Growing Internet Rivalry

Who would have thought that two of the most popular companies in the world would be caught in the center of a scandal? Not me. That is, until I read this article. Turns out, back in May, Burson-Marsteller, a top PR firm, was hired to bash Google in newspapers and blogs. That plan went downhill fast when the blogger actually used emails they had received from the firm to expose their plan to bad-mouth Google. The mystery client was thought to be either Apple or Microsoft, but turned out that Facebook was actually behind the whole scheme. Now you’re probably asking yourself why would Facebook want to ruin Google’s image? Well the answer lays in the fact that Facebook believes “Google is doing some things in social networking that raise privacy concerns; second, and perhaps more important, Facebook resents Google’s attempts to use Facebook data in its own social-networking service.”

This scandal brings up several important points. First off, as a public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller should have never even considered taking Facebook on as a client if their job was going to be to make Google look bad. PR practitioners are taught from the very beginning to always stay positive and not put down other brands/companies. If they didn’t want to lose Facebook as a client, I think they could have simply published articles focusing on the positive ways that they deal with privacy, rather than pointing out Google’s faults.

Secondly, social media, especially Facebook, is huge in today’s culture. By hiring this public-relations firm to damage Google’s image, it ultimately damaged their own as well. The entire situation should have been handled differently from the beginning.

In the video below, they help explain the situation and even have a quote from Burson-Marsteller basically admitting that they should have never attempted the “smear campaign” in the first place.

What would you have done if you worked for Burson-Marsteller?

-Rebecca Jackson

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12 thoughts on “Growing Internet Rivalry

  1. I’m not sure if it was the PR team who tried to damage the image, because it’s kind of not their job to do that, but to make they’re own client appear to the best. I think i recall reading something previously that said that facebook pretty much took this issue into their own hands, without the help of someone who’s job it is.

    -Porsha

  2. Rebecca,
    If I worked for Facebook I would be upsest about someone else trying to take my ideas, but that doesn’t mean there is a need to bash their rivals. They could have gone about it in a more professional manner. LIke you said they could have stressed the positives about Facebook, and maybe add some new cool perks to brag about. They could have even just compared the two and not said anything negative, but they did. In my opinion was not the best choice to make in terms of PR code of ethics and just as a person in general. I myself would not have accepted that job. Bashing another company should never be done, I dont really get why they made such a big deal about it when they still have millions of users. Google never said anything to bash Facebook even though they are competiors and I think Facebook should have done the same and not said anything or went about the situation differently.
    -Rhonda

  3. Facebook hired the company to do a specific job and they did it. I think both Facebook and the PR Firm are wrong. I am sure they regret the actions but there are no ethical guidelines that punish the two companies. Obviously there is definitely a chain of command at big PR firm like Burson and I would have done exactly what my boss wanted to me to do to keep my job even though I disagree and would have expressed my disapproval from the start. Ultimately it looks bad from a company standpoint not personal.

    -Orlando

  4. I agree with what Rhonda said here. There are a variety of ways to have gone about this in a better way and still retain respect, also as you stated. Unfortunately, they didn’t. Based on the teachings in the class, they should never have gone along with a “smear campaign.” However, if you are someone concerned about financial income, then you might have done it anyway. But, I do wonder, since this was executed so poorly, did that person who wanted to save their job, really save their job in the end? I guess everyone should chalk this event up as a learning tool.

    Dayna

  5. From everything we’ve heard in class, it isn’t a good idea to bring up your competitor by name in PR, interviews, etc, because it also sheds negative light on your company. By taking the higher road just saying what they do better and what sets them apart like Rhonda and Dayna mentioned, it would make them look better. I also agree with what Orlando said- if a company is hired for a job, it is their job to do it. However, they could have chosen a different way.

  6. If I worked for Burson-Marsteller I would have pointed out the positives more than bashing the other companies. I suppose they were hired to do that job, and I guess technically rule were not broken? Is this the same case Laura discussed in our first blog? If so, Facebook should have known concern with Googles privacy issues, they could have just used that angle. Not bad mouthing Google, but informing users about the amazing privacy settings Facebook has. Obviously hiring an outside source does look shady, and maybe they should have thought about that also.

    Taylor

  7. If I worked for Burson-Marsteller I would have pointed out the positives more than bashing the other companies. I suppose they were hired to do that job, and I guess technically rule were not broken? Is this the same case Laura discussed in our first blog? If so, Facebook should have known concern with Googles privacy issues, they could have just used that angle. They should have not bad mouthed Google, but informed users about the amazing privacy settings Facebook has. Obviously hiring an outside source does look shady, and maybe they should have thought about that also.

    Taylor

  8. This was a poor decision on behalf of Facebook. Bashing is never the answer and shouldn’t even be an option. I guess I could understand Facebook feels like its a threat against users but they should let that be a problem for users. They made Googles problem their own, and in turn got a bad reputation. If they would have minded their own business and worried about Facebook there wouldn’t even be a situation. As far as Burson-Marsteller, they knew better. From what I’ve learned in class you should point out the positive before the negative. If they really wanted to say something they could have pointed out FB’s positive features. They could have talked briefly about Google then shifted the attention back to their greatness. Being the sore losers they are, (when they’re not even losing) they’ve slipped and let everyone know how conniving they can be. Hopefully they won’t make the same mistakes again.

  9. Rebecca,
    You are absolutely right! Our teacher had said in class (I’ll never forget because a strategy I came up with was kind of bad-mouthing competition) was never to point out the negatives, rather- what everyone else has mentioned- point out the positives of our client or company we represent. And honestly, why should Google and Facebook be in cahoots with each other? i don’t see Facebook bad-mouthing Twitter. The whole smear campaign was a bad call on this PR firm’s part. I think we talked about this earlier in the semester, or brought it up in a class discussion or something, but they knew that they were wrong because they actually retracted their statements. They had even tried to get two journalists on the boat, who in turn published retracting messages about what they were trying to do, bringing journalist and PR ethics into the picture. And the whole thing was about “privacy” . I remember saying that I didn’t feel that we were all that protected anyway on the Internet, no matter which SM outlet you used, but that is my opinion. What do you think they could have done better without getting rude and trying to bash another company?
    -Jaleesa

  10. Although we don’t really know what happened behind the scenes; what did Facebook asked the PR firm to do? What did the PR firm suggested to do for Facebook? Nobody except both side knows what was the real deal. However, I still think that both parties were wrong to do that; especially the PR firm. Burson-Marsteller is a huge company and they should know better not to do something like that. In the meantime, who knows, they might be sincere and all what they wanted to do is just point out that Facebook is more secure than Google but they just chose the wrong way, which gave the media the opportunity to use the situation against them.

  11. Rebecca,
    This blog topic sounds familiar…it sounds as if someone in the class may have covered this same thing. I could be wrong! Anyway, I would not be a happy camper if another company were trying to bash my own. It’s just unethical. Then the fact that Facebook tried to cover up any allegations leading to them shows poor showmanship skills. As Midu stated above, there could have been a far better way for Facebook to point out the benefits of theres versus Googles. But instead they played dirty and the media got involved. This could have given Facebook a bad name and some people could have turned against them. They were sneaky, they were wrong, and i’m quite sure they would think twice before doing something like that again!
    -Martise W.

  12. I don’t know what I would have done if I worked for Burson-Marsteller, but it looks like Facebook received more flak than the PR company. Accepting the job may seem under-handed or even unethical, but the name of the game is money (like it always is). I think FB made more of a mistake trying to give Google a bad name, because this move looked hypocritical and a bit silly. They seemed threatened by Google+, which they probably should be – through their own faults. Facebook changes too constantly and get too in-depth, which is why I prefer Twitter at this point. I can’t really blame B-M, but FB should have rethought their strategy.

    -Silvana

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