As the digital marketing world tests, pokes and prods to see if Google+ activity has an impact on search engine results, the search giant finds itself in a precarious position. It has finally broken the ice on having a social media product that people seem to like, yet is potentially on the verge of not only ruining its first chance at social success, but of betraying its own company mantra: Don’t be evil.

Holding the linchpin for the company is its own ability to keep search results as fair and unbiased as possible. The more fair and accurate they are, meaning the top results for each keyword need to be damn close to the most relevant piece of content on the web for that query, the more people trust Google for search. With still a 65+% hold on the search marketplace, Google remains the most trusted resource for the public’s search activity. It has been very good at being fair and balanced. Too bad they don’t produce television news.

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

But now, Google is studying how to incorporate data from its own social network into its own search results. Social networks and search engines have never gone hand-in-hand before. Frankly, I’ve often thought it silly Google was so worried about Facebook and having a social product. Their competition is Bing and Yahoo. But I suppose if you want to dominate the web and the web is evolving to a more social environment, you have to tread into new water.

The problem Google faces is that it has the ability to not only use Google+ data (+1s, links shared, activity around those links, etc.) as additional points of influence in its search algorithm, but it could conceivably weigh those social signals greater than those of other social networks. A +1 or link from Google+ could mean more than a Facebook Like or link from that network, a Tweet, etc.

If Google chooses to weight its own content greater than that of its now social competitors, it crosses the line and becomes what it set out to avoid becoming: Evil. Prioritizing Google+ activity in search results would, by definition, make Google+ a more important social network than others. This would inevitably drive more activity on Google+.

Think of it as Bank of America offering lower interest rates for automobile loans for Ford vehicles only, assuming Bank of America owned Ford.

Should Google choose to do this, I’m afraid Google+ would quickly become irrelevant to most individual end users because it will be overrun with SEO specialists and marketers trying to engineer the search engine results pages (SERPs). That would lead to an exodus of everyday folks, which means Google’s social network suddenly lacks the only thing you must have to be social: people.

And no, I don’t count marketers and SEO types as people. Yes, I’m included in the group of non-people in this context. By “people” I mean everyday folks. Not marketers or others trying to get business or commerce out of the system.

The challenge before Google now is to resist the traditional business mindset and do what’s right, what’s fair and what’s transparent. They have to treat their own social data on equal terms from that of other networks. If they do, then Google+ can continue to grow and thrive. And so will Google’s search results.

If Google can turn its back on the traditional marketing and business-first mindset and do something that resonates with its customers, then it will, perhaps for the first time, be social.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Anonymous

    It’s all so fascinating. I have been wondering how they are going to handle their own social data vs. FB’s social data. I think there is a possibility that people will ignore some google search results based on how this all plays out. I consider myself a consumer first and a business owner second. I want to be sure I stay engaged on G+ but I am afraid of over doing it and creating problems for my business so laying low right now until some of this washes out. 

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Good plan!

  • Anonymous

    I agree with you that if Google weighs G+ signals more than other social networks it will be dooming itself to be spammed to death.  The value of a social network is the people on it first and foremost. If Google can’t get the people, it’s just another failure.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Well said!

  • http://twitter.com/bpsyche Sara

    Thank you so much for this article @jasonfalls. finger on pulse with relevancy of G+.  Noticing how slow it is catching on compared to others – #twitter, #facebook.  How influential is G+ really in terms of social networking market share?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      I guess we discussed this on Twitter. Disqus has a tricky way of doing that. Heh. Right now, G+ is influential only in that the early tech adopters are using it. Well, them and Hugh Jackman, who for some godforsaken reason not only added me, but shared pics of his recent beach vacation. Verified account. I don’t get it. Heh.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=38312892 Steve Gerl

    If Google used G+ results with more weight, everyday folks would not only stop using G+, but also stop using Google as well.

    I am very interested to see the move Google will make in regards to SEO and their own social network.

    Does Google give weight to sites visited in Chrome over other browsers? Would that be the next step in Google’s attempted takeover of the web?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Well said, Steve. They are really walking a fine line here.

  • http://www.slice-works.com krabil57

    Great post, Jason.  I’m in total agreement.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Cool!

  • http://www.visibletechnologies.com Jackie Kmetz

    Completely agree!  I wouldn’t mind if they put a little “include Social” box that I could check next to the my search options so that I could occassionally decide to include content from my social network in the mix.  But honestly, I doubt I would choose that option very often, if ever.  The results I would get from my work-related searches would be cluttered and probably downright annoying if social were heavily weighted.  If there were no choice I would choose other search engines like Steve suggested. 

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      That’s a pretty nifty piece of feedback, Jackie. I like the “social on, social off” button idea.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10618874 Chase Sherman

    What an interesting perspective.  Very well communicated points, Jason.  Thank you for that!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, Chase!

  • Anonymous

    Your insights make a whole lot o’ sense and I wonder if you think that Google will be the first to ever merge social + search successfully?  It’s just a matter of time, don’t you think?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      If they hold true to their mantra of “don’t be evil” they are certainly primed to do it well. Here’s hoping!

      • Anonymous

        I’m hoping the same thing as well… and if they do, I’d +1,000,000…. to that!

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual Business Assistant

    Great post Jason. I have to agree that the points made here are too good to be ignored.

    Online Business
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