Google’s blogging gaffe happened over a week ago and there’s still a flap about it in the blogosphere and in MSM (mainstream media).

A quick recap, Google employee Lauren Turner, a sales rep for Google ads, gave Michael Moore’s new film, Sicko, a thumbs down in a sort-of-review on Google’s new Health Advertising blog.

She then invited “health insurers, health providers, and pharmaceutical companies” (her words) – the targets of Moore’s criticism of limited access to costly healthcare – to get their own version of the story across by placing ads on Google.

Oops, she crossed a line there.

Partisan politics are dicey on a corporate blog

It’s not so much that this Google blogger said something politically incorrect: “Do No Evil” Google coming out against Michael Moore’s film?? (That drove the blogosphere wild.) Nor that she blatantly promotes Google’s advertising services. But that she crossed the line into partisan politics.

Think about it. Supposing she had come out with the opposing view, saying this was the greatest movie ever made, and suggesting that readers take out ads in praise of the film. Wouldn’t that have the same feeling of “crossing a line” into a partisan statement, one that urges political action?

No one would deny that America’s healthcare system is hugely flawed. Access to healthcare is one of the most highly charged issues in this country. But wading into a divisive and combustible issue on a corporate blog – and expressing a political point of view about it – strikes me as dicey.

Google’s official corporate blog issued a retraction of sorts. I.e., it focuses on clarifying Google’s political position on healthcare (Google “does share many of the concerns that Mr. Moore expresses about the cost and availability of health care in America”). It would have made more sense, IMHO, to parse exactly why Lauren Turner’s original blog post was inappropriate.

3 (obvious) corporate blogging lessons

Here are three pointers for corporate blogging. They’re not new, nor are they original. But they bear re-stating, in view of Google’s blogging gaffe:

1. Be authentic

That means use an “authentic voice” and say what you’re really thinking. Lauren Turner’s Sicko post had the ring of a salesperson’s spin. It sounded like she was using her “opinion” about Sicko as a way to promote Google’s AdSense program. (Read Mike O’Sullivan‘s comment.)

2. Be transparent

If you’re one of numerous authors on a corporate blog, be absolutely clear when you’re expressing your own opinion vs. your company’s.

3. Apologize if you make a mistake

Google got this one right. And even went further. As a Google spokesperson told the San Francisco Chronicle:

“We try to ensure that what is in them (Google’s over 50 blogs) represents the company, but we also try to make them interesting and not too traditional and corporate,” he said. “We hope to get even better at it over time, but we’ll probably also make more mistakes.”
San Francisco Chronicle (July 5, 2007)

BONUS TIP: Steer clear of politics and religion unless there’s a compelling strategic reason. For example, your company has decided to adopt a green (environmentally friendly) strategy on everything you do.

Useful Links

Google Faux Pas Retracted (TechCrunch, July 1, 2007)

Crossing the Corporate Line (San Francisco Chronicle, July 5, 2007)

Company Blogging 101 by Google spam engineer Matt Cutts

Google’s Authentic Voice Problem (O’Reilly Radar)

Google official blog’s M.O. (Three-year anniversary of Google’s original corporate blog, June 15, 2007)