Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why Google is Smart to Use the Word Glasshole

Google surprised a few people by using the word "glasshole" in their own guide to GoogleGlass etiquette, but using the word that your critics use is actually a good idea in the age of search engines. PR professionals used to be told to avoid the negative words used by adversaries, but if you follow that advice today you have a problem: whenever anyone googles that word they find only the websites of your adversaries and you never get a chance to get your own point of view across.

I discovered this effect in 2010 while I was researching a lecture about Crisis PR. I was looking for information about the Nestlé Boycott and realized that all the information that I could find easily on the web came from opponents of Nestlé -- the same people who organized or supported the boycott. Later I discovered that there actually was a dedicated site defending the company's position on but it was hard to find because it avoided using the most common label for this action. I tell this story in Two Simple PR Lessons from the Nestlé Baby Milk Saga.

Google embracing the word "glasshole" has had an immediate effect. Today when you google "glasshole" apart from one entry in the Urban Dictionary all of the first page search results are about the new Google Do's and Don'ts for Glass explorers. This pushes the negative comments off the first page and underlines how the company encourages polite behavior among glass users.

The lesson from these cases is that you need to stop avoiding all the negative language of your critics and opponents. Brainstorm a list of possible ways people might search for an issue related to your business, organisation or whatever and make sure that for the most common terms your response comes up in the search results.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing by Andrew Hennigan on this and other communication topics visit, email or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81 in France or 0046 730 894 475 in Sweden.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Toothbrush Effect: Why Saying "We Provide Solutions" Isn't Enough

Recently an entrepreneur asked why investors look with glazed eyes when he pitches his startup. "I'm developing a B2B solution for integrating various technologies", begins the pitch. Actually my eyes glazed over, too. Not because it is over my head but because it is effectively contentless. Nowhere does he say what they actually do. "Solution" is too generic since that should apply to any business -- you are hardly meeting the expectations of your customers if you deliver problems.

Sadly this happens far too often. A fairly sizable tech company has a Twitter bio that says "provider of technology solutions that transform the way manufacturers create and service their products". I learned later that the "solutions" they talk about are actually software.

It's not just software companies that do this. I have seen the same problem on many websites and in many presentations. Wearing my freelance journalist hat I often have to get up to speed on new companies very quickly and the "About us" page on many company websites leaves me no wiser. Far too many companies sell solutions, products, devices and other generic concept labels without mentioning the crucial name of the solution itself. On a fairly typical company website we read "[Company] is a leading provider of technology solutions", then continues "[Company] creates custom solutions that bring real tangible business value to our clients."

Usually the cause of this vagueness is what I call the Toothbrush Effect. I have never actually worked in a toothbrush factory but I am pretty sure that nobody there ever uses the word "toothbrush" in normal conversation, partly because of the context. Inside the factory every product is a toothbrush so it doesn't need to be said -- and partly to avoid repeating the same word too often. This is fine as long as it stays inside the building, but it becomes a problem when you start talking and writing in the same way with outsiders.

There is a simple solution to this problem: just be concrete in your speaking and writing. You don't make "solutions", you make "software". You don't "deliver transportation solutions" to your customer, you sell trucks or whatever. Look very carefully at all writing intended for outsiders and check to make sure you describe explicitly what your company does. This will make your writing much clearer, perhaps bringing more customers or media coverage for those mysterious solutions.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics visit, email or call 0046 730 894 475 in Sweden and 0033 6 79 61 42 81 in France.