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We explore Google's new Berlin office, uncover social media secrets of European businesses Written by Nina Fowler on 16. May 2012

Google Berlin

We were lucky enough to be invited to the new Google offices in Berlin yesterday to take a tour around the premises and pore over the latest findings from the search giant on how European businesses use social media. Read on for all the details…
Google Berlin
The Berlin branch earned the title “smallest Google office in Germany” when it opened five years ago. Since then, it’s kept a low profile compared to Google’s main office in Hamburg and engineering office in Munich (Google also has offices in Frankfurt and Düsseldorf). Last month, though, Google Berlin switched to a new spot and yesterday opened the doors to discuss a new social media report.
The new report, “How social technologies drive business success”, surveys 2700 executives across Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK on their use of so-called social tools – whether those tools are external (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn) or internal (wikis, communication tools such as Yammer). The survey was carried out by London-based researchers Millward Brown.

Germany – social media sceptics

To a certain extent, the report confirms what social media aficionados already know: it’s crucial for businesses that have customer-facing components and still useful for those that don’t. What might surprise is how far Germany still lags behind enthusiastic adopters such as Spain and Italy.

Google - social tools Europe

Just 53 per cent of German professionals surveyed are “enthusiastic” users of social tools (see above) and professionals in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands are “less likely to recognise the tangible benefits social tools might bring”. Sixty per cent of all those surveyed believe social tools help them attract top talent; in Germany that figure is 27 per cent – the lowest among the countries surveyed.

Attitudes at the other extreme can perhaps be summed up by one junior IT systems executive in the UK, as quoted in the survey:

Those who use information in faster and broader ways will grow stronger and will be more competitive. Those who do not will (depending on what they do) be marginalised and eventually will become insignificant or extinct.”

Senior managers lead by example

Contrary to popular belief, senior executives use social tools more frequently than their more junior (and presumably younger) counterparts. Nearly three quarters (71 per cent) of senior execs used social tools at least once a week compared to half (49 per cent) of those in more junior roles.

Which came first, social tools or success?

One of the flaws in the report is that it assumes the use of social tools leads to success rather than the other way around. For example, 86 per cent of frequent social tool users say they have recently been promoted compared to 62 per cent of non-users. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that social tools cause success. Successful professionals might just be making the most of all tools at their disposal, including social ones.

Google - social tools

The findings when it comes to high-growth companies (those claiming over 10 per cent growth in 2011) are more compelling. Frequent users of in-house social tools are more than twice as likely to be working in high growth companies – “only in Sweden and Germany is the pattern less distinct”. And 81 per cent of high-growth companies using social tools say they’ve had a significant impact on growth and expansion.
In general, professionals are using social tools to find people, information and expertise more quickly (41 per cent), for collaboration and knowledge sharing (37 per cent), to build personal networks (34 per cent), and to cut the volume and length of emails (31 per cent).
You could say, as one journalist did yesterday, that the recent economic performance of Spain and Italy doesn’t exactly recommend enthusiastic social media adoption. We favour the opposite conclusion. If keen social media users in those countries are thriving despite challenging economic circumstances, there’s probably something in it.

Now, the office snaps

Google Berlin, which focuses on policy, lobbying and public relations and employs about 25 people, might be modest than Hamburg HQ but it still has a few trademark Google toys, including a photo booth and a very cool Google Earth-powered “world explorer”. We hear Google will be opening the doors for more events later this year. The official office opening is due in September.
Google social business report

Tobias Arns (BITKOM), Michael Korbacher (Google Germany), Thomas Deneke (Millward Brown) and Alexander Ellendt (Vogelsänger Film); toys at Google’s Berlin office.

Google Explorerwidth="300" Google photobooth

For related reading, check out:
Gaming keeps YouTube strong in Germany
Video – Twitter’s Ryan Sarver on Berlin’s USP from our resident EarlyBird
CEO salary, online buzz, and active users: How Facebook compares to prior tech IPOs