Google+ Sets Bad Example for Listening to Users

Deaf Ears Put Google+ at Back of Line

I received an email last week from Google informing me that a SIPA member had added me “to his circles” and invited me to join Google+. The email had a picture of what looked like an old manual dial-telephone with faces inserted where the numbers should be. The message below “Circles” read: “An easy way to share some things with uni friends, others with your parents and almost nothing with your boss. Just like in real life.” Huh? Below that was “Hangouts” with pictures of very young people and on the bottom there was “mobile.” “We built Google+ with mobile in mind,” it read. Okay. I appreciated the gesture but what would I be getting into?

So the message for today is to listen to your subscribers/users. In an article first posted on the slate.com website and then printed in Sunday’s Washington Post, journalist Farhad Manjoo writes that Google did not do this and thus, in his opinion, Google Plus is doomed. “There’s nothing to do on Google+, and every time someone figures out a possible use for it, Google turns out the lights,” he writes. In other words, they haven’t been watching or listening.

Continues Manjoo: “Back when companies were clamoring to create brand pages on the network—or users were looking to create profiles with pseudonyms…—the company ought to have acceded to its users’ wishes and accommodated them. If Google wasn’t ready for brand pages in the summer, it shouldn’t have launched Google+ until it was.” He adds that people were not given a reason to come back to the site each day. “Google+ made a bad first impression. And in the social-networking business, a bad first impression spells death.” Funny that so many things—rightly or wrongly—come down to first impressions, from dating to Little League tryouts to presidential candidates. (Although Malcolm Gladwell disputed this finality in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking: “The answer is that we are not helpless in the face of our first impressions. They may bubble up from the unconscious—from behind a locked door inside of our brain—but just because something is outside of awareness doesn’t mean it’s outside of control.”)

Interestingly, Manjoo argues that if Google Plus could not match Facebook with all its bells and likes, and whistles and followers, “it ought to have let users experiment more freely with the site. That freewheeling attitude is precisely how Twitter—the only other social network to successfully take on Facebook in the last few years—got so big. When Twitter users invented ways to reply to one another or echo other people’s tweets, the service didn’t stop them—it embraced and extended their creativity.”

Such flexibility, according to Manjoo, gave Twitter the appearance of a host that appreciated its users and encouraged people to have fun with it. They listened and watched to see what people liked best and used most on the site—and put their money and efforts into that. Translated to SIPA, the question becomes: are we studious and flexible enough where we can adjust our energies and focus to what readers/subscribers/users are responding to? If I got a great open rate one day last week, will I take notice and try to understand why that happened? Or will I just go on blindly and do what I think is best?

Don’t lose sight of what your subscribers and users are using and asking for. Yes, you may know best, but nobody wants that line as an epitaph for an unsuccessful venture. And it may be a good idea to avoid the word “hangouts” in your marketing. Just saying.

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