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What We Can Learn from Facebook’s PR Blunder

May 24, 2011

Facebook was recently outed for its PR strategy to highlight Google security issues, and the strategy backfired when one pitched reporter published the email correspondence with the Facebook PR representative.

It’s not unusual for companies to highlight their value proposition and benefits over their competitors; however, badmouthing a competitor for an issue your company has been scrutinized for is problematic.

Before going against a competitor, keep these PR basics in mind.

  1. Transparency. Pitching the Google security story anonymously for Facebook did not deem well for the social network. Facebook would have been better off engaging credible third parties to highlight the security features and pitfalls of different social networks and offering data useful to consumers, rather than an op-ed piece.
  2. Prepare for the worst: Evaluate the risk in each PR tactic — what could backfire? Facebook should have assumed that the story could potentially get tied back to the company and should have been prepared to be open about the PR activity. Additionally, the more visibility a company has, the greater the risk it faces.
  3. There’s more than one way to address an issue. Evaluate several creative solutions and implement them on a small-scale to determine which strategies and tactics are most effective. Facebook could have reached out to trusted security analysts it holds relationships with and solicited their feedback regarding the security op-ed piece it was striving for.
  4. Coexisting carries less risk than competing: find ways to carve out unique offerings for your company. If you determine that going head-to-head against a competitor is a sound strategy, do so without dishonesty.
  5. Push back on clients with strategic recommendations: clients are looking for counsel, and in this case, the hired PR agency should have advised an alternative way to positively position Facebook’s security features in comparison to its competitors.
  6. Learn from mistakes: Despite the best planning, tactics can and do lead to unexpected results. Measure the success of each campaign, be critical of areas for improvements and look for recommendations on how to move forward and approach the strategy differently next time.
  1. Andras Kovi permalink
    June 20, 2011 3:09 am

    Mary, you’re totally right. One can easily start an offense and forget that the truth usually has many sides/faces. Including the ones that are not very appealing for the aggressor. :)

  2. Mary permalink
    June 28, 2011 1:03 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Andras. Glad you agree!

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