Word on the streets has it that hardly four months after Google pulled the plug on Google Plus (Google+), the search giant is again making attempts to hack social media. Social media has proved elusive for Google since 2004 when it first made attempts to also make a name for itself in the sphere. The one attempt that almost succeeded was the creation of Google Plus in 2011.
Google plus was launched after three Google attempts to hack social media had failed. The three previous attempts were Google Buzz (launched 2010, retired in 2011), Google Friend Connect (launched 2008, retired 2012), and Orkut (launched in 2004 retired 2014). The one thing these social media alternatives had in common is that they never became popular to rival established social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat. Google Plus almost came close but it had one major weakness, its direct link to Gmail but that required a user to leave Gmail to engage in Google+, something that lowered expected engagement to way below competition, despite Google+ showing formidable growth during the early years of launch.
To hack Social Media therefore, Google must figure out why Gmail users shunned engaging in Google+. The one factor as already been mentioned must have been the requirement that a Gmail user, who spends an average of 2 hours per day on the platform, leaves Gmail and engage in another platform in this case Google+. The same user is also required to spend some time on other social media sites for an average of one hour per day further diminishing the amount of time he or she could spend on Google+.
When Google realizes this fact, what they can do is to figure out how to increase the amount of time a user can spend within Gmail, not out of it, and the sure bet would be to slowly turn Gmail into a social media platform. If they succeed in that, then they will not only be able to engage the over 1.5 billion active users more, but also lure many others who find Facebook boring into the platform.
If Google is therefore interested in hacking social media, this this is how they can go about doing it: First step – turn the Social Tab in Gmail to a news feed of “What’s on your mind”. No photos, no videos, just text of “What’s on your mind” but allowing connections to comment on the thoughts.
Right now, the social tab displayed above only display emails from social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and others. Some ads can also be found under the tab, even though the Promotion tab is the one meant for the ads.
The advantage Gmail has is the 1.5 billion users, and when such users start posting random thoughts on their minds most probably thoughts related to their jobs, then the desired increased engagement will be realized. Google can actually be smart about this by making it easy for Gmail users to organise their contacts into Groups (like WhatsApp groups) where a particular post right within Gmail can be created only to be viewed by contacts in that Group. In such a scenario, a marketer can create a post intended to be read by particular audience, and allowing them to engage in that post. For example, as a photographer I could put up a random thought about a recent photography event, and allow a set of contacts I believe might be interested in photography to interact with that post.
As the section of “What’s on your mind grows”, Google can slowly allow other social media features to creep in. These other features will definitely be photo sharing that will be linked to Google Photos, Inline chats (already present), and video sharing (probably linked to a person’s YouTube channel – By the way YouTube already allow people to add friends to their channels but I am not sure how this is meant to help YouTube become a social media platform.
Once the Gmail turns to a Social Media platform without diminishing its email functionality, then Gmail can go after WhatsApp very easily. The advantage Gmail has over WhatsApp is that almost every Android user saves their phone contacts right within Gmail as Contacts. With this feature at hand, Gmail can straight away allow users to start chatting with each other, a feature only available for those who have saved each other’s Gmail addresses in their contacts.
If Google can hack social media this way, then it can easily go after Facebook, LinkedIn, WhatsApp and via Google Photos, go after Instagram too.