Published on: February 24, 2010by Kate McMahon
While watching some spectacular Olympic skaters stumble, fall and attempt to recover this past week on the ice in Vancouver, my thoughts turned to Toyota and Google.
Both have stumbled and tumbled down from their respective industry Olympic-like heights in the past month, and are attempting to right themselves. Of the two, Google has thus far shown far superior speed and footwork.
Toyota’s woes are front-page news across the world – more than 8 million cars and trucks recalled for sticking accelerators and other safety flaws -- essentially an auto-maker’s nightmare.
Google launched Google Buzz – its version of Facebook and Twitter tied to its Gmail service – on Feb. 9. Within hours, the initial buzz turned into an internet uproar with criticism that the new program publicly exposed users’ privacy. One woman blogged that Google automatically set her up to be followed on-line by an abusive ex-husband. “My privacy concerns are not trite,” she wrote under a pseudonym. Another group filed a class-action suit. Not the buzz Google had anticipated.
The irony, of course, is that both Toyota and Google seemed bullet-proof prior to these missteps. Toyota, known for safety and quality, has come under intense fire for seemingly dragging its heels on the recalls and doing a lackluster job communicating with confused and worried customers. So much so that the president of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, acquiesced and agreed to appear before a Congressional oversight committee meeting today (Wednesday). As my MNB colleague Michael Sansolo wrote, Toyota’s PR effort is “too little, too late” ... especially since, as was widely reported yesterday, the fix that Toyota has been proposing for the acceleration problem may not actually correct the problem.
Google clearly misjudged the reaction to Buzz, which automatically created a public network of the people each user most frequently contacted through Google e-mail and chat services. Unlike Facebook, where you join and then “confirm” each friend request, Buzz instantly bared all frequent contacts for anyone on Gmail to see. That would include ex-spouses, co-workers, enemies and perfect strangers.
The website CIO Today (the MNB for IT execs) summed up the launch by saying Google Buzz “crashed and burned” and “seems yet another example of engineering culture ignoring common sense.”
To Google’s credit, the Buzz team responded quickly and publicly to the complaints, working around-the-clock, making changes within 48 hours, and replacing the auto-following feature with an auto-suggesting, opt-in feature within four days. The execs in charge of Buzz made it personal, with product manager Todd Jackson posting frequent updates and blog postings. After fixing the privacy issue, he wrote “It’s still early, and we still have a long list of improvements on the way.”
It was a definite misstep, but the corrections were made early in the program. In utilizing social networking for business, speed is a key element in any recovery. For both Toyota and Google, the consumer will be the ultimate judge.
Kate McMahon can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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