Paul Holmes 16 May 2011 // 2:01PM GMT
Perhaps the most interesting question about the Facebook “smear” campaign against Google is one that I haven’t heard asked in the midst of all the outrage: what exactly did the folks at Facebook thing they would gain by planting this story anonymously? The whole backdoor approach—attempting to plant the story without identifying the client—appears to be needlessly convoluted and sinister. Why couldn’t Facebook go directly to reporters, bloggers and others and say: “Hi, we’re Facebook. We have some information about one of our competitors, Google, that we think would be of interest to you and your readers. We can help you find the information, and if you want to write something about it we can help you get your article disseminated more widely. If you’d like us or our PR agency to draft or ghostwrite a piece, we could do that too.” If they’d done that, some reporters might have ignored them, others might have found the charges much ado about nothing, and one or two might even have chosen to write the story as a Facebook-Google feud, but there would have been nothing ethically questionable about what did Facebook did, and nothing like the level of criticism—and mockery—the company has been subject to over the past couple of days. Facebook seems to have gone out of its way to make what should have been a perfectly appropriate suggestion to a reporter look like a sneaky, sleazy smear campaign. Clients need to understand that the simple, direct approach is usually the best. And agencies need to push back a little harder when clients ask for needlessly elaborate subterfuge.