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What business owners can learn from the challenges of Google Plus

By Jennie Wong
Jennie Wong
Jennie Wong, Ph.D., is a nationally syndicated columnist, executive coach, and the creator of the product quiz website www.ABorC.com.

Last month, the head of Google Plus, Vic Gundotra, announced his departure from Google. While not the official end of the social network product, Gundotra’s resignation seems to signal the end of an era.

TechCrunch reported: “What we’re hearing from multiple sources is that Google+ will no longer be considered a product, but a platform – essentially ending its competition with other social networks like Facebook and Twitter.”

For many outside the tech industry, this was a less-than-newsworthy event, given the paucity of active Google Plus users. However, for business owners, the fall of Google Plus is a cautionary tale replete with lessons for entrepreneurs.

Lesson 1 - You can’t make customers do what you want them to do.

The flagship feature of Google Plus is their concept of circles, where you organize your contacts into different groups, such as “Co-workers,” “College buddies,” or “Selwyn Elementary PTA.” While this sounds good in theory, in practice it’s about as much fun as making seating charts for your wedding.

Entrepreneurs should take note: You can’t force your customers or website visitors to jump through hoops, no matter how logical your reasons or rational the benefits. The only safe bet in our overloaded world is that customers will default to the action that requires the least mental or physical effort, which often means taking no action at all.

Lesson 2 – Incentives only get you so far.

Which brings me to the issue of incentives. Google Plus offers a reward to business owners in terms of SEO, or search engine optimization. The unintended consequence of this reward is that it cements this idea in the user’s mind: I only use Google Plus because it helps my SEO.

By the same token, business owners should be cautious in offering rewards to customers. You want your clients to think, “I refer people to Jane Lee because she’s an amazing Realtor,” not “I refer people to Jane Lee because she pays me $50 for every lead.”

Lesson 3 - Money can’t buy everything.

And perhaps the biggest lesson of all is that consumer awareness cannot simply be bought.

Wiser minds may someday solve the puzzle of why Google failed to win the hearts and minds of social users. But one thing is for sure – it wasn’t for lack of money, engineers or desire. They wanted a piece of the social pie, and they wanted it bad … to the tune of over 1,000 full-time employees. And yet, they could not unseat the competitors that had social at their core.

So if you’re the little guy, remember that other big, bad incumbent that started with a “G.” As an entrepreneur, you may face your own Goliath, but even Goliaths can fall.

Jennie Wong, Ph.D. is a Charlotte-based executive coach and the creator of the product quiz website www.ABorC.com.
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