It should come as no surprise to hear that Google, one of the most potent organisations in the world, has trust as one of its positioning lynchpins…yet in a (business) world still coming to terms with the fact that those defining a brand are more often its stakeholders than the brand itself, this is still close to being revolutionary, especially if it is being effectively put into action, rather than simply being pontificated on.
Lucinda Barlow, Google Australia and New Zealand’s Head of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, put forward this premise at last year’s Frocomm’s New Media Summit. “We all work for and represent brands and brands are all about trust,” Lucinda said. “People have certain expectations of a brand and that’s what we have to portray.”
But are all brands about trust? I don’t think so. Australian Wheat Board? Rio Tinto? Westpac? Not exactly high-performing brands in the trust stakes.
Google are a fascinating entity in many ways, but their confluence of the dimensions of communication, products and societal centrality is one aspect of this. As a result of this it possesses an enormous amount of power:
- The power over people’s ability to access information (including information being organised in a manner customised to people’s varying ‘niche needs’)
- The power over people’s means of accessing information
- The power of influencing government and regulatory regimes.
In summary, this means the company is playing a significant role in shaping society itself.
The power of giving away control
Lucinda (@lucindabarlow) describes Google as having collaboration at its heart and giving up power to its stakeholders. What a breath of fresh air for a public relations professional!
“Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” said Lucinda. “This means giving our users around the world access to the information they want, from the widest variety of sources, wherever they are.”
And it is interesting to note that, despite its competition being, “one click away,” Lucinda said Google’s policy is not to lock people into utilising the products it develops, but to, “allow customers to move their data out of Google’s services easily.
“We have a dedicated engineering team, working across all products, called the ‘Data Liberation Front’ to make this happen. To keep you coming back, we have to keep innovating to create great services that are important to people and change their lives.”
Making it easy to not use Google has a number of implications for a professional communicator:
- It gives more power to consumers to set the terms of the relationship. In fact, with products like Google Maps, consumers have the power to actually change the parameters of the product itself
- It is empowering the consumer to be a participant in the brand, not an observer
- The numerous listening and interactive posts it has in the online environment reflect the way its business model is profoundly influenced by its stakeholders’ knowledge, views and behaviour.
Analogous to this is the approach that Lucinda said Google takes to its stakeholder communication: “We need to be fast, responsive, open and transparent in our communication.”
Eavesdropping for insights
“There is a large and growing audience of people who actively listen to, distribute and publish their opinions online,” said Lucinda. “This gives real power to the vocal minority. According to Nielsen, in Australia 45% of people online publish their opinions specifically about products, services, and brands online and a massive 86% read them. It’s such an influential space.
“When you probe what the most trusted sources of information are, word of mouth comes out tops followed by online…because online is seen as a way to scale ‘word of mouth’ and tap into it en masse.
“And you’re not just about managing what gets said about your brand in order to effect sales directly. It’s also about consumer insight. It’s like being permanently tapped in to the world’s largest focus group. Our users decide what’s popular and what they want to watch. They talk about it. They debate with each other. Those comments are gold. Just ask United Airlines…”
The power of Google means it has a more profound, socially pervasive social responsibility than most organisations. Its enormous global reach (i.e. all stratas of virtually all societies) make this more challenging for Google than most, as different societies and their various elements all have differing expectations of organisations.
As long as trust remains central to its business model, however, it has a reliable compass with which to steer itself. Communication, and public relations in particular, is the ideal mechanism to facilitate this journey occurring.