Even big brands misstep and make mistakes. Unfortunately, the bigger your brand is, the more public backlash you subject it to.
The public relations nightmare
Recently, a story broke that Facebook hired a top PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, to pitch anti-Google stories to media outlets. The pitch claimed that Google was invading users’ privacy with a Gmail feature called Social Circle. Where it went sour is when one influential blogger inquired more about the client that Burson-Marsteller was pitching the story for—and they wouldn’t disclose the information. This prompted the blogger to publish the emails, eventually revealing that Facebook had hired the PR firm in what some call an attempt to “smear” Google.
While both companies responded to the issue (eventually), the media frenzy surrounding the scandal certainly suggests both parties could have handled it differently.
Stellar branding lessons
What branding lessons can we take away from this?
- Own up to your mistakes in a timely manner. It reflects badly on your brand if you sit back and wait for the backlash to happen without stepping in and either apologizing or explaining the situation. In today’s fast-paced social world, it pays to respond when an issue arises involving your brand or company. If you don’t, bloggers and media outlets will surely have something to say about the incident without your input.
- Strive for transparency. The initial red flag sprung up because the PR firm wouldn’t reveal their client, an obvious example of not practicing transparency. But another red flag appeared shortly thereafter—when Burson-Marsteller deleted a post from their Facebook page about the scandal posted by one of their own followers. Looking at the company’s Facebook page, conversation is happening all around them, but they are choosing not to engage their fans and followers—certainly a missed opportunity!
- Keep your brand consistent. After the scandal, Burson-Marsteller told the Financial Times, “Whatever the rationale, this was not standard operating practice and is against our polices and the assignment on these terms should have been declined.” Unfortunately, this incident reflects on the entire brand of Burson-Marsteller—which is a huge, global organization with thousands of employees. While it might not be standard practice, it still happened, and makes the organization look inconsistent in their values and ethics. Burson-Marsteller has also said the two employees behind the campaign will receive additional ethics training.
What other lessons do you take away from this situation? How do you suggest the Burson-Marsteller and Facebook recover from it?
Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing consultancy for organizations with products that target job seekers and/or employers. She is also the author of #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010) and writes career and recruiting advice for numerous outlets.