Earlier in May, Burson-Marsteller, a top PR firm, launched a smear campaign against Google. For a while this was a big mystery in the tech world, as the client wasn't named but eventually Facebook confirmed that it was them. Burson-Marsteller even went so far as to offer to help a blogger write a piece bashing Google which backfired when Chris Soghoian posted the email exchange.
Since then, there has been a lot written about what happened and even more editorials about whether this was right, wrong or just happens. This post is not going to be another editorial on the topic but instead I wanted to use this example to show how crucial it is to be transparent for credible marketing as I think we can all agree that what happened here is not an example of that.
This case proves, what I've said before, that in the age of social media it's difficult or even impossible to conduct a campaign like the one Burson-Marsteller tried to do with Facebook without the client being found out. All it takes is one blogger, as you can see above, to publish what was sent to him and then a few reporters to dig a little deeper to get all the details.
Looking at this from a more practical angle, if your product does not do what you claim, a customer is not taken care of, or you're trying to hide something, it will be found out and everyone will know. That's why it's important to be credible in your marketing, treat your customers right so they act as brand ambassadors rather then destroyers, and be as transparent as possible.
After these "scandals" are discovered then this news spreads and fast. Social media has made it nearly impossible to contain any sort of "bad news" about your company or product, which direcly impacts your brand. Once your brand is damaged and the credibility in your company is lost, it's hard to get back.
Do you think this had an impact on the Facebook brand? Maybe for some, but probably not to the larger Facebook crowd. But what about Burson-Marsteller? There is no doubt this will impact their brand in a big way. Clients are likely going to think twice about hiring them because editors may not trust their stories or sources now.
That's why it's better to be transparent in the first place and have credible marketing to avoid these issues. If you need to deal with one, do it fast and be transparent or it will just get bigger. How do you think this example would have played out if Burson-Marsteller had been up front with who the client was when they pitched the story? I'm pretty sure none of us would be writing about it then.