Lessons in Transparency from Google+

For the tech Gods, it seems like the easiest PR lessons are the hardest to learn.

Case in point: The report earlier this week in The Wall Street Journal that Google is shutting down Google+ following the discovery of a software glitch earlier this year that exposed user information of nearly 500,000 consumers.

Adding insult to injury, Google chose not to disclose the breach because of fears that doing so would draw regulatory scrutiny and cause reputational damage.

Mission accomplished.

With the story splashed on the front page of the Journal ­— not to mention widespread pickup among the major media outlets — Google has only itself to thank for the negative media attention and what is sure to raise eyebrows within regulatory precincts.

Following the Journal report, shares of Google-parent Alphabet fell more than two percent.

Rest assured, we don’t have to take up a collection for Google.

But this may be an opportune time to remind Google — and every other brand domiciled on planet earth—that the instant a company chooses not to disclose sensitive information is when such information becomes destined for daylight.

It’s PR 101—whatever you wish to keep from the public (and your stakeholders) will see daylight.

It may take some time, but it will get there eventually. The result is that brands get their wings clipped and, depending on the extent of the damage, may have to drain months if not years of building a reservoir of good faith with stakeholders and start all over again.

It never fails. Whether it’s an overdose of hubris or putting too much faith in the cost-benefit analysis, brands make the same mistakes when it comes to thinking they can inoculate the public from learning about information the company would prefer to keep under wrap.

Transparency is not a one-way street.

Brands and organizations that expect transparency from their partners, suppliers, and customers also have to be willing to pony up.

Google was quick to alter the optics. One day after the Journal story ran, the search giant unveiled a slew of new products, including its latest smart phone, Pixel 3, and Chromebook tablet, called “Pixel Slate.”

The timing is a bit curious, but classic PR — meaning change the conversation stemming from negative media coverage and talk about something that will generate neutral if not positive media coverage.

Companies are pretty good at pivoting on negative coverage. However, as the Google+ dustup demonstrates, they have to disclose sensitive information with much more alacrity and own the fallout.

—By Matthew Schwartz

A version of this article originally ran on Agility PR Solutions