How to Make Google Matter in Social Media

Google has had its share of social media flops, and many smart analysts think the search giant just doesn’t have “social” in its nature. As I discuss in my column at GigaOM Pro, Google needs to play in social, because search and advertising must tap into the data generated by social media activities to improve relevance and targeting. The company announced its real-time search last week, with its focus on Twitter and Facebook content, and in doing so, showed us what it needs to do to remain relevant in social media.

Platforms and Services

Google should be a provider of APIs and services that feed social media, rather than another social network or other time-sink application. Google learned well from Microsoft, who invented the modern notion of “platform ecosystem,” i.e., a collection of APIs and services other developers build on, with a UI that locks in users. Google innovated in platforms by providing a revenue stream for its ecosystem, and by encouraging free and easy mash-ups. As long as the company can harness the data it needs to fuel search and ad targeting from services, it doesn’t need a social site or app.

Google Should Leverage Its Strengths

To succeed in social, Google should focus on APIs and web services that exploit its strongest properties:

  • Search may lose luster as the dominant navigation paradigm, but passive stream-watching will never replace it completely. Google just showed it still does search best.
  • Google’s ad networks dominate search, and are strong in direct-marketing display. Google must integrate social data to help power behavioral targeting.
  • Maps are — along with search — Google’s technology most usable for mash-ups.
  • Android is gaining traction in smartphones, and is far more customizable than Apple technology.

Gmail has a solid user base, and is a logical entry point for communications services, but neither Wave nor Buzz successfully exploited it. The former failed because it was complicated and lacked a killer app, and the latter hasn’t taken off because it hasn’t differentiated itself from Twitter or Facebook updates.

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