Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were on top of the basketball world in the 80s. They fought back wars against each other and the rest of the NBA, capturing 8 championships between them. While they were finishing up their careers, a young man was building the Chicago Bulls into a team that would win 6 championships in 8 years.
Facebook is to the Internet as Michael Jordan was to basketball in the early 90s. Pick one – Larry or Magic – and you can make them the Google of the 80s and early 90s. Strong, magical, often unbeatable, but getting a little long in the tooth and desperately needing a rejuvenation or retirement.
Currently, Google is still on top of the Internet world, dominating in search and controlling some extremely lucrative verticals that continue to drive their business. Unlike Magic or Larry, Google has an opportunity to “get younger” and prepare for the next era of the Internet, an era that is already well on its way to dominate the way we integrate our online and offline worlds. Social media is big. It’s going to get bigger. Google must get in now or they will have their lunch eaten by a slam-dunking, championship-winning foe in Facebook.
It is for this reason that I am perplexed over the criticism being handed to new CEO Larry Page over a recent memo telling all employees that their bonus structure in 2011 is tied to social regardless of what their role is in the company. Highly regarded publications (that I totally respect and read on a daily basis) such as Gigaom, ComputerWorld, and others are calling it a poor move. It’s not. Here’s why:
Yes, This is an Emergency
“Google ain’t going anywhere. They’re here to stay despite Facebook.”
People make similar statements to me all of the time when I tell them that Google is secretly terrified of Facebook and social media in general. Luckily for Google, the management of the company doesn’t believe it. They know that they’re in serious trouble if they don’t get something going very quickly, namely in 2011.
We have been very critical of Google’s lack of success in social media over the years. They just haven’t seemed to have gotten it yet. That fact may be the reason that Page took back the reins. They are no closer to having a presence in social media today than they were 2 years ago. Time is running out. They either have to make the right moves now or they will get eaten alive by Facebook and possibly even Microsoft.
The distinctions between search and social are blending. The lines are blurring. You can bet that Facebook will be involved in search in the near future. So far, every attempt by Google to integrate social media into search has been met with lukewarm responses at best. Today, they are still in the dominant position, but that can change this year if they don’t act quickly.
This is an emergency situation. All hands on deck.
It's Google, Not McDonald's
Perhaps the biggest criticism I have with the editorials circulating around the Internet ripping on Page’s memo is that they are saying it’s a bad move because of company morale. I would bet a lot of money that the bloggers who are being critical of Google have never run a tech company. If you tie the bonus of a McDonald’s with the performance of the fry cook, yes, there are probably going to be complaints by the rest of the staff.
This is Google. This is the Internet. This is big business. Quality employees understand that regardless of their current position, company initiatives are supported across all departments even if the department has no direct control on the outcome. Everything that happens at any department in a company like Google can have an effect on some or all of the other departments.
Tying bonuses together around the most important initiative the company has ever faced is brilliant. It sends a message to the employees that there is one thing that is going to make or break the company and its success for years to come, and that’s social media. It does not take away from the contributions of other departments, but it does change the mindset to have an understanding that everything integrates in some way with the goal.
It’s the right move. It’s the right direction. Everyone must be on board, here. All hands on deck.
Divide and Conquer
The initial change that Page made was to break down the departments and make them more autonomous in the way they operate. In essence, it’s the first stage of a “divide and conquer” business move. It works for many companies, particular large octopus-style companies with its tentacles moving in different directions.
That’s the divide aspect. The conquer aspect requires focus on a goal. Otherwise, you won’t be able to conquer anything other than the individual initiatives within each department.
The goal of the company this year is absolute success in social media. That is the only realm they must conquer. Yes, it would be nice to win the other battles, but only as they apply to winning the war. Google must conquer the social media world, slay the mystical beast that has eluded them for years, and enter into one of the only aspects of the Internet where they really have very little presence.
When people think about social media, YouTube is the only real Google-owned entity that is even a player. That is only a miniscule niche, particularly considering the directions that social media is heading. Yes, video is huge, but it’s not something that truly connects people at this point. It’s in the connection aspect of social media that Google must integrate.
Larry Page is focusing the company on the biggest areas of opportunity for the company: relationships, sharing, and identity. Each topic holds an entire blog post within them that could be written describing their importance in the future of social media and the Internet in general. Page knows this. He understands that his company’s success is directly tied with their ability to perform in these areas.
Overall, the criticism directed at Page seems to be knee-jerk reactions. It’s easy to point fingers at any CEO and say that they aren’t being fair, that they’re doing it wrong, and that they’re pushing their company in the wrong direction. It’s not as easy to break down what it is that they’re doing and see that there may be method behind the madness.
Page’s madness will work out in the end. Google will be fine.