Poor PR Practices Again Caught In The Web

Facebook wants to “own” the social graph, and Google is the most likely contender to prevent that kind of outright ownership. This struggle for social supremacy led Facebook to hire Burson-Marsteller to smear Google as it attempts to socialize its product offerings.

According to The Daily Beast, the flare up is over a new Google tool called Social Circle, which lets people with Gmail accounts see information not only about their friends but also about the friends of their friends, which Google calls “secondary connections.” Facebook, of course, is the primary target of privacy advocates everywhere, but that didn’t stop them from playing the blame someone else game.

This is how John Mercurio of Burson-Marsteller pitched the privacy violation story to a blogger:

Recently, Google quietly introduced its latest attempt to enter the social space with a new feature called Google Social Circles. The idea behind the feature is to scrape and mine social sites from around the web to make connections between people that wouldn’t otherwise exists and share that information with people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it. All of this happens without the knowledge, consent or control of the people whose information is being shared.

PR people in Silicon Valley said they weren’t surprised to see Facebook trying to spread negative information about Google. But they were shocked by the clumsiness of Burson’s approach.

The PR agency put out a statement Thursday blaming the whole mess on Facebook (which doesn’t seem like the right answer for a PR firm, no matter the amount of runny egg on the agency face). The statement said Facebook insisted on being kept anonymous, and that Burson should not have gone along with that request.

Whatever the statement, actions speak louder than words, and once again we have an agency willing to do whatever its client wants, because that’s how agencies make money. We’d like to believe that agencies make money by providing expert counsel, but the reality is often much different.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.