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Facebook Embarrassed After Tactics against Google Backfire

May 20, 2011 by Dustin

It is common for competing companies to bash one another to gain the competitive edge that they need, however in the most recent case Facebook’s attempt was a huge failure that only hurt their own credibility. Using Twitter, a well known Google critic posted that a public relations firm had requested to add his name on an anti-Google article that they had ghost written. Following this post USA Today also confirmed that they had received a similar request.
facebook tactics Facebook Embarrassed After Tactics against Google Backfire

Public relations firm Burson-Marstellar who has been representing corporate clients for 58 years was hired to encourage various media outlets to examine Google’s privacy practices. It was unbeknownst that Facebook was the one behind the secret smear campaign with many users initially thinking that it was Microsoft or Apple who was responsible. Once the secret campaign went public it was discovered that Facebook had been the one pulling the strings. This discovery was not only damaging to Facebook but to the integrity of the PR firm Burson-Marstellar as well.

Why did Facebook resort to this desperate attempt to smear Google’s name? It basically comes down to money and although Facebook would seem to be at the top of their game, Google is following closely. Before going awry, Facebook was trying to gain a larger lead against Google. The failed attempt has left both Facebook and BM frantic and eager to regain their ground. Some individuals may expect these kinds of dirty tactics as a regular part of business competition but for a company that emphasizes trusts and privacy like Facebook this backfire is greatly damaging to their reputation. Whisper campaigns like this take place all the time in business and political cases but most the time they do not end with the desperate company becoming the headline. This occurrence has left both Facebook and the PR firm Burson-Marstellar with diminished trust amongst their industries and customers.

Facebook maintains that it was not their intention to smear the competition but rather try to get users to closer examine Google’s privacy policies. Facebook made the following statements

We engaged Burson-Marsteller to focus attention on this issue, using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organization or analyst,” the issues are serious, and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way.”

After confirming that they were performing the negative campaign on behalf of Facebook, Burson-Marstellar pulled away from Facebook and stated that they should have declined the proposal in the first place because it goes against everything that their company stands for. The following are statements that Burson-Marstellar provided shortly after the anti-Google smear attempt.

“Now that Facebook has come forward, we can confirm that we undertook an assignment for that client.”

“The client requested that its name be withheld on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light and such information could then be independently and easily replicated by any media. Any information brought to media attention raised fair questions, was in the public domain, and was in any event for the media to verify through independent sources.

“Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined. When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle.”

During this time Google has remained silent and has allowed the public to make their own arguments and judgments. Google is clearly the victim in this incident and by not involving themselves in this debacle they can continue to focus on their customers and their products.

This probably won’t the last time that a company tries to covertly hinder the performance of another. But it is likely for the time being that Facebook has learned their lesson and will take a different approach that won’t hurt their own reputation the next time they are feeling desperate. Only days after the “Smear Campaign” both Google and Facebook had cosigned a letter sharing their opposition against the recent “The Social Networking Privacy Act (SB 242), thus proving that business will continue as usual and both companies are fully invested in their future success.

Thanks for reading!


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