I write about digital strategies and communications — and their intersection with culture, politics, journalism and social activism.


Google+ Pages

It was always intended to be thus.

Google announced this week that it was allowing businesses to set up Google+ pages. Although according to the BBC, "Organisations will not be charged to use the scheme and Google says it will not put adverts on their pages", let's be honest Google isn't a charity and at some point there will be some form of monetization of the fact that these non-people entities (as a colleague calls them) have been given consent to be on this new (sort of) social platform.

After an initial bulge in interest, engagement with G+ has quieted down, maybe because, according to a  complaint in Slate, "There’s nothing to do on Google+, and every time someone figures out a possible use for it, Google turns out the lights."

At least the first part has been true. But now G+ is trying to turn itself into a creative brand playground, for good or bad depending on your perspective on the desirability of non-commercial social platforms. (That's for another post.)

As my colleague Kathryn wrote in an internal email to our social web team:

Businesses, brands, teams, places, plays and other non-people entities will be able to create a profile on Google’s social network with many of the same built-in features as an ordinary Google+ profile. Plus – and this is very cool – page owners will be able to upload media and participate with users in live events and video chats, called Hangouts, on Google+.

In a later blog post, she pointed out:

What is most interesting is the integration with Google search. Since everyone is Googling everything, it makes perfect sense. Using what Google is calling Direct Connect, when you Google by adding + before a word you now get the brand page option (like in Facebook) and will be asked if you want to add that page to your circle. For example, if I were to write in +Motorola, Google would say ask me if I want to add +Motorola to one of my Google+ circles. What this could lead to is brands using ‘+’ as commonly as they do ‘www.’ or ‘facebook.com/’ in marketing materials (i.e. +MuppetsMovie or facebook.com/Muppets).

Maybe if companies use the platform well - and I do worry they won't given the many false starts on Facebook initially - it might just give G+ the haulage it needs in its battle with Facebook, especially if Google provides back-up like the '+' convention. I won't likely invite any companies into my G+ circles, but enough people seem to like 'liking' brands on Facebook that they may gravitate to this new brand home . . . and stay.


Activist Apologies - An Oxymoron?

Apologies have become the norm for companies after committing some sort of indiscretion, harm to the environment or causing individuals to be hurt or inconvenienced. (This in spite of their lawyers often counseling them against doing so.) And this is how it should be since an apology, if done with sincerity, creates trust.

But have you ever heard an activist NGO or advocacy group apologize for the purposeful or even unwitting manipulation of an image, or the willful misuse of factually inaccurate information to bolster a position. I asked some activist friends this question and they couldn't think of a single instance.

Ah, you say, but they don't make mistakes, or if they do it shouldn't matter because they have the force of a higher of moral purpose on their side . . . And besides, the rationalization probably goes, 'companies have more resources than we do to make their case' so it is alright for the - let's call it what it is - lie to stand uncorrected.

Having worked in issue management for many years, I can name at least a dozen instances from my own experience in which advocacy groups refused to acknowledge errors or to apologize, for example, for using a wrong image purposely because it helped strengthen their case. Not once in that time has an activist NGO stood up and said 'I am sorry for using what I knew to be an incorrect number or a falsely attributed image. And I regret the harm it caused the company/organization.'

If NGOs are having harder time building broader support for their campaigns, maybe it's because we don't trust them to tell the truth or apologize for the harm they do when they don't.

I would like to see activists held to the same standard as they say their targets should be. Perhaps the public or media will some day ask them to do so. Or maybe once I stop consulting, I'll start a watchdog group for NGO accountability.