Now that we have our maniacal laughter out of the way, let’s issue our shames.
Facebook, led by fearless innovator and concept borrower Mark Zuckerberg, recently got caught with their pants down as they attempted to smear Google’s privacy policies relating to its social networking efforts. Facebook, in its infinite wisdom and complete ignorance of web strategies, hired a traditional PR firm to try to promote negative articles to major news publications. Of course, because traditional PR firms are notoriously bad for doing anything with subtlety and generating anything more than negative press, this back fired in a big way.
The how was simple. The PR firm openly approached a number of tech journalists and bloggers, trying to encourage them to write negative articles about Google’s various social networking and social media products. Tech journalists and bloggers, in general, are a notoriously independent bunch and this push predictably resulted in a rejection of the article concepts, and generated the inquiries into who was backing the PR firm. At first the speculation blamed Apple or Microsoft (two of Google’s other big competitors), but once the digital detectives were on the case, it soon came to light that Facebook was actually the one behind the smear campaign.
The why, I cannot grasp or define. Public relations firms are notorious for lacking discretion, finesse, and the ability to do anything with subtlety. Their title is ‘public’ and all too often their efforts are over publicized and over promoted. Any journalist or blogger worth their merit was going to have their hackles raised the moment a big, exclusive, and expensive PR firm came rolling up to them and attempted to push a very specific and very exaggerated article. And what are journalists and bloggers supposed to do? Investigate! The moment that the bloggers knew there was a PR firm behind the action, they knew they had a great big, smelly story to be able to share with the world. And of course, inevitably the strings controlling the puppet went right back to Facebook headquarters.
Facebook really, really, really showed that they are still a very immature minded and a little power drunk to think that they could pull this off.
Let’s address the traditional public relations firm concept and successes: Their role is to improve, influence, or change publicity relating to a particular brand, company, individual, product, or concept. Their methodologies are very public. They use advertising, strategic partnerships, marketing, and promotional efforts to accomplish their end goals. This works when you’re selling a product or when you’re trying to get something talked about. Inevitably, people question PR firms motives, honesty, and sincerity because they know that they’re being paid to say what they say. They can forgive that as part of the natural cycle of business when you’re trying to help your own business succeed.
However, the public likes nothing less than seeing a company attempt to ‘exaggerate’ or ‘falsify’ claims and then promote them as factual, honest, and newsworthy. When you hire a public relations firm to do the work, you draw even more attention to the fact that you don’t want to be associated with the smear campaign your attempting to generate. Which means that you’re the one who appears dirty! Which of course, is exactly what happened here.
If Facebook had wanted to go on a drinking binge, a drugged out rampage, or settled down with two ‘porn goddesses’, a public relations firm (namely the one working for Mr. Sheen) may have been a wise decision. But since that wasn’t Mark Zuckerberg’s intention, he probably should have looked elsewhere to achieve his end game.
Namely, a reputation management firm, like ours.
Why would a reputation management firm have been a better selection? Because we’re discreet, and we don’t need to generate publicity by talking loudly or name dropping or trying to shadily bribe journalists.
A high quality reputation management firm would have been just as able to promote some of the millions of existing news stories about Google’s poor record on privacy with a much greater level of success and a much higher level of discretion. We already know how incestuous and theft oriented major news outlets are these days. If they see a news story trending or seeming to organically rise, they are quite happy to spawn a million spin off stories, plagiarism copies, etc. Look at Huffington Post? They haven’t written high quality, original content since the day they were conceived, but they still are one of the most ‘valuable’ news outlets of our time simply because they copy so well.
Reputation management and SEO are a fantastic tool for the modern company. Facebook should not have been so blind to leveraging web technology in its favor or towards this end means.
A quick blurb: I’m not particularly a fan of either Facebook or Google’s methodologies. Both have extraordinary violations of privacy (almost as much as a TSA pat down) and both of their leadership teams seem to always be involved in something of questionable moral character. I also think that both of them are poorly guiding their overall business growth by ignoring their core product while borrowing/stealing/recreating other industry successes. I just think this move by Facebook was ignorant of the technology of the web, and its very own lifeblood. So doubly stupid.