Thoughts On The Facebook vs. Google PR Fight

As my friends know, I am a Facebook and Google fanboy. It hurts me when Mom and Dad fight like they are now, but they have been fighting for a while now and I don’t expect it to stop anytime soon. So I have become somewhat inured.

Today’s fracas involves a sub rosa campaign by PR giant Burson-Marsteller to plant negative opinion pieces about Google’s Social Circle, their new social media plan. B-M’s Jim Goldman, a new hire and former CNBC tech reporter, reached out via email to a prominent blogger pitching a story, but refused to say who the client was when asked. So the blogger, like all right thinking bloggers would, promptly published e email exchange. The Daily Beast’s Dan Lyons uncovered that the client was Facebook.

Now there is finger pointing. B-M says Facebook told them to do it (and they say they should not have accepted the assignment because it violates PR ethics rules to keep clients anonymous). Facebook says they didn’t authorize such a move. Google, perhaps following the age old wisdom of saying nothing while your enemy is hurting themselves, is saying nothing.

My thoughts:

1. B-M is likely telling the truth that they were working at Facebook’s direction. No way a big firm like that would stick it’s neck out without orders. However, there may have been nudges and winks on B-M’s and Facebook’s part so everyone could claim that they didn’t really know. But they must have known.

2. I am neither surprised nor shocked that Facebook wanted to push negative commentaries about Google. Such things happen all the time. Facebook thinks they have a point (they say Google is scraping social media sites and presenting a dossier of people’s connections in a way they never intended). I do think they should not have sought secrecy. If they have a good point they should make it.

3. Jim Goldman made a huge error in doing his work via email. That stuff all can come back to bite you, and it did. I would be surprised if he kept his job. (B-m won’t comment on that.)

4. If Social Circles operates exactly as Facebook says, it may be a bit of a problem. Say I am friends with John Smith on Facebook, and connected to Fred Jones on LinkedIn. Social Circles would tell people I am friends with both — but what if I want to keep Jones and Smith separate? USA Today and others have looked at Facebook’s claims and found them not to be as big a deal as they seem to think. So I am not hugely worried. (If someone can explain Social Circles to me in a way that I can understand, I would be grateful.)

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