What can we learn from Google’s expensive social media experiment?

Google recently announced that they are shutting down Google+, once touted as their “Facebook-killer” social network. It was a long, painful battle for social media relevance, lagging behind Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social networking platforms in terms of user base and activity. This, after all the funds funnelled to it by Google, just shows that it’s not always about the money. Even with unlimited access to funds, you really can’t buy a quality following. You need to build it from the ground up, capitalizing on the trust given by your loyal users.

Google+’s retirement leaves us with valuable lessons on how to survive this competitive tech landscape. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Know the needs of your users

Unlike other social networking platforms, Google+ didn’t start from the ground up. It was well-funded, well-staffed endeavour aimed directly at Facebook’s throat. According to an article by Digital Information World, “it was a concept driven by a corporate board, not one that grows organically out of how people communicate.” It was never a startup, nor a dorm room project, but why did it fail in the long run? It could be attributed to the fact that it was not created to address the needs of users. All Google did was to create something that they think is better than Facebook, and expect the users to jump ship.

There are things money can't buy

In Google+’s case, a stable user base with significant user activity. Before closing its doors, the platform supposedly has 395 million active accounts, but only gets 34 million unique visitors per month. Google acknowledged this shortcoming, saying that Google+ failed to get user attention, with over 90% of user sessions not lasting more than five seconds. Simply put, they may have convinced some of Facebook users to sign up, but they never really stayed for the experience.

Don’t dictate what you think is best for your users

Google+ tried to give too much of what it thinks the user needs, introducing features that they feel is better than what their competitors have. They have many features that never really took off and got deprecated. For example, Google Hangouts, Ripples, and Huddle are all messaging features that could’ve just been grouped together, but were instead separated for specific users and activities. In the end, Google+ failed to address what users want in a social networking platform.

Putting the Lessons to Good Use

A platform that grows organically from the needs of its user base is better than a well-funded one that imposes/dictates what features you should use, what tools you should get, etc. It’s always better to listen to what your users want instead of shoving new ideas down their throats. You save a lot of time and money by offering features that they can use and truly appreciate.

Start small but dream big, not the other way around. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter started small, but constantly improved to accommodate the needs of their growing users. They have a vision for a future with hundreds of millions of users, and they slowly but steadily worked their way up to achieve those numbers. On the other hand, Google+ was primarily designed as a Facebook-killer. It was infused with Google’s funds, attempting to one-up every feature and functionality that Facebook offers, without really considering if that’s what the users want. As long as they have something better to offer, they believed that the users would naturally choose their platform.

This is a good learning example, not only for service providers, but also for consumers. Give small, startup platforms a chance, instead of going directly to well-known brands. These small companies are just starting to build their user base, so they’ll definitely listen to your needs and shape up their products and services based on them. Bigger budgets don’t mean better service, so it’s better to consider other options as well. Always consider the potential of a product or service; a free online tool can be just as good as a $49 subscription-based one if you know how to use it properly.

Conclusion

Google’s retirement of Google+ leaves a lot of lessons for the tech world. It just shows that even with unlimited funds, it’s impossible to win if you don’t have the support of your users. No matter how big or small your business is, you need to establish a user base that will support your products and services. There are merits to starting small, and that includes being able to closely interact with your customers, learn about their needs, and use that knowledge to improve your offerings. Yes, money is important in starting a business, but success is not always defined by the size of your budget


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