There are two important lessons to be learned from the negative buzz surrounding Google’s recent , an ill-fated attempt to mimic platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
The first is that top-down and centralised approaches to social media innovation are doomed to failure. Although tested internally by some 20,000 engineers and sales professionals, Google buzz was never fully thought through. As Charles Arthur comments in Media Guardian, the launch design of buzz reflects a ‘failure of the engineering imagination to deal with the reality of human interaction’. Google’s products and services now permeate our lives and careers; but the culture that gives rise to those products and services remains surprisingly (and stubbornly) insular.
Which leads to the second lesson: that the design, testing and launch of social media innovations all require the same openness and transparency that social media has brought to society, business and government more generally. Rather than simply trying to throw social media functionality into the design mix of existing products, companies need to start by carefully understanding the needs and expecations of users – and in turn, how software updates will impact their behaviour. Social media innovation has to be part of a wider dialogue with users, not the byproduct of competitive mimicry.
With Google now facing a potential investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission, on the basis that it may have broken consumer protection laws, it is clear that open thinking (and testing) of social media is vital both from a commercial and legal perspective.
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