The recent PR fumble between Facebook, Google and top-five PR firm, Burson-Marstellar (BM), has caused quite a bit of uproar in tech and PR communities, but it has also caused a stir and raised concern with internet users over the matter of privacy.
To recap, BM blew the whistle on Google via a whisper campaign to some top media outlets including USA Today, regarding their violation to federal fair trade and invasion of privacy in the development of Google Gmail’s Social Circle feature. USA Today however, found the claim to be untrue after some research and decided not to run the story.
It’s possible that if BM’s PR strategy were tweaked in some places, all of this could have been avoided. Here are a few points to consider before engaging in a similar PR campaign:
Confront your opponent and get the facts: Have your PR people talk directly to their PR people. Let them know what you’ve discovered and give them an opportunity to prove their case, before getting a third party like the media involved. The last thing you want to do as a company is start spreading false information, especially when it comes to pitching the media. Reporters really do not appreciate their time being wasted chasing false stories and people in general do not enjoy being misled. Also, in the case that your claim should backfire (like with BM) everyone’s reputation would still be protected.
Take the high road: If you do happen to come across mal practices of your competitor, it probably makes more sense to approach the regulating body than the media and write a story about that. This would have been a much more favorable and acceptable introduction to the case, via a press release:
Facebook approached the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection today, to have them investigate a potential breach in privacy for Gmail users.
A Facebook spokesperson says: “We’ve spoken with Google many times about clarifying this issue for us . . .”
Facebook stands by a high standard of privacy which includes . . .
In this example, you position yourself as a business that is looking out for your consumer or user, you demonstrate how you went to bat for them and you even get an opportunity to play up your own features and benefits and how your product or service is better.
Serve the consumer/user: As a business, your top priority should be to serve the needs and desires of your customers, clients and users. For example, is your goal to bring down the competition or to assure the privacy and protection of your users identity? Facebook’s claim to the media is a clear indication that they sought to expose Google, instead of serving their users.
Lastly, when choosing a PR a firm to work with, do your research and select one that stands by strong research and ethics principles. A true PR firm is built on building relationships and reputations, not tearing them down. Anyone, business or individual, that resorts to bringing someone down to lift themselves up is also known as a bully and it’s tactics like these that can ruin the reputation of both the business and the PR firm.