Thursday, May 19, 2011

Desperate Measures by Facebook / Burson-Marsteller Raise All Kinds of Red Flags

One of the most exasperating phases new parents experience happens when their kids hit 3 or 4 years old and the parents get the dreaded call from the daycare or babysitter reporting that their precious child has bitten another. It happens when the little ones are angry or feel powerless, and they don’t have the tools or maturity to know how to respond. Eventually, children grow out of this stage pretty quickly. They begin to understand right from wrong and that they shouldn’t hurt someone else when they themselves are upset or are feeling threatened. Parents get to stop saying, “No biting” and “Play fair.”

Apparently, someone at Facebook and Burson-Marsteller never learned that lesson.

Here’s a rundown on recent events.
  • Facebook hires Burson-Marsteller for a particular job and says not to reveal their name (Red flag #1).
  • Burson-Marsteller launches a “whisper campaign” to get news stories and editorials about Google’s Social Circle feature in Gmail claiming privacy infractions (Facebook pot calling Google kettle…).
  • Burson-Marsteller offers to ghost write stories for bloggers (Red flag #2).
  • One FTC blogger asks who the client is, Burson-Marsteller replies: Nope, can’t tell (Red flag #3).
  • Blogger publishes email exchange (na na na na boo boo).
  • USA Today investigates the stealth claims about Social Circle and finds them false.
  • The you-know-what hits the fan.
  • Burson-Marsteller releases a statement blaming Facebook, admitting the actions were against Burson’s own policies and they should have “declined” the assignment. (Note the policy about not undertaking work “intended or designed to mislead”).
  • Facebook releases a statement Burson-Marsteller, claiming “No 'smear' campaign was authorized or intended.” (It’s not me, it’s you.)
  • Burson-Marsteller deletes negative comments from its own Facebook page (Seriously?).
A firestorm of stories and commentary has erupted online and in the mainstream media. Here are some highlights.
Ironically, the same week Burson-Marsteller won the Holmes Report award for U.S. Agency of the Year. And it doesn’t even look like the two Burson-Marsteller employees involved in this mess will even get a time-out.

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