupting the likes of Facebook and Twitter, “This represents a displacement threat for everybody,” Enderle said. “Everybody in this space — Twitter, Facebook and MySpace — is nervous at the moment. If they’re not nervous, then they’re missing the memo. The market hasn’t settled and when it’s not settled, then something like Wave could come in and make headway.”  

My take: The biggest hurdle here is that it may be too bleeding edge for the masses.  If they make it easiest enough to use for Mom & Dad to adopt than they have a home run on their hands.  That is what has been one of Facebook’s biggest successes – the mass adoption by older generations.  

Google SearchWiki:  In Google’s words SearchWiki is a way for you to customize search by re-ranking, deleting, adding, and commenting on search results. With just a single click you can move the results you prefer to the top or add a new site. You can also write notes attached to a particular site and remove results that you don’t feel belong.   My take:  Too much burden placed on the user to supply relevant input that can easily be leveraged by other searches. I believe you also need a Gmail account for this to show up.  Also, hardly anyone knows this exists.  The beauty of a tool like Facebook Connect is that it easily resolves a problem (people don’t want to have to enter logins/personal information for various sites) with limited effort on the user’s part.     

Google Hot Trends:  Similar in concept to top Trending Topics on Twitter this functionality or box shows up whenever you type in a search term that is one of the top searched on items in the past few hours. “Trends is all based on a different kind of tweet. Instead of the 140 character tweet, it’s the 20 to 25 character tweet, the keyword search. And those come in much faster than tweets do. In our view, that’s the highest fidelity information for trending topics,” said RJ Pittman, director of product management for consumer search properties at Google.  

My take:  Yahoo had a similar, less robust concept with Yahoo Buzz several years ago.  I just find it interesting that Google is perceived (whether it is true or false – I’d argue false) by the public as following Twitter (no pun intended) with this offering.  Great article by Danny Sullivan can be found here 

Google Sidewiki:  In Google’s Words, “Google Sidewiki allows you to contribute helpful information next to any Web page. Google Sidewiki appears as a browser sidebar, where you can read and write entries along the side of the page. Instead of displaying the most recent entries first, we rank Sidewiki entries using an algorithm that promotes the most useful, high-quality entries. It takes into account feedback from you and other users, previous entries made by the same author and many other signals we developed.  More information on Google Sidewiki  

My take:  This is a game changer.  There are other companies that have been trying to tackle these “layers” on sites, but with Google now in the game it signals that Google is really getting serious about social.  Websites aren’t going to like this loss of control, but it should be a big win for the user if done properly.  To make it truly social it should allow the user to highlight or bring to the front specific individuals that they trust.       Look for social media companies to get more search oriented and look for Google to continue to get more social.

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Erik Qualman is the author of Socialnomics which has made the Amazon #1 Best Seller List.  Click here to order Socialnomics.


9 responses to “Is Google Turning Into a Social Media Company?

  1. Hey Erik! We would like to invite you to come to Brazil for an exclusive conference at our ad agency and clients. I wonder when you have the time and if you have a manager to deal with, pls. I already asked you that, but I can’t find an answer. Would you help us out, pls? Hope to hear from you soon. All the best, Bea.

  2. The Google Sidewiki project does seem to be very interesting. So Google is trying to allow user input upon searches, made through their search engine, in a way that would hopefully filter searches in a way that reflects the majority of user opinions? I’m not sure how, but this is done not just by quantity, but also by the quality of the comment?

    If this is how it is, all of Google Sidewiki seems very powerful, and could be a very interesting means of seeing what the public votes as the best internet web pages for a particular search. I don’t necessarily think that this will help a large number smaller internet pages (a number which is fair to enough smaller pages). I mean, once a few things get big enough they can drown out the attention others get. It would be interesting to see if major media sources would still be dominant when people would be more so able to control what is determined to be good or not.

    I wonder sometimes if just because something is determined to be popular, through means of consumer demand, does that really prove it to be the best (web page, or whatever it may be)?

    Would this program help or hurt small and upcoming websites?

  3. Brilliant post Erik. Completely agree… I’m bored of Google chucking me freebies… I’d like them to make search better. Much better. There’s far more the core product could do…

  4. Eric – great article and summary of what Google is doing. I definitely think that for people who get social media and all of the technical aspects of the tools out there as well as the complex interworkings of the Web will appreciate what Google is attempting to do. As Google is the largest search engine that’s currently used, they have the upper hand on how to make measuring sentiment around social media. However, the shift from a search engine tool to social media player will be a hard one and Google has some stiff competition ahead of them, especially with more social networking companies like Twitter and Facebook as well as LinkedIn looking to integrate their platforms for ease of use and better synchronization of information and people. On a side note, this is a reminder to all the brands out there that more tools will be available to the “users” to define and comment on the pros and cons of various brands and people. What businesses now have to do is be proactive and learn how to leverage these tools to their advantage. The control is out of our hands…and is now in the hands of the users. Let’s hope that more companies continue to listen and monitor as well as engage in a meaningful conversation not just for the sake of pushing their own agenda. BTW – my husband Scott Van Horne went to school with you in MI. Go Blue!

    • Cindy:

      Thanks for the great post! What a small world, please give my best to Scott and tough loss to MSU. – Erik

  5. Small typo I think.

    “google is getting series” probably should be “serious” instead.

    great post 🙂

    • Jonathan:

      Glad you liked the post. Great catch on the typo – this has now been fixed. Thanks for reading and for the help! – equalman

  6. Thank you for these great updates. One can definitely not accuse Google of not being both ‘pro’ and ‘re’ active in this fast-paced world of the social web.

  7. Great article and I totally agree with what you are saying, Eric.
    Question: do you think the general public will appreciate or care that Google is committed to open standards while Facebook is a walled-off proprietary world separate from the Internet? Does Google have to win purely on cool features or does commitment to openness count for anything?
    Google in this case has even gone so far as to open source the entire Wave project. My guess is that this will only help in terms of the developer adoption it inspires.
    Roger Nolan

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