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Google’s PR Machine - how the search giant deals with public failings

Blog post   •   Jun 12, 2015 14:01 BST

Google may be one of the most valuable companies in the world but despite all its success it’s had several notable failures and crises. And how they choose to deal with PR challenges can tell us a lot about the company.

Despite their seemingly unshakeable grip on the search market, not all of Google’s products work out. Their attempts to take on Facebook and develop a social networking site have largely failed. Both Google Buzz and the even more ambitious Google Wave launched with much fanfare; with Wave in particular web users were desperate to get their hands on an invite to try it out. However both services were shut down after the initial interest didn’t transform into loyal users.

Next up was Google+, a project into which Google poured a huge amount of time and resource. Once again, demand for an early invite was so high that it was called “insane” by G+ product lead Vic Gundotra and new invites were temporarily suspended. However, four years on, and the company is starting to slowly dismantle the platform, leading to the inevitable headlines that G+ is “dead”. While the fate of G+ remains as yet unknown, abandoned social networks aren’t the only PR challenge they have faced in recent years. Privacy is another issue that’s dogged the company, firstly in relation to Google Street View, then in connection with its privacy policy, which the European Union heavily criticised, and most recently as part of a challenge on the ‘right to be forgotten’.

Google’s response to PR crises is either to say very little or issue a fairly non-committal statement via their official blog. And while this approach could be interpreted as arrogance could there be something else behind it?

Internal culture & logic

Google is famous for having a company culture where engineers are firmly at the centre of the company. As a result of this they take an agile approach to the creation of new platforms.

Instead of spending years developing a new product and getting it to market, like a traditional manufacturing company might, a company like

Google is constantly innovating and inventing, with some products never seeing the light of day and others being released onto the market in order to test user behaviour.

As Michael Mace suggests in this i n-depthGuardian piece, “It’s a puzzle because Google doesn’t seem to respond to the rules and logic used by the rest of the business world. It passes up what look like obvious opportunities, invests heavily in things that look like black holes, and proudly announces product cancellations that the rest of us would view as an embarrassment.”

Added to this you have an organisation headed up by computer scientists. As such their logical, rationale approach doesn’t often translate well into marketing communications. Again, Mace neatly summarises this as follows, “Scientists aren’t generally known as great public communicators, and there’s a reason for that. PR is the art of telling a story in a way that people are open to hearing.

To the scientific mind-set, that comes across like dishonesty and manipulation. A scientist wants people to believe things because they make logical sense, not because their emotions are engaged.”

It’s clear that Google’s approach to comms has done them no significant harm to date but while we may quickly forget about dead social networks, failings in user privacy is a particularly hot topic that undoubtedly still has the potential to backfire, even for this internet behemoth.


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