Thursday, May 19, 2011

Facebook’s PR stunt hurts company and firm

Tyler Perrino

Why can’t Facebook and Google co-exist peacefully? According to Alexa, they are the #1 and #2 most visited websites in the world.

Sure they are competing for ad dollars, similar to networks fighting for ratings and ad revenue, but this recent negative PR stunt by Facebook and Burson-Marsteller definitely crosses the line.

Facebook’s smear campaign is just like those political attack ads we see and complain about every four years, just now brought into the digital age. Google’s Social Circle is not an invasion of privacy. After all, the information posted on Facebook is public, and a search engine’s function is to gather public information. Facebook has privacy controls to let users select which information is only shown to friends and which goes out for the entire web to see. It is up to the individuals to control what can be found on Google.

Burson-Marsteller violated the code of ethics of the Public Relations Society of America by planting these stories. The “Honesty” portion of the code reads:

“We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.”

Clearly these stories are a direct violation of the code. Burson-Marsteller should be questioned on why they agreed to work with Facebook on this unethical PR move. It hurt the public’s perceptions of Facebook, and it should hurt the PR industry’s perception of Burson-Marsteller.

However, Forbes blogger Aaron Perlut says these questionable ethics are nothing new in the PR industry. He writes that while PR firms across the board condemned Burson-Marsteller, they are hypocritical in doing so.

“The reality is that if you’ve worked in a public affairs or corporate issues/reputation PR practice, then more than likely, you or one of your colleagues has participated in something similar at one time or another.

Whether it’s leaking nasty bits of information to a reporter about a competitor, positioning facts to make them more palatable for the position you’re advocating, or propping up a phony third party to campaign against an issue that contradicts the business interest of a client.”

Hopefully Facebook and Burson-Marsteller’s campaign will open the eyes of the entire PR industry and bring about some kind of change to keep future campaigns honest and ethical.

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