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Google Reader and Google’s Opportunity to Win Friends

google reader

Image credit: Lars Fosdal on Google+

by Frank Strong

Google announced it’s shutting down Google Reader. The company cited declining usage of its aggregation service as justification for killing it come July 1, 2013, but the web has exploded with unhappy comments.

There’s a petition to keep Google Reader running.

Maybe the complaints are from a few that shout louder than the majority.  Maybe the complaints are from a few that are influential.   Maybe.  

I’ve seen some pretty smart people react so viscerally to this announcement, that it must be worth hitting the pause button and perhaps putting some fresh paint on the Google Reader shutters. 

A Golden O

One principle crisis communication experts champion is the principle of building trust and relationships before you need them.  When your knee-deep in a crisis, trying to problem solve and untangle a web, you don’t have time to make friends.  People are more inclined to provide a favor when you need one, if you’ve given freely well in advance.

As remarkable as Google is, it’s still needs friends.   In the past, there’s been plenty of Google bashing — from WiFi snooping to anti-trust investigations.  It will have plenty of issues in the future.  From products, to markets, to regulation, Google needs to win friends and influence people… just like any other business.

A quick glance at my Google+ stream indicates, the community that has invested so much time in curating RSS feeds in Google Reader is that community. This is a golden opportunity. 

What Google Should Do

As the announcement gained steam yesterday, Ike Pigott revived an old post he wrote in 2009.  It is a very sharp analysis of Google’s role in the content ecosystem titled, The Engine.  In the post he said the following:

What makes this interesting is Google’s role throughout. In the course of the content, Google plays several key roles. Not a monopoly, but it is a player in:

– Content creation (Blogger, YouTube)
Content delivery (Feedburner)
Content aggregation (Reader)
Content discovery (Search)
Content sharing (Shared links in Reader)

Today, I think we can safely add the game-changing Google+ to Ike’s “content sharing” category.

Even if Google cannot monetize aggregation, there’s an argument to be made there’s a lot of value in the goodwill it would gain by keeping the service, or even improving it.  For those that argue there’s a weak correlation between long term relationships and business success, I’d point to a definitive financial term called goodwill.

There’s a huge PR opportunity for Google to say, “We’re listening.  We didn’t realize how many of you are such fanatics about Google Reader.  Today, we’re announcing we’re going to keep it.”

It’s no longer a question of “What would Google do?” but a question of “What will Google do?”

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9 Responses

    1. Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Man, Joshua, you and I sure do look at things differently. It’s not free — it’s paid for with attention and data — and those two things are pretty important to Google’s business model.  As always, thanks for the comment.

      1. Frank_Strong I understand the case you are making and from a marketing/PR standpoint I understand why those metrics are so valuable.
        However I don’t think Google is going to respond to that because they are still the 800 pound gorilla and I think most of “them” will view it in context of “free” as in people didn’t give them cash to use the service.
        It might sound like semantics, but…

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