Google Corrals Users Into Social Network, No One Screams

by on 06/02/2011 • 37 Comments | SEO

It was impossible to miss. Google took center stage yesterday officially rolling out the +1 button for Web sites, giving Google users a googley way to recommend content across the Web (read Matt McGee’s SEL recap for awesome coverage). With a single click anyone can bookmark content for their individual use or opt to share that content with their Google network. Its Facebook’s Like button but with a different logo, a much bigger audience, and way bigger implications.

The button we’ve been hearing about since March? It is here.

Of course, that’s not at what was interesting about yesterday’s announcement. But stay with us.

Naturally, there was a lot of excitement over the rollout. From a marketer and publisher standpoint, it doesn’t take much to know if that if Google ushers in a new way for you to promote your content and a way to make it easier for readers to share it, that’s something you want to be a part of. But not everyone thinks this +1 thing is cool. I can think of at least two parties probably pretty PO’d over it. Or, at least if they were paying attention.

  1. Google’s left-for-dead product Google Buzz. Dude, those poor Buzz icons are now piling up on curbs faster than Shaq’s year-old Celtics jersey. The shame!
  2. Anyone who DIDN’T want to be forced into a Google Social Network. Because, oh hey, you just were.

And as I read the +1 coverage I couldn’t help but feel it was that last part that was completely glossed over during the feast of OMGNEWSHINYBUTTON! recaps. Everyone was talking about Google’s new content partners, what this means for publishers and how we could all get those hideous buttons cluttering up our site. No one was mentioning that by pushing users and publishers toward +1, Google had essentially corralled everyone into that social network they’ve long been vying for. Not only were the news outlets NOT mentioning it, they were denying its existence.

From PaidContent [emphasis mine]:

[+1] is all part of Google’s quest to replicate the information-sharing that takes place on social networks without having to build a unique social network of its own, hopefully encouraging people to consider Google a source of both algorithmically determined information as well as information curated by friends or colleagues.

But, hi. They are building it. They’re building it right here:

To use +1, you need to create a public Google profile. You don’t need a Gmail account or a Webmaster Central account like you need to use Google Reader, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Analytics or the rest of Google’s product line. You need to create a social Google profile, the one that connects you to everyone else you know, and starts getting a little too inquisitive about your relationship status.

That’s a social profile. Put a bunch of social profiles together and, oh hai, that’s a social network.

Here, let’s drive that home a little more:

Whether you’re a big brand, a small business owner, a blogger, a consultant, a marketer, a lawyer, a plumber, etc, if you want to promote your content via +1 aka Google, you need to create a public Google profile and become part of the network.

Whether you’re a heavy searcher, a moderate searcher, a student, a professional or my mother, if you want to bookmark content or share it with your friends the way you share content on Facebook, you need to create a public Google profile and become part of the network.

I guess Google employees really don’t want to have to worry about those socially-tied 2011 bonuses. Is Google evil for doing this? Is it bad? No, I don’t think it is. It’s actually a little genius, getting people into a network by offering them something they want and something that can help their business. However, it is worth noting. It’s worth paying attention to and being aware of. Because you’re gently being backed into a dark corner.

From an online reputation management and an SEO standpoint, I see the value of giving Google more social signals in which to rank my content. From a content publisher side, I know that I want to give users more options to spread word of mouth and circulate my content through their circles. But as a marketer, I can feel Google gently backing me into a dark alley.

I see the Google profiles being created. I see the blog posts being written on how to ‘optimize your Google Profile for maximum exposure’. We were already told during the Google Profile launch that the “most comprehensive” profiles will rank the best. I see us willingly giving Google a complete blueprint of our personal and professional social connections. I see Google Profiles and Google Friend Connect being used to create one user/password to unlock your entire personal Internet. I see a Google Internet secured by a Google Social Network, a place where you either exist or you don’t, where you’re either competing or you’re not.

We knew this was on its way. Eric Schmidt said as recently as a few days ago that his biggest failure as Google’s CEO was not making big enough strides in social. We’ve watched as Google has copycatted and mimicked the actions of Facebook and Twitter, doing its best to create something that makes sense.

And now it’s here.

So sure, we can talk about these new buttons and the new content sharing platform that was just released, but let’s not miss what’s staring us in the face. Yesterday, Google did more than release +1 for Web sites. Yesterday Google officially began pushing people into its social network. One that will only become more aggressive as Google gets more desperate and gathers more intel.

Welcome to the future, kids. The future where we’re officially being corralled into a Google-owned world. Not even Tom can save us now. I wonder who will play Larry Page in the movie?

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

37 thoughts on “Google Corrals Users Into Social Network, No One Screams

  1. As an aging part timer seo/webmaster that has to now update sites and blogs with more buttons, I don’t like this. As a user, I have no desire to click more buttons, but I have to if I want to know what’s going on. Baaahhhh.

  2. This is a great article Lisa. It’s true, no one’s talking about the social network Google is making. I’m curious if the button will grow in popularity and if the average user will actually ever click the button. We’re just going to have to wait and see.

    • There’s always the issue of real adoption any time Google releases something. If they can make the buttons look like an actual part of the page and the experience (which I’m not sure they do right now), I think they have a chance. Facebook has done a pretty good job training the Internet to “like” things and even my mother knows how to master her AOL Favorites. We’re dealing with concepts that even non-tech nerd users will get.

      As always, time will tell. And if it DOES get adoption, well, then, the bar codes surely aren’t far behind.

  3. I must have scanned dozens of pieces–bite-sized blog bits to in-depths–and they were all too busy gazing at this shiny new button and the +1 concept that they didn’t step back and think of the bigger ramifications. So I appreciate this piece greatly.

    I think those of us who have spent the last several years getting into the habit of “professionalizing” our digital identities have little to worry about (for the moment). However, it’s kind of a different story for people who are waking up too late about Google’s ambitions–and as this once-open (or seemingly open) ecosystem now throws up its own walls, they’ve got a difficult task ahead of them: Generating enough search fodder to drown out the undesirable stuff.

    Although now that Google has made it very clear it’s throwing walls up and if you don’t want to exist within their walls, you might as well be an outcast of the entire web–that might be something to get nervous about.

    (This is where the Blekko cheerleading needs to continue.)

  4. At the office today. My Co-worker and I wanted to test out the +1 button. We both looked at each other.. lets see. I need to connect you to my Google Profile so I can see what you +1’d – the payoff is seeing your little shiny name below the SERP.

    Which means now Google will FOREVER connect the two of us
    (Sounds like marriage).

    I stepped back from the cliff. Gazing into the pit I almost leaped into. My co-worker stepped back realizing how close we had come lemming ourselves
    on Alter of Google.

    It’s too big a price to pay – to permanently sully my SERP results forever!
    I guess I’m not the only one who feels this way.

    Searchengineman

  5. Lisa,
    Is it any wonder this didn’t happen sooner? It was inevitable. Great analogy about backing us all into a dark corner but it’s only dark for those who are set in their ways. For the rest of us, it’s breath of fresh air. Also, it’s the step in the right direction to further distinguish Google as the Undisputed Heavyweight Champs of search engines. For us (s.e.o. houses of the world) it further separates Google from Facebook but to the average searcher (who still loves comparing the two) ; does it trick them into believing that Facebook and Google are more a like than ever before? As always, your take is right on the money. Thanks. :-)

  6. A social network full of publishers bribed by better search rankings?
    I can’t see regular site visitors plusone anything without getting something in return right away. I just can’t!

  7. I like the angle you took. I wouldn’t have drawn the same conclusion, but I see how you connected the dots. I saw +1 as Phase One of a new social networking venture, but didn’t really see it as a network already. Good stuff.

  8. Adoption is THE big question. If I don’t have a public profile on Google why would I create one? Just so I can +1 sites?? What is the real value of the public profile to me, the lay person?

    Facebook has a clear value to membership. One so significant that people invest time to get attract people to join their network. Why would I invest the time to attract people to my Google network? So they can see what websites I recommend.

    As you stated, it is clear why marketers and publishers are excited about +1. I still don’t see the value for the rest of my friends.

  9. I don’t get it. The fact that you have to explicitly set up a Google Profile–distinct, as you point out, from a simple Google account–to use +1 cuts *against* the idea that anyone is being corralled into Google’s social network (if you can call it that…)

    What you’re saying is that Google is forcing people to sign up for its new social network if they want to use its new social network.

    Just because sites will start putting up +1 buttons *doesn’t mean that users will click them.* Those Buzz buttons you mentioned are evidence of that.

  10. A great analysis Lisa, and something that has gone unspoken by pretty much everywhere else. I find it interesting that you only have to confirm your profile the first time you +1. After that you can add anything without a confirmation, unlike Twitter / FB that have a confirmation window. Makes things potentially ripe for tricking people in to clicking +1 buttons and never knowing they’ve done it (e.g. with fake overlays).

  11. I’m not worried about Google’s +1 being a successful social platform. And not just because they’ve repeatedly failed at social and repeatedly put engineers on the front line of product development and testing, regardless of the product and target end user. Google is amazing at search. They are not amazing at anything else. Everything else they’ve successfully entered has been through acquisition (YouTube, Android) so when they acquire Facebook, I’ll start taking them seriously as a social player. Until then – they’re still primarily a data borg just looking for new and interesting ways to harness data and sell it to advertisers.

    To quote Eric Schmidt: “Advertisers are happier, consumers are happier, we make our money through advertisers.” ‘Nuff said for me right there.

    I do think they are amazing at search. Seriously. And I don’t fault them for monetizing a killer service. But search is their only killer service.

    The real reason I think +1 will not succeed as a social play is because it fails the “Tracy” test. Tracy is the average consumer. The average person that uses a computer daily, but isn’t terribly concerned (or concerned at all) with the deck chairs that get constantly rearranged up in Silicon Valley. Tracy doesn’t get Twitter. Tracy doesn’t know what OS powers her phone. But Tracy spends a good deal of time online – shopping, Facebook, looking up info. And that’s the only relationship Tracy has with Google. It’s her virtual library – it’s where she goes to find information. And nothing else. She doesn’t care which site shows up where in the SERPs (she doesn’t even know they’re called SERPs!<). She doesn't have a gmail account and doesn't know why she'd need one. "Why have multiple email accounts? Why have another profile? All my friends are at Facebook."

    So I agree with you – this isn't about creating a social platform that is actually useful or beneficial for users. It's just about profiling and getting more and better user data for more and better ad targeting. I just don't think it's going to work :)

    To quote Norm MacDonald – "Oh Google!

        • I’m not buying Google in social but think +1 will do relatively well on sites, especially if Google pushes a public report like Facebook did with LIKES, showing it increased site’s traffic X00% as well showing influence in search visibility.

          A tad better attempt than Buzz & Wave, personally wasn’t into either, nor apologizing for.

          The initial reply was to blunt any Apple segue you were leading into that their “shineys” will save us from this RoboCalypse ;)

    • Great article Lisa! I would have to agree with Michelle. Though this was inevitable and a hand that had to be played by the Google Kidz. I think we’ll soon see this added to the distinguished Orkut, Buzz & Wave list. Just saying…

    • Well said Michelle. I was about to write my thoughts and found you pretty much covered them.

      The problem is that Tracy doesn’t even use ‘social media’, she just hangs out on Facebook because that’s where she catches up with what her friends are doing.

      My issue is, I don’t think Google has given Tracy any reason at all to even click the +1 button. She might click it a few times to see what it does and then forget about it when it does nothing for her (if not as soon as she is asked to create a Google account).

  12. Great read. You know, I saw the dots, and I’ll even give myself some credit in seeing faint lines, but I didn’t really put this all together.

    They’re going to have to make it easier and more seductive than Share, Stumble, Tweet. This late into the game just being Google’s tool doesn’t evoke the same sense of urgency it might have had when Buzz was unveiled.

    But still, even getting 10% of Google’s userbase to do something is enough justification to continue evolving. I still don’t think anyone outside of the internet marketing circles will see as much potential and usefulness out of this as the average web surfer, but I’m interested in being proven wrong. I’m hoping it reduces the amount of tedium and clutter in my digital space rather than add to it.

  13. I’ve been screaming the whole time.

    My only hope is that this goes over like a lead balloon, much like Orkut, Buzz and a ton of other stuff that the millionaire kids at the ‘Plex thought would be cool.

    My other hopes are that this ‘signal’ remains one of the 200 or so signals, and as a result, it matters to some people, but not most – and or that the algo gamers figure this out so fast that any resulting boost is deprecated before anyone even notices (and Google tags them as such and they get penalized and things go back to normal.)

    ya right.

    nice job Lisa!

  14. As someone who’s active on several social platforms and works as a social media manager with an e-com company, this additional button is almost overload for casual web users. With four major buttons (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and now +1) in addition to StumbleUpon, Quora and Tumblr, I’m jonesing for one “Share to all” button that simply pushes content to all of the social sites for which I’m currently logged-in in a single click. But, for now we’ll add +1 to our list of buttons – who can pass on the potential boost in Google’s search rankings?

    I agree that it seems silly to some that four individual clicks is ‘too much’ for users, but when it comes to sharing and giving options to the average, casual web user sometimes less is more.

  15. I’m waiting for +2 because…well…most often I find myself trying to think of a good reason to delete my Google profile, then I find myself thinking “hmmm, will that make me disappear?” and then I don’t even know what I’m talking about with myself…kind of like now.

    Dangit Google.

    Thank goodness you make sense of it all Lisa!

    xo zane

  16. Great story, great original angle. Nice to read something that shakes up my ideas.

    I’m wondering at what point Google will hit the ‘imperial over-reach’ stage which gets all large tech companies eventually.

    Will there be a backlash over +1? I doubt it. But at some stage people will see Google as more of an annoyance than treasure.

  17. Great article, Really addresses my concerns, or some of them.
    What about Google Contacts?
    http://www.google.com/contacts
    I just found out I have Google Contacts! If I have a Public Google Profile then anytime I plus 1 something all my Google Contacts will see it in their search results!
    My Google contacts were taken Android phone contact list. Google, guess what, not everyone I phone is a friend and I don’t want them seeing my plus 1’s.

    Google is taking my private information and aggregating it together. They store everything about me and it’s really making me feel creepy.

  18. I’m curious to see how fast and how widely +1 is adopted. Buzz really didn’t ignite, because it was duplicative and unnecessary. I’m not at all sure this will add much to the Web experience, though I’m also afraid I’m going out on a limb by saying that.

  19. When will all of this be consolidated? It seems like I am being invited into a new social media spectrum at least on a weekly basis. I’m sure that everything will integrate into one good system but, right now, we have too many to monitor.

  20. I can’t decide if I’m more annoyed with Google because I’m going to have to read about “The latest, OMGbest strategies to rank high with +1’s” marketing strategy for the next few months (or by the people who think this will be a legit way to “fool” the SERPs), or by the implication that people won’t notice what’s happening.

    It’s enough of a risk for me to use Google Analytics and give them access to my site info in that way. To tie everything else about my personal and business internet usage together and hand it to Big G all wrapped up with a pretty little bow is downright scary…

  21. As a search marketer, I find this a very interesting topic, and I completely agree with your point of view – I’ve been trying to present this argument to my organization since news of +1 launched. I’m also excited about the additional signals for ranking, and the opportunities and challenges they present.

    I have to say though, that while I don’t think this will necessarily disappear, I don’t think it will really have the take-off that Google is hoping for. NONE of my friends use it, and I run with a very tech-savvy, news-sharing crowd, and they’re still hanging on to the “post on Facebook method”. I’ll be very interested to see if the general public takes to this newest social sharing methodology.

  22. What i find interesting (that you didn’t mention) is that not only has google created a social network, but they’ve done so with the very people in their target market: content providers. Google markets its adwords program, it’s google apps program, etc to business owners and content providers, specifically. Now, it’s getting them to GIVE google all of their information without having to do any extra work to get it.

    It’s kind of genius.

  23. Lisa, I’m in total agreement. While I don’t necessarily think the +1 button is a bad thing, it is certainly adding to our button”overload”. It seems every app we use today is trying to get us to promote it’s presence with a button of some sort.

    Are they datamining us for future marketing purposes? Who really knows? I hope not….

  24. We have already added the google + 1 button to our website. I hope this google + 1 button is not a fail like all the other social networking and bookmarking buttons out there. The only one that seems to work ok is facebook like button because everyone has facebook.

  25. Lisa,
    Is it any wonder this didn’t happen sooner? It was inevitable. Great analogy about backing us all into a dark corner but it’s only dark for those who are set in their ways. For the rest of us, it’s breath of fresh air. Also, it’s the step in the right direction to further distinguish Google as the Undisputed Heavyweight Champs of search engines. For us (s.e.o. houses of the world) it further separates Google from Facebook but to the average searcher (who still loves comparing the two) ; does it trick them into believing that Facebook and Google are more a like than ever before? As always, your take is right on the money. Thanks. :-)

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