Stefan Magdalinski went to town with the allegations here: (Google, what were you thinking?) and clearly exhibited more tenacity and innovation than Google's staff or its alleged contract workers, Iridium Interactive, accused on Likechapaa and Tech Mtaa of being behind the fiasco.
Juliet Gateri, Business Manager, at Iridium, has denied any involvement.
Back to Google. They get a minus Google-, for one, allowing such a thing to happen, and two, for a weak and uninspiring response.
It is known that during a crisis in which you or your brand is adversely mentioned, you should seize charge and take control of the information flow. Basically, be the source of any new information regarding the issue.
Beyond a one paragraph apology that has been carried by the world press, Google has been quiet.
Bloggers have had a field day tearing into the search advertising giant while business and tech writers are busy researching pieces that will throw new light on the episode.
Businesses that had been contacted or have been part of the Kenya Businesses Online initiative, probably have a negative feeling about the initiative now and;
Government officials particularly the Ministry of Information and Communication, the Communications Commission of Kenya and Kenya ICT Board probably have more questions for Google than before.
Truth be told, confidence in the firm is not at an all time high here.
And yet, despite the feeling that only half or even less of the story has been told, the firm does not seem to be contributing to clarify the situation.
Neither has it demonstrated a social media action plan to engage inaccurate information appearing on Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and so on.
In our opinion, it makes no commercial sense for Google to be engaged in soliciting business that generates Sh2000 per year.
Actually, Nairobitech was of the opinion that another player, KENIC, the Kenya Network Information Centre, the body charged with registering local domain names, should shed light on this matter as it seems more within its ambit.
David Wambua, CEO, KeNIC promised on KICTANet that a thorough statement would forthcoming:
"Allow me to clarify that it is true that KeNIC does not deal directly with Registrants (end users) but does so through our accredited registrars which Google is not a part of.
Following the recent events, KeNIC will also be preparing a comprehensive statement that will shed more light to the issues that you have requested clarification on in the course of this week."
Google on the other hand, has made no such promises.
From a local perspective, the company has dropped the ball on this one.
From work we have done as consultants, we believe the correct way to handle this would have been as follows:
1. Seize the initiative - Even a simple search on their website, will show Google that the conversation regarding this issue is being driven by bloggers, the social media and the mainstream media. Google has not positioned itself to be the authoritative source of information as this story builds. They could, after of course cutting off the practice and apologizing to Mocality as well as initiating a settlement with the firm behind the scenes, issued a general statement.
Basically, Google needs to come up with a go-to person on this issue. Ideally, if they have a team working on the crisis (including their local agency who can bring in fresh ideas), they should identify for example someone who will deal with the mainstream press (local and foreign).
Dorothy Ooko, Comms for Google EA, ideally should be left to deal with local journalists and bloggers since she is quite familiar with them, is familiar with the industry and can establish rapport to control what is appearing on the blogs. Right now, everyone feels Google is too quiet.
Take for example this response on the Kenya ICT Action Network (Kictanet) by a lister.
"Google PR team are misjudging our intelligence with such a flimsy statement. Even a kid can read in between the lines."
Olga Arara, who is country head for Google, should issue periodic statements on what is happening with the investigations and what action Google has taken.
The EMEA head who said he was "mortified" by the revelations, and clearly whose name I can't recall, can deal with the BBCs and Guardians of this world.
2. Google must begin engaging on social media and the blogosphere in general. They are letting the conversation be ran from out there instead of inserting themselves in the middle, quickly rebutting any inaccuracies that are posted and generally setting up listening posts to see what is being said. (This is Google, finding stuff about themselves on the net shouldn't be too hard). Dorothy Ooko is on Twitter and so is Joe Mucheru, as well as the Google Localization manager Gikunda. They should be engaging. [And btw, Google should understand that we have no familiarity nor rapport with their regional, continental or global communications teams]. We will relate better to statements or information coming from the country or regional office not Dubai or London or California. The local teams have familiarity and have interacted with many of the journalists, bloggers, posters and government officials and can take conversations offline to explain the situation off-record.
The Google Africa blog should also be updated with this information. Right now there is no reference to this issue. There is a redeeming quality in saying you are sorry and letting people get the bad news from you not from others. You are telling them," Hey, we are sorry this happened, we are dealing with it." But without that, and with a posting about taking Ghanaian businesses online on the same page, one might be tempted to ask, "Do they know what is about to hit them or Is Mocality in Ghana?"
3. Internally, I expect Google to explain the situation thoroughly to its staff so that there is no confusion and since staff are locals who interact with the rest of us, it would be prudent to establish a semblance of a common line. Not a gag order but to set the record straight. I'm sure a social media policy exists
3. At some point, I would expect that Google would be pay a courtesy visit to the Ministry of Information and Communication, CCK, KICT Board as well as their partners at Safaricom to explain to them what happened, how they addressed it and to assure them that utmost care will be taken that nothing similar will take place.
Google has been working with a lot of government agencies to get their data online and some of them have expressed opposition. Give them no reason to fortify their position.
4. Going forward, I would expect that they will probably hold a sit down with tech journalists and bloggers say for a half day and go through all the issues that might be raised. The idea is that when you answer all the questions that have been asked, you effectively put an end to the story. Secondly, so many issues may be covered that one dominant angle appearing is almost impossible.
The company should establish a social media strategy here and in the region because clearly they have none.
If need be, they can ask Nairobitech to design them one.