Google's Authentic Voice Problem

Google had an interesting blogging problem last week. A
post to the Google Health Advertising blog
by Lauren Turner
stirred up a lot of backlash when it claimed Michael Moore’s new
movie Sicko "portrays the industry as
money and marketing driven, and fails to show healthcare’s
interest in patient well-being and care"–and then went on to
solicit Google ads to help healthcare companies improve their image.
She very quickly posted a
stilted retraction

Google has had a
very good track record when it comes to corporate blogging. Their
product blogs have been clearly identified as product blogs. They
haven’t smacked down bloggers like Steve
who very definitely don’t post in the
Corporate Boring voice that MBAs are apparently taught. This, I
believe, is due to people like Chris
who get authentic voice, understand how
to balance engagement with legal obligations, and how to appeal to
the common sense that Google obviously feels engineers have. (I
shudder to think how he’d deal with my authentic voice, which I like
to think of as "Tim with Tourette’s")

However, it’s
not so clear that marketers have common sense. I feel sorry for Ms
Turner, whose post has a painful logic to its existence. Blogs let
you communicate directly with your audience. Of course, we’re too
busy building product to communicate with our audience so let’s hire
a marketer to do it for us. And when inexperienced marketers get a
blog, they all blog the same way. Their voice is as authentic as a
Twinkie is organic.

The time-honored marketing blog post
formula is simple:

  1. Find something
    topical. In Ms Turner’s case, it was the release of Michael Moore’s
    new film.
  2. Identify the shiznit
    you wish to pimp. In Ms Turner’s case, it was Google’s Health
    Advertising services.
  3. Find a line (however tenuous) between the two
    and the post just writes itself!

These posts are easy to write, and so everyone does
them. Hell, even I’ve been guilty of it at times. The posts are
unsatisfying for the same reason they’re easy to write: they have no
actual insight or useful information, just the staggeringly unobvious
"Michael Moore’s new movie is anti-HMO" and "you can
advertise on Google."

If your authentic voice is that of
a carnie barker, get your ass off the keyboard and stop wasting our
time. People who make such posts are the tech equivalent of those
assholes who leapt on TV during the Virginia Tech shooting to
promote/condemn gun control, or the self-righteous spanktanks who
leapt on TV after 9/11 to blame it all on "the gays."

But, ultimately, Ms Turner was just doing what
almost all in the Technorati Top 100 tech blogs do when they want to
pimp something. It’s hard to blame her for that, which is why I felt
sorry when BoingBoing, TechCrunch, and others piled on. Their ire
should have been directed at whoever gave the keys to the blog to
someone whose authentic voice reads like a Newsweek health
supplement advertorial.

What followed, though, washed the sour
taste of a beating out with the sweet taste of irony. Google,
confronted with a media shitstorm because they hired a marketer to
write a blog, made her post a retraction that said, in effect, "oh,
those nasty words about that movie–that was all me, not Google."
They blamed it on authentic voice!

So, to recap, the recipe
for a disaster is easy: hire marketers with no authentic voice, ask
them to pimp offal, and when they’re busted for it make them force
out an apology in which they blame it on their authentic voice. You
too can make the front page of TechMeme for two days running with
three easy steps, though you might get wet sleeves fishing your
career prospects out of the toilet when you’re done. You’re welcome!