In Court Of Public Opinion, As Google Goes, So Goes The Internet Industry


Google (NSDQ: GOOG) gets a lot of heat from a lot of people for a lot of reasons. Some of it is very warranted while some of it is simply grousing. The feelings for Google as a company run the gamut from anti-competitive (ask Yelp for their thoughts on this one) to simply being better than the rest (check out this post from Mike Grehan for his take on Google and competition). In all of business there are few companies that elicit such strong reactions for perceptions ranging from very good to very bad.

While all of this business perspective on Google’s reputation is interesting, especially from a negative standpoint, it’s most important to consider the opinions that count more than we like to give credit: the consumers. Findings from the latest Corporate Social Responsibility Index conducted the the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and the Reputation Institute, Google is doing just fine as far as their reputation goes. Here is a look at where Google falls on the Top 50 for 2011.

For the complete Top 50 list you can click here.

This study has been going on since 2008 and Google has experienced its ups and downs. It ranked #1 in 2008, #3 in 2009, #10 in 2010 and has now moved back up the corporate reputation ladder again. Of course, it is only fair to note that the data for this was gathering in January of 2011 so there was not the specter of being called before a Senate hearing regarding potential anti trust issues to influence how people feel about the company. Maybe that will be reflected in the 2012 survey.

So why does this matter? Well, the online space has created a more fragile corporate reputation environment than at any other time in history. The ability for companies to try to sweep issues under the rug is at best much more difficult and at worst (for the companies that is) near impossible. Transparency in a real sense counts more than it ever has yet one has to wonder if it is really available even today.

It’s important for Google, obviously, to maintain as pristine a reputation as possible. What is interesting is the idea that it also may be just as important for the industry as a whole that Google has as clean a record as possible in the court of public opinion. Whether we want to admit it or not, as Google goes, so goes the Internet industry. Some will bark at this notion but it’s hard to deny just how intertwined the public’s perception of the Internet as a whole is wrapped up with how Google is viewed.

This can be dangerous territory for sure since no one is immune to being “taken out” regardless of size or stature. I have had a trusted advisor tell me in no uncertain terms that “every deal (his name for a company) is 90 days away from extinction regardless of how big or small it is”. At first I thought this was just hyperbole serving to make a point but think about how many big players have taken significant falls in short periods of time. You don’t have to look too far back in fact. Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) has gone from high flier to question mark in three short months. It can happen.

So what are you doing to make sure your corporate reputation is as spotless as possible? Are you just letting it go and hoping for the best or are you actively managing the process. In the days prior to the Internet that kind of gamble may have carried an acceptable level of risk but in today’s world of instant information and thus instant opinions (be they accurate or not is irrelevant) that might be a gamble that no one should be willing to take.

Frank Reed is the managing editor of Marketing Pilgrim. He also provides consulting, speaking and education services relating to local Internet marketing through Local Basix. Frank contributes weekly to Mike Moran’s Biznology blog and he writes even less frequently at his original home base, Frank Thinking About Internet Marketing.

This article originally appeared in Marketing Pilgrim.

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