Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Facebook PR Fiasco

Last week came the revelation that Facebook had secretly hired a prestigious Public Relations (PR) firm to plant negative stories about Google and its privacy practices. This is a completely ridiculous thing to have done and wrong in so many ways that it is difficult to know where to begin. Here are some of the top reasons as to why it was a bad idea.
  • Firstly, the idea that Facebook should be accusing anyone of of playing fast and loose with peoples privacy is a severely hypocritical. Just last year, Mark Zuckerberg told us that "the age of privacy is over". Now he is trying to say that Google is worse for privacy than Facebook! And by the way, this revelation comes at the same time as Symantec has discovered a serious and longstanding security hole in the Facebook App API that allows a users private data to to leak. The only cure is to change your Facebook password, so if you are a Facebook user, go and change your password now!
  • Secondly, we come to the oxymoronic idea of a secret PR campaign. Anyone who thinks that a PR campaign can be secret does not understand PR.
  • Thirdly, a competent let alone "prestigious" PR firm should have understood that the ruse was bound to be discovered and that the fallout would be much worse publicity than anything negative that they could promulgate. Thus anyone who claims to understands PR should have guided their client to do something less radical and refused to get involved in the PR campaign. As it is, the PR firm of Burson-Marsteller has lost a lot of their credibility by being involved in the fiasco, and in PR credibility is everything.
  • Fourthly, the whole idea of a secret PR campaign against another company seems sophomoric, as if Facebook is run by a bunch of undergraduates who have little real world experience, and think that they will be able to get away with a jape like this. No wait …
  • Finally, if Facebook does want to launch a PR campaign on privacy they should do so openly by generating positive press that compares their supposedly good privacy policies with others less good privacy policies and behavior. As Machiavelli said "A prince also wins prestige for being a true friend or a true enemy, that is, for revealing himself without any reservation in favor of one side against another" and goes on to explain why openness and taking sides leads to better outcomes than pretended neutrality. As Facebook did their PR campaign in secret, we conclude that they could not have done it in public and therefore their privacy practices are no better than that of Google or anyone else.
Note: I was going to call this post "Pot hires PR firm to secretly call kettle black" until I read this article from the Atlantic about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and the fact that as search engines do not have a sense of humor, humorous headlines do not work in the online world.

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