News flash for Google: You can't force people to be social - and you certainly can't rush them.
But the company, under the leadership of a new CEO just jonesing to make his mark as the top dog, has launched an employee incentive/punishment plan that ties the 2011 employee bonuses to the company's success with social efforts.
Call it CEO Blunder No. 1.
First of all, you can't force people to be social. But Googlers, certainly worried about what their total compensation will look like by the end of the year, are now going to focus on quickly rolling out anything social - even if it's the lamest thing ever - to the masses. The problem is that Google's perception of what's a social winner and what's a social loser has left a lot to be desired. Wave, for example, proved to be way too complex for users to grasp it while Buzz was riddled with privacy issues from the start. Something that's thrown together and then shoved down the user's throat will surely be a recipe for disaster.
Second, you can't rush something like this. When you look at the success that Facebook and Twitter have reached, you have to think about how long those two companies have been at this. Facebook was a MySpace competitor for the longest time and Twitter still prompts some of those "I don't get it" reactions. Can Google execs really expect to rollout a social something and expect it to be an immediate success - all before 2011 bonuses are to be distributed. Again, we're talking about a trainwreck in the works.
Finally, you can't pin an entire strategy on beating the other guy. If your goal - and measurement of success - is based on your comparison to something that someone else already does well, you're setting yourself up for failure. Instead, Google should get busy behind the scenes to think like a startup, crafting something that's perhaps disruptive to an existing service but offers something above and beyond. Think about the weaknesses of the competition, such as Facebook's shortcomings when it comes to privacy, and make that a key differentiator.
When I think about Google trying to make a name for itself in social, I can't help but think of how Google launched GMail. There were already online email products on the market when GMail hit the scene - but it was different because it addressed key problems that the others had. First, it marketed an inbox without limits (even though it actually just had a very high ceiling) so that users wouldn't have to worry about deleting emails to make room for more. Then, it offered a new view to the email, organizing emails into conversations, offering labels over folders and pushing search over sorting features.
Sure, there are those who still aren't fans of the GMail way. But there are also plenty of others who would never go back to the old way, myself included. Some might argue that GMail is a successful product today - even though it's come a long way since its initial launch.
In part, that's because it wasn't forced, it wasn't rushed and it certainly wasn't trying to do what others were already doing - and it was a product that would grow into something successful over the long-term, not overnight.
The push into social should be treated the same way - and tying it to annual bonuses is not the smartest start.