googleplus

Recently, for the first time in my career, I was turned down for a job I badly wanted. The aim of the position was to elevate awareness, thought leadership, and adoption for Google+. Alas, Google+ would not add me to its “circle,” metaphorically and literally. This is not easy for me to admit. Ask any ex-girlfriend and she’ll tell you that humility and vulnerability rank lower than ballroom dancing and soufflé-making on my list of flaws.

This piece is not meant to focus on my failure to penetrate the wall of Google (I’m fortunate enough to work for a great company). Instead, I want to share my ideas in hopes that the company will – with or without me – find a way to make its social network a part of our daily digital routine. Because I believe that Google+ can become the smarter, more intuitive conduit to connect everything we love, from friends to family to work to hobbies.

We share information across a plethora of networks and channels, so why not utilize such context to provide more customized and tailored online experiences. Here are some suggestions for Google+ that I believe could help drive much-needed engagement, emotional connection and ongoing usage:

Build an emotional connection: Google is poisoned by its own successes in regards to building a social platform. The company is a pioneer (or acquirer) of so many world-changing innovations (mapping, email, search, advertising, “smart” in-home technologies, self-driving cars, etc.). The problem is that this mindset, or the ethos of ‘innovate and disrupt,’ relies on practicality: X widget provides Y solution. Unfortunately for Google+, humans are rarely practical – they are emotional, which really trips a company that bases almost all of its products and technology on algorithms.

This emotional connect is the reason why Facebook’s “Look Back” thrived, and why millions of people mainly use LinkedIn to look at their own profiles – it’s the only emotional connection they have to the platform.

Emotion-driven marketing is the missing link, which has largely been neglected.

Consumers fail to understand why they should use Google+ and fail to emotionally connect with the platform. (More on this below.) This is not the fault of the consumer, but rather an opportunity for Google.

Recognize where you’ve gone wrong: Google+’s launch was misdirected. Recall what was happening at the time: Facebook privacy concerns were the topic du jour in the tech media (unfortunately, early adopter sentiment is often exaggerated and misrepresentative, relative to the national sentiment), and Google hedged its bets that Silicon Valley’s outcry over Facebook privacy mirrored that of the social media population at large.

Facebook underwent mass public scrutiny because of its failure to uphold user privacy. According to reports, private user information (name, picture, gender, location, list of friends, etc.) was up for grabs. The vocal minority of angered users screamed from virtual pedestals.

The Google+ launch was timely and strategically positioned (paraphrasing) as a new social network that helps users share information only with the people they want to share, in the quickest and easiest manner possible. But did enough people care enough to take the time to establish yet another profile and manually create Circles? No. Google hedged its bets and that hamstrung mass adoption.

People were already emotionally attached to Facebook and, unfortunately for Google+, Facebook users quickly realized that it would require a massive effort to either port all of this legacy information over to Google+, or rebuild a friend or fan base via a new social network.

Advocate your purpose, beliefs and values: Most companies – Google included – love talking about what they do: features, functionality, widgets, etc. It’s easy to articulate. This is why when you hear about Google+, you hear about Circles and Hangouts.

Here’s a secret: nobody cares because emotional connectivity is not developed through product-based dialogue. Leadership is built when looking at the bigger picture. Quoting Simon Sinek, people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. Google+ needs to advocate its purpose and beliefs so that users can genuinely share, support and help propagate these values.

To Google’s credit, Google Now epitomizes this idea. It empowers people through purpose-driven, personalized information delivery. That’s remarkable.

Focus on your belief and build emotional equity

Here are two examples of user-driven emotional equity:

  • Facebook witnesses tremendous daily usage and engagement. Why? Because Facebook is the conduit for global social connection. It is a platform to communicate with those they love (and AGAINST those they loath).
  • Twitter users believe that the network is one of the most influential channels to learn about all the world’s information that matters most to them.

Users are not loyal because of Facebook’s chatting functionality (there are plenty of ways to chat with friends) or Twitter’s ability to send a private message or even host ‘live’ conversations.

Start with emotion-driven dialogue about how Google+ can better the lives of millions of users:

  • A belief in empowering users through the most amazing and personalized digital experiences in the world.
  • A vision for a more beautiful social experience that makes social sharing intuitive, personal and convenient.

Tap into emotions and give users something to value, together. Utilize thought leadership, user stories and visionary concepts to show what ‘can be’ through a more social-based Web experience, powered via Google+.

Humanize the story, think bigger and focus on educating consumers about your vision and beliefs, rather than what the platform can do.

Tell a great story: I admire companies like Visa and Chase because, while they could easily promote their award-winning apps or payment processes, they so often focus on real, human stories that are powered by their services.

These companies know that by helping business owners understand why their platforms are great for business, and equipping them with the right education and tools, consumers will see success stories and relate emotionally, driving engagement via a shared belief system.

Consumers yearn for new ways to connect with the brands they love, whether that is a local coffee shop or a massive retailer. Unlike Facebook, can Google+ utilize loads of personal information, like email, mapping and purchasing behavior, to provide both the consumer and the retailer a more relevant shopping experience?

This is not to say Google+ has not had successes — from White House Hangouts to user milestones in the hundreds of millions. Still, Google+ needs to rethink the way it communicates by focusing on the ‘why.’ Begin with humility and education and emphasize emotion as the key attribute for long-term product adoption.

If it can do that, then Google+ could give Facebook a run for its money.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]