Those couple of people in the world who understand what my day gig is about (and if you’re one of them, would you mind trying to explain it to my mum) know that it’s a freaky, little corner of the world where technology, media and corporate communications intersect.
So one issue I’ve found intriguing to watch of late has been Google’s PR efforts. Google’s PR is kind of a paradox. Google probably only rival Apple in terms of how “closed” they are to media, yet they make pretty fair and open use of blogs, via their official Blog, the various product-focused blogs they operate plus the individual blogs of various Google developers and staffers.
The most recent blog on the Official Google Blog notes that having completed its first full year of blogging, the Google Blog team have “published 38 how-to tips, announced 77 new products and services, and addressed policy questions and legal matters 17 times. We’ve featured 11 guest bloggers. Forty posts have illuminated something about day to day life at Google; 19 have offered some international perspective.”
All very well and good, but does being a good corporate blogger, eradicate the requirement for good, traditional corporate communications management?
The “Blog PR” route that Google has used, and very successfully to date, goes something like this:
1. Google announce new service on Google Blog
2. Google Bloggers jump on announcement, delivered to them via RSS. Many early posts come from Google ‘enthusiasts’ who jump on any new announcement quickly and generally positive in their early analysis. Generates initial positive buzz
3. Big Media get hold of story – seldom have much to go on aside from official Google blog and analysis from blog community. Journalists often forced to speculate, due to lack of access to Google executives.
4. Speculation generally drives another round of blogging analysis. Builds on buzz
5. If need be, Google then has the opportunity to respond to blogs via its only blog again. In exceptional circumstances will allow someone like Marissa Mayer out into the wild to talk to press and prominent bloggers
Google’s traditional PR then is, pretty much, done by exception. It jumps in, in crisis situations but otherwise it’s pretty happy to do Blog PR.
This has worked for Google because for the most part, alot of the people who blog about the company, like – no, make that love – Google and what it does. Google has been the big, fluffy, teddy bear of the Internet that everyone has wanted to just cuddle up to. But Google’s corporate comms masters, will have almost certainly picked up a very distinct shift of late in public sentiment, especially, informed public sentiment. There are people out there who now view Google as just another, big, corporate monolith, who wants to rule the world like every other corporate monolith and who will pretty much do what it has to do to get there. Google the words ‘Google Evil‘ and see just how many hits you get!
Pretty much everything Google does now, will be viewed with increasing scepticism. And because of that I think it ignores traditional PR approaches at its peril.
We need look no further than the recent AOL announcement to see why. On this occassion, Google got steps 1 and 2 cut out from underneath it, because Big Media outlets scooped the story. This is only going to happen more often in the future as journalists increasingly fix their stare on the company as its stature grows. Big Media speculation fueled the ‘Google is Evil’ flames in the blogosphere and by the time the official announcement came out, a lot of damage had already been done. But rather than get out there and do immediate damage control, it took another 2 days before Mayer’s Official Google Blog post attempted to hose down some of the controversy. Even that, though, only fueled more blogosphere speculation and confusion and it wasn’t until Mayer got out and actually spoke to outlets like CNET and bloggers like John Batelle that Google really started managing the message at all.
A lot of companies can learn a thing or two about Google’s ‘Blog PR’ but Google has got to realise that tried-and-true PR methodologies exist because they’ve been proven to be effective ways of managing your message delivery and external communications. You can hide behind a blog as much as you like, but until you start talking to journalists, bloggers and opinion influencers, you’ll never be in control of the process and you’ve only got yourself to blame when miscommunication happens and inaccurate information propogates.
For the most part blogging complements traditional corporate communications practices, it doesn’t replace them. It’d be nice if Google talk wasn’t just a product name.
P.S. If you’re asking yourself why I’m blogging when I’m supposed to be on holidays, bushfires are currently sweeping across the central coast of Sydney and my path North is currently blocked. Me thinks there is a conspiracy happening somewhere to keep me working and blogging.