Company blogging 101

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.

67 Responses to Company blogging 101 (Leave a comment)

  1. There was nothing wrong with the suggestion that reminding firms that they could NEUTRALIZE the potential negative impact of the film or the bad PR by utilizing Advertising to gain immediate results.

    The blog post had personality and was a human response – which made it all the more interesting. It is refreshing to witness spontaneity and intuitiveness every once in while among corporate posters.

    Society needs more bloggers like that to offset the ‘play it safe’ attitudes that prevail among the business blogging community.

    Don’t post when you’re angry. Pretty much every time I’ve posted angry, I’ve regretted it later

    hmmm…go back into the archives and read some of your angry responses to the comments by SearchEnginesWeb during the early days of this blog –

    It was all perfectly fine, and never caused any offense or indignation :-|

    … that’s because SearchEnginesWeb understands!

  2. Leo

    I think its great starting a blog with controversial posts to build up your readers and linkage. Great seo there

  3. I think lauren had it right in the first place. It shouldn’t matter if you have your own private website and sell pillows duvets or lamb skin pelts. Its freedom of speech and if google starts firing people because they post whatever. I mean if that’s the case the MattCutts of the world and Lauren would be out of a job.

    Good Luck!

  4. Andrew

    Buy Lauren a drink, I am guessing she needs one!

    No one was hurt. Have a few laughs. Learn from experience. Move on.

  5. I absolutely agree with your tips. On the anger thing, you should have seen some of the earlier drafts of what I ultimately posted to my Advogato blog about this mess. But I’m happy with what I did write and I hope it gives people a better picture of how things work at Google.

    And I also agree that blogging is here to stay. It’s such a useful communication tool when it matches what you’re trying to say and the sweet spot of audience size. Most people could benefit from learning to blog better, and your tips are a good start.

  6. Whatever you do, don’t stop blogging (and please don’t let the PR department “fix” the postings :)).

    Looking forward to your next post, Lauren.

  7. Dave (original)

    Lauren quickly did a second post this weekend to clarify that she was giving a personal opinion of Sicko, not Google’s opinion.

    That doesn’t wash with me, especially after the fact. Besides, she’s a Google employee posting on a Google blog with the Google logo. Whether Google like it or not, it IS Google’s opinion until the post is deleted.

    Having said that, Michael Moore’s Films are always one-eyed &based on controversy and bad press is great publicity for his Films.

  8. Mistakes on a blog, however slight, are proof of a personal involvement behind the blog rather than the pointed work of a marketing team. To err is human.

  9. Nikhil Jogia

    I don’t think a Google blog posts go through the PR and legal department. Wasn’t there a chocolate cake (or some other culinary delight) posted last year on one of G’s blog by mistake?

  10. Hi Matt!

    “Don’t criticize other companies or people”

    Is it ok to criticize google here? I think google is fantastic. It just improved the life of so many individuals and companies, through adwords. And it’s such a great search tool.

    I do however voice my concerns and I do sometimes criticize. I don’t believe it lowers the discussion. Debate is important. But you must not make it personal. It’s about ideas.

    I read Lauren Turner and the first thing I thought was:

    She’s criticizing Sicko and defending the health insurers, health providers, and pharmaceutical companies. But she wants the money of those she’s defending! That’s not a great spot to be in when you’re criticizing a film like Sicko.

    Check CNN’s analysis of Sicko: http://edition.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/06/28/sicko.fact.check/index.html

    The numbers are correct. Of course, Moore wants a great box office. He tells HIS story. He’s not a reporter. The film is not about facts or truth. It’s someone’s interpretation. So, you watch the movie with the idea that it has a political agenda.

    Of course, Lauren Turner is right to offer adwords as a great medium to voice the position of the health establishment. But I believe there’s a general consensus in America that something has to be done about Health insurance for the poor and even for middle classes in America. And the next presidential election will put Health in the spotlight. Senator Hillary Clinton has strong opinions on this issue.

    So the context for any blog associated to google to voice a strong opinion about Health Care is not the most favorable.

    I guess Lauren just won a lot of new readers. So, she’s in business! :) I wish her the best of luck! Maybe she could comment on this part of CNN’s analysis:

    “Both the French and Canadian systems rank in the Top 10 of the world’s best health-care systems, according to the World Health Organization. The United States comes in at No. 37. The rankings are based on general health of the population, access, patient satisfaction and how the care’s paid for.”

    That would be a challenge!

  11. Matt, all fair enough and good that you chime in (and many of us also hope this doesn’t result in more controlled blogging) but what do you think about the underlying issue, at least as far as Google’s responsibilities are concerned? Is it really just a faux pas with no deeper problem to it, or is it perhaps — and if so, we should thank Lauren for making that post — pointing the way to an overdue public discussion on Google’s ad sales policies and strategies? Google often say they like to think about scalable and long term solutions, and to keep with the technical terms, it’s just more scalable to clean up potential internal issues, than hoping that those issues will never again externalize. I know Google likes to keep those discussions hidden from view, but perhaps now people want to see more of the kind of response Google employee Raph Levien posted; an honest, open blogger’s opinion: http://advogato.org/person/raph/diary.html?start=415

  12. I applaud Lauren for speaking her mind, after all, wasn’t the Internet built on the founding principle of freedom of expression.

  13. “We are offering services for downranking your competitors in google
    - Sandboxing $299
    - 30 Filtering $99
    Any website or separate web pages with PR 1 2 3 4 5. Guarantee.”

    Shame on google programmers!

    If you do not remove penalties for external factors, then Google will have BIG TROUBLES very soon. Many webmasters will say good bye to paranoid google, and will say hello to clean Yahoo!

    2-3 years ago there was a possibility just to write a good high-quality and relevant articles, create web pages, follow guidelines and that was enough to appear in top google search results. It was a significant advantage of google – to rank sites not only for internal SEO tricks & backlinks, but also for _relevant_ content. 2-3 years ago the factor of relevancy of content was important as well as the factor of amount of relevant back links.
    Nowadays, algorithm of google is completely different than 2-3 years ago, and the factor of back links is significantly more important than relevancy of content! A lot of high-quality sites was undervalued or just partially disappeared from top index. I read a lot of google patents, and I must admit that there are serious logical mistakes and contradictions in fundamentals assumptions of many algorithms. I call them NOISE ALGORITHMS, because while performing “smart” filtering and evaluations of site rankings these algorithms introduce a lot of unnecessary informational noise and disorder, instead of just finding relevant content.

    It sad to say, but nowadays google reminds me the old AltaVista.

  14. Jim

    Matt,
    Don’t beat around the bush on the main topic here:The mindset that blog post has revealed about Google is not flattering. I am not a Michael Moore fan but what Google is doing is to try to profit from a serious debate here, in a nakedly obvious fashion. SICK.

    If I were you, I would leave this employer. NOW.

  15. You make some good points here. I guess it boils down to the fact that corporate spokespeople (including unofficial ones) need to exercise discretion and strive to “Do no harm”. But, without the human elements of error and emotion it would be a lot more boring world.

    This whole thing amounts to very little in the big picture, and may actually do some good by helping all us little people to stay aware that our perceptions are subject to manipulation within the market place. That is after all a main goal of marketing.

  16. I don’t have a problem with the opinions, but the language of the post worries me a bit in that it suggests that Google’s “health advertising” team sees their clients only as pharmaceutical companies and insurers and other big corporate interests. When I worked at Google, we always took care to remember that our primary clients were our users. This is especially important in the area of advertising as it’s very easy to start serving advertisers at the expense of users. And this is not good for anyone (except maybe the advertisers) in the long run.

  17. I think you are reframing the issue as some sort of Googler’s Bill of Rights issue. That’s not it at all. Your advertising planner let the truth slip out: Google is more than willing to go to bat for immoral industries with deep pockets. I went to the trouble to point it out, because I do not believe that this is an opinion that is held all the way up the Google chain. Lauren Turner is dead wrong in her follow up post when she argues that advertising is ultimately “democratic.” It isn’t, that’s why the government heavily regulates advertisers. If it was democratic, then you’d give equal time to the issue groups that can’t afford the CPC on heath care keywords.

    Frankly, Mr Cutts, it is disingenuous to make this some sort of inside baseball issue about “blogging.” The blogging in this case just reflects your ad sales philosophy, and you need to deal with the repercussions of that in a transparent manner or this won’t be over.

  18. me

    So Google is pandering to the health care companies for advertising. So, Google is OK with America being 37th in the world in health care. You are using a hot issue to bolster ad revenue and to ‘help’ the health care firms improve their image. I got news for you Mr. Cutts, America does a horrible job with health care and pandering to them shows just how low Google will go to make a buck.

  19. Paul

    So Lauren checks in to re-hab and the gEmpire hopes the inconvenient truth blows over?

  20. I’m in meetings all day, so briefly:
    - David, good to see you. The “users are what matter most” tenet is still enshrined at Google in my experience. Even when people have knock-down drag-out fights within Google, it usually because those two people have different opinions on what is best for users.
    - Joe Preston, I agree that advertising is not democratic, for the simple reason that it requires money. I’m simply saying that this is a new person posting on a new Google blog. They’ve picked up some very useful lessons this weekend. I’d say to give them a little bit of time to adjust.
    - Philipp Lenssen, typically our company culture is to have a free-form discussion internally, but not to discuss those disagreements externally quite as much. Part of the reason for that is that if you can make a persuasive case internally, you can bring about change more effectively than if you make a big stink outside of Google. But I do subscribe to Scoble’s viewpoint that blogging is like a membrane, and it can be stretched to talk about more and more controversial topics over time. My advice to brand-new Google bloggers is to get a feel for blogging before they tackle controversial topics, though. The scrutiny that a Googler post gets is probably ~10x more than a typical person might expect.

  21. Google already crossed a line by setting up a blog specifically to cater to the health care industry. She’s supposed to say stuff that appeals to that industry and encourage them to use AdWords. And, missing from your list: say something controversial that will get a lot of coverage, especially when you are first trying to build your audience.

  22. I think many of us have made these type of mistakes whether it be in blog posts or email. I certainly did when I worked for a corporation and learned from those mistakes.

    One tip I do with important email is to send the first copy to another email address I have just for this purpose. Sorry, it’s not a Gmail address;-) I then pick up the email from that account on my next batch which is a couple of hours later. I find that delay and then reading the item as a user helps me.

    The first time I read Lauren’s post, I didn’t give it too much thought. I skimmed it as I do with countless stories. It wasn’t until it picked up traction on TechMeme that I reread it and saw some of the points people were making.

  23. That doesn’t wash with me, especially after the fact. Besides, she’s a Google employee posting on a Google blog with the Google logo. Whether Google like it or not, it IS Google’s opinion until the post is deleted.

    Sorry, Dave, but I gotta disagree with you here. Let’s say, and this is strictly hypothetical (in other words, nobody get their shorts in a knot because I’m not implying a thing here, I’m just illustrating a point via purely fictional example) that a Google employee (we’ll call him Bob to make life easier) posts on one of the official Google blogs. Bob is also a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Bob uses the Google blog to talk about Yahoo!’s minority hiring policies and how they don’t help white people, who Bob believes to be the master race, get jobs.

    Do we blame Google for Bob using the Google blog to post his KKK-inspired message? No. We blame Bob for being racist in the first place. Google inadvertently provided Bob a medium to convey his message, but Google didn’t endorse Bob’s opinion.

    What does this have to do with Lauren? Lauren posted what is clearly her opinion, just like Matt posts his opinion, just like Lasnik and Brian White post their opinions in places, just like Vanessa Fox used to. They’re individual opnions.

    Now…if Google wants to start running official blogs, Lauren may have unwittingly exposed a weakness within those blogs (i.e. the ability for a poster to create a relatively unmoderated thought that reflects badly on the company). Maybe all posts in those blogs should be premoderated first on more than one level.

    I don’t really have a problem with what Lauren said in this case as far as her general point (use advertising as a medium to convey a counterpoint). Her mistakes were that 1) she introduced company bias by promoting Google and 2) targeting the king of the tinfoil hat brigade himself, Michael Moore. I’ll agree with Dave on this one…any publicity is good publicity for Mikey.

    I also agree with most of what you said, Matt. The one area where I do disagree pertains to criticism of a company. As long as the company isn’t a competitor and/or doesn’t present a viewpoint that is in some way contrary to the goals your company has, constructive (and occasionally even destructive) criticism is more than acceptable, and criticizing a company may often encourage comments from others who have had issues with that company. I think there’s room for that sort of thing, as long as it doesn’t become the primary focus of the blog itself.

  24. I applaud Lauren for speaking her mind, after all, wasn’t the Internet built on the founding principle of freedom of expression

    Amen to that, however if it was done on a company blog or possibly confused as a company opinion I can see the issue.

    That being said — Matt, you forgot to add to your list:

    No Drunk Dialing (or Blogging)
    :)

    Cheers,
    Sean

  25. I don’t have any objections to Lauren attacking Michael Moore and I don’t disagree with Lauren’s point about using advertising as a means of combating negative media, but to tie everything together at the end by pointing to AdWords as a solution is like writing an agreeable post and then topping it off with an affiliate link, clouding the motive of the post, as not to inform or to express a personal opinion but to make money – which takes away from Lauren’s credibility.

    If the goal of the blog is to encourage companies to advertise with Google, then she should have made that the central point instead of sneaking that idea at the end of a movie review. If she opened up the post with “AdWords can help you do X; and here’s an example Y” I would’ve had less of a problem with that.

  26. > Lauren
    > posted what is clearly her opinion, just like
    > Matt posts his opinion, just like Lasnik and
    > Brian White post their opinions in places, just
    > like Vanessa Fox used to. They’re individual opnions.

    Adam, I think there’s about 3 categories of blogs where Google employees post right now. The official ones, to which Lauren posted. The semi-official ones like Matt’s, which, when they talk about Google, act as a sandbox for Google-related stuff (whether explicitly stated or not), with real consequences to webmasters. And the private ones like Niniane Wang’s, which merely touch Google in terms of private stories (like a Google party), stories that will not influence opinion on Google-related issues. *Of course* the only “officially official” Google communication is the (often buzzword-infested) Google press release (though even a press release attributes quotes to persons, because a company cannot speak), and *of course* Google can retract any blog post based on the fact that it was written by an individual.

    However, all that doesn’t touch the real question, I think; the real question is how much of the company air Lauren breathes has made it into her post. And if you take a bit of a look around the Google ad sales department based on the public sites Google offers (like http://www.google.com/ads/metrics.html ), you will find less reason to believe her stance is completely opposing everybody else’s in the ad sales teams — and I don’t mean in her specific opinion on “Sicko” (which I bet isn’t shared by a lot of Google employees), but in her aim to actively pitch toward those industries with the biggest budgets. And Google, the company which deals in the currency of user trust & supposed neutrality, might have some long-term problems with continuing these kinds of (by their very nature: selective) pitches as corporate strategy.

  27. Should the blog start with feedback from employees first ?

  28. While I agree with her general statement that advertising can be a fair way to get out an opposing viewpoint, it’s been pointed out on BoingBoing ( http://www.boingboing.net/2007/07/01/more_on_google_vs_si.html ) that Google doesn’t necessarily allow the purchase of oppositional ads in all cases. As in the link, “After a few days, Google told me that their ‘policy does not permit the advertisement of websites that contain ‘language that advocates against an individual, group, or organization’.”

  29. I’m just bemused that this post led me, through the comments, to places to find scented candles, sterling silver jewelry, decorative pillows and candles (again!). I’m feeling all romantic now.

  30. Ajax

    I agree with Dave. It’s an official google blog which means it represents the company, but more than that, it is a mouthpiece of the company, putting out information about new services to the public as well as Google’s opinion (as a company) about issues such as China and search terms. If Lauren has that opinion she can post it on her own private blog not one with Google name displayed prominently on it. She posted as a Google Employee on an official Google Blog, as though it was the official Google line.

    My real issue however is using controversy to sell Google ad words. And in my opinion it is really a very, very dumb move. It’s like recommending that oil companies use ad words to get across their message during the Exxon Valdez oil spill (one of history’s worst man made environmental disasters).

    Google should realize that controversy and selling ad space does not go hand in hand and make sure it doesn’t happen again, otherwise people will stop seeing Google in terms of ‘not being evil’ and see it just as another service provider which would massively decimate not only the good will but also the value of the brand name.

    I guess Google should consider this a tap on the shoulder… a few more taps and then the Mack truck hits you. lets hope Google takes the lesson.

  31. truth machine

    So this can be fixed by being “politic”? You’re as bad as Ms. Turner — or worse.
    Ms. Turner’s screwup isn’t that she blogged her opinion, but that she has her opinion — that health care corporations are basically beneficent, not greedy, that any instances of the latter are “isolated”, and that the way to fix perceived problems with the healthcare industry is through misleading, propagandistic advertising — via google. No apology or change in strategy by Ms. Turner will fix that. The only thing that can fix it is for google to fire Ms. Turner, apologize for ever having hired her, and put into action steps that will prevent them from hiring other such evil people.

  32. truth machine

    “The “users are what matter most” tenet is still enshrined at Google in my experience. Even when people have knock-down drag-out fights within Google, it usually because those two people have different opinions on what is best for users.”

    Ah, so you’re ignoring the very experience at hand. It is deeply intellectually dishonest to respond as you did to a statement like “it suggests that Google’s “health advertising” team sees their clients only as pharmaceutical companies and insurers and other big corporate interests”.

  33. Philipp,

    That’s a fair point. I also did mention that Lauren did introduce corporate bias into what is otherwise an opinion post.. But it just doesn’t bother me the way it would bother most people…yet. I’d treat this as an isolated incident by an employee who didn’t think of all of the consequences.

    If it repeats itself, then there’s something to be concerned about. But for now, it’s just a random occurrence.

  34. truth machine

    “There was nothing wrong with the suggestion that reminding firms that they could NEUTRALIZE the potential negative impact of the film or the bad PR by utilizing Advertising to gain immediate results.”

    Yeah, I suppose there woould be nothing wrong with reminding holocaust and global waming deniers that they could neutralize the claims of historians and scientists via an advertising blitz. Nothing wrong at all.

  35. Danny, those comments were not in keeping with my comment policy (one-liner stuff isn’t encouraged); I pruned those comments.

  36. truth machine

    “But it just doesn’t bother me the way it would bother most people”

    That just might have something to do with the fact that you consider Michael Moore to be “the king of the tinfoil hat brigade”.

  37. SeanIM, I rarely blog after drinking, but you’re “No drunk blogging” is a good point. :)

    Bill, I think the Boing Boing update about “anti-” ads didn’t get it quite right. It’s true that we discourage “anti-” ads in AdWords (it doesn’t matter whether it’s a big or small company buying the ad). But people who try to make their ads constructive are welcome in AdWords as I understand it. That stance is often misunderstood (“I couldn’t buy my ad against an ocean liner firm,” or “Why is this political ad okay and this one isn’t?! Does Google lean toward blue-state/red-state?!”). I think the notion of encouraging constructive ads rather than “anti-” ads is a pretty good idea in my experience.

  38. The present textads being run against Sicko include one from a right-wing “think-tank” (industry astroturfers) that maligns Moore personally and make unsubstantiated claims about his movie. This isn’t “constructive” by any stretch.

  39. truth machine

    “Sometimes Googlers mess up”

    Your basic theme here seems to be that Ms. Turner messed up by being honest, and that over time she’ll learn her lesson about such “gaffes”. Sort of like how all those public figures claim to have “misspoken” when their racist or other revealing comments become publicized. There’s something deeply wrong with your position, in the same way that there’s something deeply wrong with Ms. Turner’s position. I hope you manage to figure that out — there are certainly enough people who have commented on it here. Good luck.

  40. truth machine

    P.S. Here’s someone who has commented on it elsewhere:
    http://www.myheadisarocket.com/matt-cutts-the-obfuscator-in-chief-muddles-up-the-google-health-ads-controversy.html

    He seems to have you pegged.

  41. truth machine

    ” Lauren quickly did a second post this weekend to clarify that she was giving a personal opinion of Sicko, not Google’s opinion.”

    That is really rich:

    “Whether the healthcare industry wants to rebut charges in Mr. Moore’s movie, or whether Mr. Moore wants to challenge the healthcare industry, advertising is a very democratic and effective way to participate in a public dialogue.

    That is Google’s opinion …”

    That’s right, folks, according to Ms. Turner it is Google’s opinion, not her own, that advertising = democracy.

  42. Dave (original)

    Do we blame Google for Bob using the Google blog to post his KKK-inspired message

    Same as I said for the “Sicko” blog. That is, unless Google delete the post Google they are condoning it no matter what is posted *after* the fact.

    If Google employees wish to express their *personal* views (which they are entitled to of course) they should *not* use an *official* Google blog. Common sense 101 IMO.

  43. > I think the notion of encouraging constructive ads
    > rather than “anti-” ads is a pretty good idea in my experience.

    Here’s what I sent to Cory earlier on this issue:

    ————-

    As Mike mentioned it’s Google’s official ad content policy to not
    allow “Ad text advocating against any organization or person (public,
    private, or protected)”.
    https://adwords.google.com/select/contentpolicy.html
    And judging from Google’s email Mike presents, that includes not just
    the ad text, but the advertised site itself. What’s interesting is
    that throughout the weekend when I was checking Google’s search
    results for “Sicko”, an ad with the following text appeared (I saw no
    other ads in Google over the weekend, though when I check the US
    version — I’m in Germany — I do get other ads):

    Sicko short on truth
    Moore’s movie profers a deadly Rx.
    In the smart new business magazine
    http://www.American.com

    Let’s compare again to Mike’s ad which Google decided to block due to
    “Unacceptable Content”:

    Covance Undercover
    Covance abuses animals and
    tries to censor free speech.
    mlcastle.net/covance/

    Now, the Sicko ad above (which you may or may not be able to reproduce
    in Google, depending on your location, the time of the day, whether or
    not the campaign is still running etc.) pointed to an article titled
    “‘Sicko’ Sniffles” which opens with the sentence “The new film
    confirms Michael Moore’s penchant for agitprop.”
    http://www.american.com/archive/2007/june-0607/2018sicko2019-sniffles/

    That article’s author is Jurgen Reinhoudt of the American Enterprise
    Institute, which Wikipedia identifies as a “a conservative think tank”
    which is supposedly “closely associated with the neoconservative
    movement in American politics.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Enterprise_Institute

    ————-

    Google did not ask Sam Schulman, who launched this ad campaign for The American which attacks Michael Moore, to amend his ad, and instead are simply running it (as Sam, who I talked to earlier today, told me). In your opinion what makes the one ad constructive and the other destructive?

  44. lol@Danny Sullivan- i stopped doing linkspam here, it works like the dickens but oh it lacks style

    @Mr Cutts – I get that, and I dont hold you to a higher standard than I hold the garbage posts of the salesmen within my organizations, but I sort of think you guys hold yourselves to somethng hgher

    You are probably tired of talking about Dont Be Evil – but it wasnt something awarded to you by the blogosphere – you guys hung it on yourself — this is the other edge of the dagger that comes from such a vague statement, if you dont define what evil is we’re all going to act from the idea that we will know it when we see it. Googlers like yourself simply may not have the perspective on this, but when your kid is autistic and your contract runs out in december and you just found out you’re a diabetic and you can reasonably expect to pay more than your mortgage, not for health care but for freaking health insurance you know that there’s a crisis. And when you see Lauren Turner, talk about the good side of the people causing the crisis–the good side presumably being that she feathers her bed with the profits. It is irritating to hear you try to turn this from a conflict with Google’s stated mission into some sort of “process” story, I believe the poltical types call it. You, sir, are engaging in spin. And if you are spinning for Lauren, which I think you are, and Lauren is cheerleading for Evil, which I think she is, then what does that make you? I don’t think you are, frankly, but I think you demonstrate a poor understanding of the “core issue”

  45. Joe Preston, I take your point. It was a bad post, and the follow-up post that talked about ads being democratic was not smart as well (in my opinion). It’s also fair to say that there’s a lot of internal discussion about this within Google from disappointed/angry Googlers. If you haven’t seen the official Google blog post about this, it’s worth a read.

    http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2007/07/google-and-health-care.html

    Our internal review of the piece before publication failed to recognize that readers would — properly, but incorrectly — impute the criticisms as reflecting Google’s official position. We blew it.

    In fact, Google does share many of the concerns that Mr. Moore expresses about the cost and availability of health care in America. Indeed, we think these issues are sufficiently important that we invited our employees to attend his film (nearly 1,000 people did so).

    That’s the official Google position on this movie and issue. Speaking as someone who has made mistakes in communication before, I didn’t think Lauren needed any additional criticism. Here’s a sample of what she’s already hearing in an anonymous comment for example:

    Hope Google has a generous eldercare programme, so when (not IF, but WHEN) Lauren’s parents start to get old and sick and it just so happens that their medical plans don’t cover ten years of home nursing
    ….
    Have fun while your crying over your parents grave, Lauren.

    So no, I didn’t feel that I needed to add to the voices that were attacking her. If you consider my post to be spin, that’s your right, but I was trying to pull something constructive out of the controversy.

  46. SeanIM

    I’m just bemused that this post led me, through the comments, to places to find scented candles, sterling silver jewelry, decorative pillows and candles (again!). I’m feeling all romantic now.

    All your No Follows are belong to us.

  47. Doug

    Been there.

    Done that.

    Nice to see the baton has been passed along to a new generation.

    As I recall Matt, you were one of the strongest advocates for maintaining a more human touch on the Google blog from day one. I think you were right to do so and this minor mistake is a reminder that there have been relatively few screwups in the last three years of posts. And of course, your blog has a flawless record. Not to make you paranoid or anything…

    blog on

    doug

  48. Yeah, I know and thats always been the way I’ve felt you added value to webmaster discussions about Google. It seems all of a sudden that your organization has become publicly political, would you disagree with that characterization? And while I hesitate to tell you what that means for you, I know you know that no matter how much you admonish us otherwise, you represent the public face of Google to a noisy sector of the web. It really is one thing to try to triangulate a bunch of SEO’s freaked out about Florida, bigdaddy etc. into something worth reading and it really is another to try to give Lauren Turner’s inflammatory, and I hate to belabor this but its your company’s framing, evil comments a pass because she’s “new.” The thing I do admire about you and yours is that you acknowlege your imperfection and build knowledge of that into your processes. I just hope you recognize that the typical Matt Cutts post may not suffice for all the issues that cross your desk these days. Sorry to hijack your blog!

  49. Joe, I would disagree that we’ve become publicly political on this issue. Lauren’s post was a mistake: a personal criticism was expressed on a company blog. The official Google blog said “We blew it.” I would agree that Google learned some lessons this weekend though.

    No worries on posting comments; Igor is still 3-4 posts ahead of you, I think. :)

  50. Josh

    Matt, Thank you for your feedback on this issue. Many of the comments here reflected my own concerns and you did a good job of explaining things.

    Always appreciated

  51. Interesting I think the problem here at Matt alludes to it is there is a disjunct between lets call this old school Google and the newer advertising guys. Eric maybe needs to stop playing with his new iPhone and bang a few heads.

    I suspect that part of the health teams bonus is based on sales so it is in their interest to boost that and ignore the effect on the company as a whole. MCI had major problem a few years ago where the sales people worked out that they could game the bonus system and fucked over the company and the customers.

    The person in question is damm lucky not to be dooced on the spot. I used to work at BT and some one came up with a funny add to get people to resubscribe to PRESTEL the add was a picture of a kitten with the strap line resubscribe or the kitten gets it – the individual concerned was fired and the magazine concerned pulped .

    Certainly, for official blogs Google needs to hire people with more common sense and with some knowledge of politics and how it plays out may be some wonks as well as geeks.

  52. The challenge with company blogs is basically that they tend to suck. They are at best basic information outlets and at worst bad PR nightmares. Not because the authors are bad people, but because “official” company blogs reverse the optimal relationship between blogger and reader. For example here, at Jeremy Zawodny, and at Scoble (when he was with MS), the blogger develops a trusted, somewhat personal relationship with the reader. A company blogger can’t really do that. They are generally trustworthy honest people but they are constrained by not being able to bite the hand that feeds them and also contrained by our expectation that they are beholding to the employer.

    Ironically Lauren crossed this line in both directions by giving her own personal opinion (good) at a corporate blog (unusual). But her opinion happened to line up very well with Google’s advertising agenda (hmmmm) and her own personal agenda of selling more ads (hmmmm).

    The debates over conflict of interest at blogs are really heating up as they should until we can find ways to keep things transparent, honest as we continue to keep the discussions lively and robust.

  53. Joe Duck, didn’t I already read that entry over on your blog? :)

  54. Great information Matt. I see too many people thinking that they are blogging “on behalf of the company” without thinking of the implications of what they are saying. When you are speaking for a business, you really have to think of all the social implications of what you are saying – you might not mean things in a certain way, but must take into account how certain statements could be interpreted. Basically, any business must be “politically correct” and “socially sensitive” – otherwise your input can definitely backfire.

  55. BTW – I, personally, don’t trust company bloggers too much – knowing that their business will influence the depth and range of their published opinion.

  56. Dave (original)

    LOL! A very noisy minute minority! Look at Google usage figures compared to all other SE :)

  57. Doug, on the official Google blog you point to you wrote…

    > When we post something that’s unsigned, it’s
    > just general Google information that we think
    > may be of interest to you. Apply whatever
    > filter you deem appropriate. When something
    > is signed by Larry or Sergey or another Googler,
    > that’s really them talking about something
    > important to them.
    http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2004/05/whaddya-mean-we.html

    As you signed that post on the Google blog with your name, would you consider it proper to consider this just your view point, and not Google’s? So that means the signed/ unsigned rule doesn’t exist on the official Google blog, it’s just one of your personal things you’d like?

    By the same logic, would you consider the follow-up to the health issue just Missy Krasner personal opinion? So that means Google didn’t issue an official follow-up to Lauren’s post?

    In short: I don’t think the signed/ unsigned rule works at all.

    When Andrew McLaughlin talks about Google in China …
    http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/01/google-in-china.html
    … then that is by no means Andrew babbling along about his likes and dislikes, it’s *Google policy*, and should be understood (and reported) accordingly. It also has industry-wide implications which you can’t ignore which have nothing whatsoever to do with Andrew.

    If someone posts on an official Google blog, using language like “we” and “Google”, and it turns out that it was just a little too much personal opinion which perhaps even opposed a company view point (or company communication strategy, even though Lauren’s post was reviewed before, as Google said), then fair enough, Google should post a clarification like they did. Then, reports can compare the two and adjust appropriately.

  58. jackie113

    There are already a number of so-called iPhone applications in beta stages that you can test on supported browsers like Safari, IE7 and Firefox

    http://www.mp4-converter.net/iphone-converter/dvd-to-iphone/

  59. I agree with a lot of people here. It wasn’t personal opinion or google’s official position or anything of the sort. It was a shameless plug for googe adwords. It was a sales pitch and a pretty obvious one at that.

  60. Dave (original)

    Philipp Lenssen, I agree. I would think that if/when any Google employee wishes to express their persoanl view they should use a personal blog/site.

  61. Doug

    Philipp…

    You may have missed my point. Just because something was important to the person who signed the post, doesn’t mean it was solely their personal opinion. It was always our intent that the official (and at the time, only) Google blog reflect views consistent with the company’s perspective. However, we wanted to differentiate between company shovelware/PR info and something that was more directly related to an individual working on it.

    We took flak for not signing our first couple of posts and wanted to let readers know that there were real people (i.e., non-marketing staff) writing about projects of importance to them. If you look at those early entries, you’ll see that signed posts were generally by the product manager/engineeer launching a new service or Charlie writing about his fried chicken recipe or Yoshka talking about being the top dog. Not terribly controversial stuff.

    When we did take on something a bit meatier, such as our China policy, we signed it “The Google Team,” which was a last minute decision since it had been planned to release it under an executive’s name. The feeling was that we should make it clear it was a corporate post, not one person’s viewpoint on the topic.

    I think Lauren’s post had problems for a few reasons already mentioned here, especially the blatant sales pitch at the end, but signing her name was the right thing to do. it let everyone know who was responsible and she acknowledged that responsibility by posting a clarification. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

    I’d say cut her some slack since with the attention she has received, I’m sure she’ll be reluctant to ever write anything with a point of view in the future. The same will likely extend to other corporate bloggers at the company. Removing any and all opinions should really make Google’s blogs much more interesting to read, don’t you think?

    -doug

  62. jackie113

    the iPhone looks amazing, and it probably feels amazing in the palm of your hand, too. It’s sleek, curvy, shiny, and sexy,with on-screen icons and buttons that just ooze and drip class.

    http://www.mp4-converter.net/iphone-converter/iphone-video-converter/

  63. Have not seen the movie yet, but have had to go through the medical system in this country. 8 months of fighting to get the insurance company to pay for back surgery that 4 different doctors 5 MRI’s and countless other professionals said needed to be done. In the mean time I was stuck at home flat on my back, as i could not walk for more than a few minutes or sit for more than 15 or 20 minutes without agonizing pain starting. Insurance companies are burocratic satanists.

  64. > When we did take on something a bit meatier, such as
    > our China policy, we signed it “The Google Team,” which
    > was a last minute decision since it had been planned to
    > release it under an executive’s name.

    Not sure I understand. This post on China policy wasn’t signed with “Google Team” but Andrew McLaughlin. Perhaps you refer to another post, or an earlier version of that post.
    http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/01/google-in-china.html

    But yes, I understand your point about allowing people who worked on something to announce the news. Not that that makes it any less official (think of Matt Cutts’ co-announcement of the “nofollow” initiative, which had *huge* industry impact), but it might make it nicer to read, of course, and it gives credit where credit is due.

    > I’d say cut her some slack since with the attention
    > she has received, I’m sure she’ll be reluctant to ever
    > write anything with a point of view in the future. The
    > same will likely extend to other corporate bloggers
    > at the company.

    Everybody should be allowed to post their opinions, and everybody else should be allowed to post their opinions in response to that, which is pretty much what happened. And instead of worrying about becoming shy due to that criticism, one should worry about how to work with the criticism to actually *change* things. And I don’t think making Lauren the scapegoat for any of this, or the sole responsible party for initiating that change, is fair for Google to do… I’m sure the Google employees working in ad sales pitches departments are trained to cater to their specific industries (and praised for aggressive pitches in every other context except a public blog post). So the problem is not Lauren, but overall strategy — *if* you consider this a problem, that is, like Danny Sullivan does, who says, “Google ought to get back to just selling space and not trying to be an ad agency to these groups. That’s what ad agencies do, and they aren’t hit by the burden of also having to run supposedly unbiased information resources.”

  65. Great post! I think the advice of, don’t blog when angry, is very importaint. I agree that it is the hardest, at first, then it does get easier.

    Other advice that I’d give is to have a good spam filter.

  66. Spelling and grammar errors are the things that bug me the most. Look at the comment above, “importaint.” Company blogs should set a standard. When people read well written articles and blogs with correct spelling, it should help us all to write better articles.

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