Facebook Beacon timeline & analysis

I love this analysis by Geoff Livingston of what went wrong with Facebook Beacon: They put business before community. Geoff argues this won’t work in social media:

ROI is a by- product of community participation as opposed to hard transactional advertising.

If you haven’t followed the Facebook Beacon controversy, here is a brief & manageable timeline for media snackers:

November 6, 2007: Facebook announces new targeted advertising system, Beacon: AP news; Read/Write Web

Analysts reflect on the business implications & possibilities of Facebook Beacon:

Privacy concerns emerge

Moveon.org starts campaign against Facebook Beacon: Read/Write Web; Moveon.org online petition; Moveon.org Facebook group (65,000 members between Nov. 20 and Dec. 3); For Immediate Release commentary (Shel Holtz & Neville Hobson);

November 28: Facebook makes changes to Beacon: Facebook announcement (ripe for ripping apart in a PR rhetorical analysis!)

The PR nightmare doesn’t end here:

Evolution of Beacon Nov. 6 – Nov. 29 from NY Times B.I.T.S. (hat tip to Jeremiah Owyang who posted this on twitter)

Edits (Dec. 5 & 6):

The big PR question is: Where is Mark Zuckerberg? It started with R. Scoble’s post above but others (note the excellent PR advice in this post), including Shel Israel, are asking the same question.

Todd Defren posts as Fake Mark Zuckerberg and shows what Mark should say. Funny, but great PR advice.

Mark Zuckerberg finally posts on Facebook blog. Shel Israel comments and finds Mark’s statement credible. I think the first paragraph is nice, because it admits they made mistakes. However, what has annoyed me throughout Facebook statements is that they claim to have created Beacon to “help people share information with their friends.” Really? As my students put it: “If I want to share information with my friends, I TELL them.” Beacon is an advertising platform and its goal is to make more money. So, although the first paragraph is OK, the second one is not:

When we first thought of Beacon, our goal was to build a simple product to let people share information across sites with their friends. It had to be lightweight so it wouldn’t get in people’s way as they browsed the web, but also clear enough so people would be able to easily control what they shared. We were excited about Beacon because we believe a lot of information people want to share isn’t on Facebook, and if we found the right balance, Beacon would give people an easy and controlled way to share more of that information with their friends.

But, here’s the change, as a result of user “feedback” (outrage?):

today we’re releasing a privacy control to turn off Beacon completely. You can find it here.

And, OK, this excerpt is good PR:

It took us too long after people started contacting us to change the product so that users had to explicitly approve what they wanted to share. Instead of acting quickly, we took too long to decide on the right solution. I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation and I know we can do better.

What’s missing is some sort of promise/guarantee that user privacy will be a priority in the future. Instead, Mark’s last paragraph closes the topic. He hopes that:

this new privacy control addresses any remaining issues we’ve heard about from you.

Meaning, that’s it, we’re done, can we drop it now? We’ll see…

Dec. 5: Read/Write Web claims this is the end of the Beacon saga… the blogosphere is tired.

CBS video: the Millenials are coming

CBS published this 12 min. segment on the Millenial generation. I hope my students will watch it and post comments with their reactions to the video. What do you think? Is this an accurate description of your generation? How did you feel when watching the video?

(hat tip to whoever posted this on twitter, unfortunately, I can’t remember who it was) Edit: I found it! It was a blog post from Joseph Jaffe)

Update: I’m embedding the video and asking com. theory students to view it. This segment is ripe for ideological criticism.

GOST Books

I promised my students I’ll make available a list of books about the “magic” public relations planning formula: GOST (Goals, Objectives, Strategies, and Tactics).

So, here are my favorites:

  1. Strategic Public Relations Management by E. Weintraub Austin & B.E. Pinkleton (2006)
  2. Strategic Planning for Public Relations by R.D. Smith (2005)
  3. Writing Winning Proposals: PR Cases by T. Hagley (2005)

Ethics in the Digital Age survey

I’m working in my office and my eyes wondered to the September 2007 issue of PRSA Tactics, sitting in a side tray. The survey on the front page reads:

Ethics in the Digital Age

The percentage of PR professionals and students who think technology makes it difficult to ethically conduct public relations:

Professionals: 35%

Students: 46%


Is this a stupid question, or what??!!

Ethics, again

The discussion in the PR blogosphere of social media PR ethics makes me happy 🙂 It’s wonderful to see PR critics in the field – not only in books such as Toxic Sludge is Good For You or in academic journals only academics have access to. The very fact that this conversation is taking place is a huge step towards more ethical PR. Shel Holtz calls this a nice thought and claims it won’t solve the problem of unethical social media PR practices… no, it won’t, not it the short term. Besides, no one solution will be enough to solve the problem. It needs to be attacked from several fronts, and this is but one of them.

Another solution is the one that Shel proposed, that each agency publish a case study after implementing a campaign. I called that solution unfeasible. It won’t hurt, but here are my doubts about it:

  1.  It relies on trust. If people are OK with engaging in unethical, misleading PR tactics, they’ll be OK with not publishing these tactics in their case studies. How can we trust them to provide an honest account of all their tactics?
  2. It assumes education that might not be there. This fellow who explained his misleading tactics did just what Shel recommends  – and when I read the comments I noticed it didn’t even occur to him something was wrong with his approach! Similarly, if clients don’t know the difference between ethical and unethical PR, they might be drawn to the unethical practices that bring impressive immediate results (never mind the long-term consequences…)

A comment on Shel’s post states that client education is the answer. If clients know the difference between ethical and unethical PR, they’ll only pay for the ethical kind. This is a good idea, I think, but how do we do that?

To recap, I believe there’s no ONE solution to the unethical social media PR problem. It has to be addressed on several fronts. So far, the ideas I encountered are:

  1. Put peer pressure on PR folks to  publish their tactics
  2. Keep a PR watch, keep critiquing and calling people out on unethical practices – maybe our posts will come up when their names are googled!
  3. Educate (some) PR practitioners and clients
  4. Use a WIC (wisdom of the crowds) rating system for PR practitioners & agencies (another good idea in a comment to Shel’s post)

Do you have more ideas for possible ways to tackle this problem? Do you have practical recommendations for how to accomplish 1, 3, and 4 above? (2 is already happening, although we might be preaching to the choir…)

Cover Letters for PR job applications

Students often ask me about how to write a cover letter, so I thought I’d compile some tips & info:

A word of advice for students:

  • don’t ask professors how to write a cover letter. There’s so much information out there, show me you can teach yourself. You’ll ask me later to write a recommendation letter, and all I’ll be able to think about is how you couldn’t figure out something as simple as how to write a cover letter…
  • it’s OK to make an appointment and ask a trusted professor to look over your letter.
  • do make an appointment with Career Services and ask them to critique your resume and cover letter. They’re much more tuned in to the market than professors.

For faculty: here’s a guide on how to write a letter of recommendation.

New PR Hope?

I’ve noticed several posts lately on the ethics of certain social media PR practices. The most recent one, from Shel Holtz, even calls for a radical (but unfeasible) solution to ensure transparency of social media PR.

The post Shel comments on is sad and scary, yet I can’t help but see hope for the PR profession in social media. There are many PR bloggers out there (see my blogroll) who make the profession accessible and transparent. Their posts show that PR people DO have values. Their blogs allow them to critique the PR profession from the inside (rather than us academics critiquing from the ivory tower) – so they have more credibility among PR practitioners. I think in time these PR bloggers will accomplish two important things for the PR profession:

1 – more ethical/transparent PR practice. They’re already pushing for this, and the very act of critiquing and calling people out on unethical practices is powerful. It is more punishment than PRSA can enforce!

2 – a better reputation. PR has a PR problem, and the profession will have an iffy reputation for a long time, but these bloggers will significantly improve PR’s reputation and professionalism.