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Google+ Earns Minus For Mishandling Bad News

By Thom Fladung, Managing Partner, Hennes Communications


Here are three immutable laws of bad news about you or your organization:

  1. The bad news won’t go away.
  2. People will find out about the bad news.
  3. If they find out you covered up the bad news, you now have worse news.

One of the most recent reminders came when the Wall Street Journal broke the story of how a bug potentially exposed private data from 500,000 Google+ users. The expected flurry of media coverage followed from the New York Times and others.

That reporting included the fact that Google discovered the flaw in March and fixed it – but elected not to tell anyone outside the company.  Until the Wall Street Journal came calling. The company elected to shut down Google+ – certainly a definitive act but also an acknowledgment that Google+ failed in its experiment to compete with Facebook.

To its credit, Google reacted quickly to the news, with the company’s vice president of engineering explaining Google’s reasoning for not talking about the flaw in the company blog, posted on Oct. 8, the same day as the Wall Street Journal story. And that reasoning seemed to have merit: The user data involved was relatively harmless – name, email address, occupation, gender, age. How many people willingly share much of that via Facebook or some other social media site? Google also found no evidence – and no evidence has since been found – that any data was misused. And there are no laws that say a company should disclose a flaw that might expose such data.

Except the Wall Street Journal also reported on an internal memo that warned against going public with the information at the risk of embarrassment and reputation damage.

Well, how’s that reputation look now?

We believe the smartest course, when you know you’re facing bad news, is to break the bad news yourself. Your side of the story then certainly will be represented. You won’t be accused of a cover-up – which almost always results in worse reputation damage than the original sin. And your key stakeholders – the people who care most about you and your organization – will likely find your honesty and candor refreshing.

Thom Fladung is managing partner of Hennes Communications.

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