Here’s a short summary of the recent Google blogging brouhaha:
- Google has a new health advertising blog. This weekend Lauren Turner, a Google employee, did a relatively negative post about the movie Sicko. She also mentioned that health care companies that disagreed with Sicko could use advertising to get their viewpoint out.
- Philipp Lenssen at Google Blogoscoped called foul.
- When I read the post myself, I thought “Hmm. That was a bit impolitic. I’ll sit out round one of the reaction. Let’s see how this goes.”
- Lots of bloggers piled on negative commentaries.
- Lauren quickly did a second post this weekend to clarify that she was giving a personal opinion of Sicko, not Google’s opinion.
Things will die down from this post eventually, but there are a few evergreen tips to consider if you’re thinking of blogging on your company’s behalf.
The easiest time to make a blogging gaffe is when you’re starting out. When you’re about to start blogging, ramp up slowly:
1) Ask someone experienced to read the first several blog posts you do. They can flag inaccuracies or tell you if you misjudged the tone of a post.
2) Write a few posts that you’re willing to throw away. You still get the practice, but without as much pressure.
3) Do a guest post or two on someone else’s blog first. At Google, we have lots of official blogs. It’s better to try things out as a guest before you step into the spotlight on your own blog.
4) Practice on forums first. For example, Google has a lot of discussion and help forums where Googlers chime in from time to time. For Googlers, that’s a great place to start. For other companies, find the most relevant forum and practice chatting with people (make it clear that you work for your company so that people don’t think you’re astroturfing).
Don’t criticize other companies or people. This isn’t a hard and fast rule. But for a company blog, it’s usually unnecessary and unwise to throw dirt at other companies. For one thing, it lowers the level of discourse. Plus Silicon Valley and the blogosphere is a small place; the person that you publicly rake over the coals now might work with you down the road. I know that the temptation is strong, but resist it as often as you can.
Don’t post when you’re angry. Pretty much every time I’ve posted angry, I’ve regretted it later. The pace of the blogosphere conversation can be torrid, so reacting quickly can be critical to get your side of the story out on Techmeme or other places. But if you can afford the time, take an extra day to get a little perspective. Sometimes other people make the same points that you would have made.
Learn which stories matter and which ones don’t. You don’t have to respond to every criticism that someone makes. If a story is little more than insults, maybe it’s better to work on developing a thicker skin. And sometimes people are just baiting you trying to get attention. Usually there is a core issue that someone is angry about though. Tackle that issue and don’t sweat the insults.
If you make a mistake, don’t clam up. If you work hard enough for long enough, you’ll eventually make a big mistake. Think of it like skiing: if you never fall down, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. The important thing is to keep participating in the conversation. Post again to clarify your stance. Don’t yank the original post. If you have to change the original post, make it clear how you changed it, e.g. adding a postscript or
striking out what isn’t right.
Here’s a bonus tip specific to this situation: include a datestamp on all your posts. The posts on Google’s health advertising blog are currently month-stamped and time-stamped, but not date-stamped. I’d recommend changing that template to be like most other Google blogs. That lets people see that a clarifying post went up within a day or so after the original post.
In the grand scheme of things, I’d say this Sicko controversy is only 100 milli-iPhones of blog storm (it looks like Sicko had a strong opening weekend, by the way). I think Michael Arrington identified the most important issue:
What I don’t want to see is Google start to reign in its bloggers. As a public company Google is almost certainly putting blog posts through their legal and PR departments before they go live (how this slipped through is a mystery). If too many situations like the one above occur, they’ll start to add more policies and layers of review. If that happens, we’ll all have less insight into what’s going on there. I’m hoping it doesn’t.
Agreed. I’d rather be communicating a lot and sometimes get scalded than not be blogging. I think Google realizes the importance of communication/blogging and tries hard to get it right. Sometimes Googlers mess up, just like anyone else. But I expect more Google blogging over time, not less.