Google Needs More Than +1 to Get an Edge in Social

A leading search marketing firm says Google's best shot at becoming competitive in social is acquiring Twitter.

Yesterday, Google searches became more social with +1, which allows you to flag URLs you like for others in your social circle. It seems the next logical step in Google's gradual encroachment on the social space.

But an SEO expert at the British search marketing firm Greenlight thinks Google's play is a little underwhelming. "Google can't afford to limp in with this +1 approach, given its track history with failing at social," said Greenlight's Adam Bunn. In Bunn's assessment, Google's +1 button will only be successful if Google can import data from Twitter and Facebook—something Facebook seems unlikely to allow.

We're not sure whether we agree with Bunn's assessment that Google "is seen as functional rather than recreational... a bit too 'serious'." For a company that is, in many ways, functional, Google seems widely known for its levity. Still, the notion that an acquisition might be the only real way for Google to step up its social game is an intriguing one. "Google has little option other than to buy Twitter," says Greenlight, rather starkly.

Bunn, reached by phone for further comment, qualifies that somewhat. "I think it's to buy Twitter or do something equally bold." Google already has a strategic partnership with Twitter that grants Google expanded access to Twitter's API, says Bunn; this is what has enabled Google to present information about what links your Twitter contacts like in search results. But that's a one-way stream of data; if Google really wants +1 to work, it would need an expanded partnership with Twitter so that +1's are broadcast directly on Twitter, in Bunn's view.

The idea that Google should buy Twitter has been floated, repeatedly, but obviously has yet to happen. Bing has Facebook integration; it makes intuitive sense for Google to more fully integrate, then, with the other major social network if it wants to get a leg up in social.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Email David Zax, the author of this post.

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