28 Apr 2014

Google+, Communications and Presumption of a Product Death

google plus sofa

Over the weekend, there have been a number of posts and conversations surrounding the departure of Vic Gundotra from Google and speculation on what that means for Google+ as a product and network. While many are already beginning to tout the death of the social network, Google has gone on record to say they aren’t at the finish line just yet.

In fact, their official statement said quite the opposite, Larry Page specifically addressed that question stating, “In the meantime we’ll continue working hard to build great new experiences for the ever increasing number of Google+ fans.” 

It’s an interesting quandary that so many writers and reporters are under the impression that Google+ will be axed soon, no matter what the CEO of Google says. I have to commend the writers at Re/code for not jumping to conclusions, but rather approaching what they do know, using that to make deductions and then reporting what might happen as a result.

Whenever a champion leaves a company, the effect on a product can be anywhere from indistinct to a new head changing the way everything works. Before someone steps down, there should always be a plan in place for what happens if…

What happens if the media starts to question the future of a product?

What happens if the replacement has acted in a way the community feels is unacceptable?

What happens if a CEO steps down because of a controversy and wrongdoing ?

Addressing the questions a community might have around the departure and its effects on a product or service should always be a part of the plan when someone’s getting ready to walk out the door. Assuming they don’t quit in a rage, there’s plenty of time to plan.

While this isn’t strictly a crisis, Google did need a better communications plan in place before Vic announced that he was leaving. Social networks are about the people and about community. Informing that community what happens after “And then…” is incredibly important. The misapproach has the Google’s audience questioning their credibility, product stability, and potential for long-term success.

Any public facing company should always prepare for someone important to their product walking out the door. The audience has to believe that the product can survive without the person. That there is a next step and that next step should be shared when the departure is shared to avoid creating a crisis that can be avoided. The audience must believe that products and services will not be impacted.

It’s also important to have more transparency so the audience sees more of the team behind the public face. To have other team members participating so that reputation and the community isn’t locked to just one person.

Companies overnight started to question their investment in Google+ and whether should continue to invest resources in the network. While 4 days is forever in Internet time, let’s be real here, it’s been 4 days. It’s entirely too soon to ask yourself if you should give up on something that’s working for your company due to rampant assumptions with zero announcements having been made to support them. That kind of thinking strikes me being too shortsighted.

There are two lessons to be learned here. One for companies planning for the departure of someone important: put your communications plan in place before a crisis or announcement happens. Not planning for “what ifs” is bad planning. Two for companies who use products that experience sudden changes: Don’t change your strategy right away. Wait and see where the dust settles and make a decision when you have all the facts.

Chel Wolverton
Account Manager, Marketing Tech

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