Friday, March 26, 2010

Google vs. the Great Firewall

What would you say Google stands for?

Innovation … Collaboration … Freedom …

Yep, sounds about right.

Now, how about the Chinese government?

… Something had to give.

And so we have the latest escalation of tensions between Google and China.

Of all the American companies making a go of it in the People's Republic, Google’s venture has been among the most conflicted. Why was a company with a reputation as a progressive leader going along with censorship by a repressive regime?

And yet that’s what they were doing—until recently. Doing business with China was necessary to further Google’s mission of providing fast, free access to information around the world. You have to engage China to change China. Or so the argument went.

But one man’s “constructive engagement” is another’s “destructive capitulation”—especially for somebody like Google founder Sergey Brin, who grew up behind the Iron Curtain.

So Google has dramatically reversed its play-nice approach, opting as of now for a defiant end-run around censorship by redirecting Chinese users of Google through the company’s unfiltered Hong Kong-based site.

Some argue that this is all just a convenient cover for a necessary business decision—pulling out of China because increasingly nationalistic policies and persistent bureaucratic corruption make it nearly impossible for foreign companies to turn a profit.

And that may be, in fact, the bottom line.

Meanwhile, Google certainly benefits from publicly reaffirming its commitment to freedom, innovation and other principles that have made it the global force it is today.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Time for a Little Social Media Sobriety

Social media is fascinating. It’s an exciting, fast-evolving realm.

What it’s not is a cure-all for all your company’s sales and marketing challenges.

This should be obvious. But with all the hype out there surrounding Foursquare, Google Buzz or whatever the latest, hippest platform is, I guess it’s understandable that expectations become a little inflated.

That’s why it’s good to see some sobriety injected into the social media discussion, like this Wall Street Journal piece interviewing skeptical entrepreneurs.

The article cites a study of 500 owners of small businesses, only 22 percent of whom reported making a profit from their social media initiatives last year.

That stat handily exposes one big drawback of social media spending: that it’s still sometimes difficult to tie what you’re doing directly to definitive ROI.

But expecting social media engagement to suddenly, dramatically boost profits is asking too much. Better to think of social media as a great new opportunity to connect with target audiences.

Curb the irrational exuberance a bit, and you may find that a social media program is a cost-effective way to understand your customers and serve them better than ever.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Toyota’s Classic ‘No Comment’ Conundrum

Blunt piece in AdAge this week hammering Toyota’s handling of its massive case of recallitis.

James Treece’s argument boils down to one we’ve made more than a few times on this blog: “no comment” is a terrible crisis communications strategy.

Akio Toyoda’s congressional testimony last week was a decent attempt at a new era of straight talk and openness from the historically secretive multinational that his grandfather founded.

But it'll take more than one contrite appearance on Capitol Hill to overcome what we now know were decades of denial about major safety issues with the company's products--problems that the company knew of for quite some time, yet chose to remain silent about.

Toyoda left many questions unanswered, and the company still has lots of work to do in terms of transparency and responsiveness if it hopes to regain the reputation for reliability and quality that shot it to the top of the heap.