Google Seeks to Hire “Head of Social”

Google (s GOOG) says it’s willing to accept its shortcomings on the social web and bring in a “Head of Social” to set it on the right course. The company has hired an executive recruiter to fill the position, and is currently in the process of casting its net as widely as possible.

Though competition from Google sends shivers down spines in just about every sector — from news and book publishers to phone makers to venture capital — the company’s dominance has a gaping hole on the social web. Google has tried to introduce social sites, from Orkut to Buzz, but they’ve had limited appeal, hampered by a misunderstanding of user needs. In recent months Google has added a social layer onto its existing products, like search and maps. And it does have powerhouse publishing and communication properties in Blogger and Gmail on the outskirts of the social web. But there’s no formidable master plan to speak of.

Until now, however, it wasn’t clear to what extent the algorithmically driven Google understood that it had a social problem. At the Google Buzz launch, Sergey Brin lamely talked up the success of Orkut, a rare emission of marketing speak from the normally blunt Google co-founder. Brin and other Google presenters seemed to have been groomed not to mention the “F-word” — aka “Facebook,” the leading social site on the web. And we all know how well Buzz was received.

More recently, Google staffed up on advocates of open social web standards such as Joseph Smarr and Chris Messina and tried to put together industry-unified alternatives to Facebook. And in a highly unusual move, the company altered its core asset, front-page search results, with real-time updates from Twitter through a paid deal late last year.

But now Google has retained an international executive search firm to recruit a “Head of Social.” Here’s how the job is described, according to a recruiting letter we obtained:

This is a new and very strategic position, as Google knows it is late on this front and is appropriately humble about it. In Google’s view, conceptually, there are two ways to tackle social, each impacting who may be successful in this senior post: 1) building an innovative offering specifically in this area; or 2) developing the capability and integrating social into Google’s existing portfolio.

There’s also the possibility of acquiring an existing social site — which is what someone qualified for this job would likely be busy running — but that’s not overtly stated. As for internal candidates, Google’s most prominent spokespeople on social have been folks such as Smarr, engineering director David Glazer, and VP of product management for apps, Bradley Horowitz. It’s not clear if they’re being considered as well.

Is there a silver bullet for Google in social? Probably not. But if you think you could be it, the company may be looking for you.

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