Is Facebook becoming the Wal-Mart of PR?
Although both companies serve different purposes, they are each extremely popular—lots of people would probably agree they couldn’t live without either company—and yet both Facebook and Wal-Mart are often hit with negative PR.
I blame the communicators.
Take the recent dust up with Facebook. On Feb. 4, the social network changed it terms of service. It said information that members uploaded to the site belonged to the social network, and would even after that content was deleted. Facebook could also “sublicense” that material to third parties.
After two days of angry blog posts and negative press attention, Facebook returned to its previous terms of service while it “resolves issues that people have raised,” according to a message posted on member’s Facebook pages.
The Consumerist blog wrote about the change Feb. 15, which sparked the Internet fervor. The tide of angry blog posts in response quickly gave way to mainstream media attention by late February 16.
To quell the negative press, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a blog post apologizing for poorly communicating the change and asking members to trust the company. Despite the response, outrage continued.
So instead of proactively communicating the terms of service, it tried to slip the news under the radar. While Facebook posted the announcement about the return to its previous terms of service on every member’s page, the initial change was announced in an obscure Facebook blog post by the company’s corporate counsel for corporate transactions, Suzie White.
In the post, White never specifies what the changes really mean. “Most of these things are pretty obvious,” she wrote. Nice subterfuge.
And what was happening around Feb. 4?
The Super Bowl buzz was fading, while the Michael Phelps bong incident was heating up. And there was evolving news coverage of eight babies born to one mother in California.
Maybe these are coincidences.
Either way, don’t underestimate your audience. Be upfront with them. If you try to fool them, like Facebook and Wal-Mart before it, someone will probably notice and make sure you’re burnt. Unlike Facebook, which feeds our narcissism, and Wal-Mart, which feeds our consumption, your company might not be as indispensible as these behemoths.