As Facebook’s latest push to highlight Google’s potential privacy concerns was revealed this past week, their rivalry was once again brought to the forefront of the public’s attention. While the two web behemoths continue to compete for ad dollars and offer increasingly similar services, the press plays up their business competition. Yet this news represents larger themes at work about how online businesses impacts the media business in particular, and the wider communications and economic paradigms more generally.
For instance, I keep reading posts that assume as common knowledge that the Google and Facebook are competing for users’ loyalty, but have yet to see evidence that this is true. Instead I’ve noticed the large overlap of users for both services, albeit for different purposes. As far as many consumers are concerned Google and Facebook serve different functions, with the former used to search for information and the latter for relevant social links and recomendations.
From a consumer’s perspective Google and Facebook serve differing functions, even while they begin to encroach on each others core businesses through their growth. This same story about competition may be written about Microsoft vs Google, vs Apple, or vs Twitter, and so on; conflict drives the news, even if it does not reflect the unique audiences for individual businesses. While each company has different offerings, it’s fully possible for consumers to use both sites together rather than competing.
Of course this news has broader implications for PR professionals everywhere, by reinforcing negative stereotypes of the profession. Because of irresponsible, overly-secretive behavior of individuals at one of PR’s largest agencies, professionals like myself may have our reputations damaged. It’s even worse among the tech businesses, which sometimes see PR as a function only meant to earn press, and these days many startups would rather try going it alone using blogs and social media. At the very least this serves as another example of when PR can cause blowback, rather than how integral it should be in building communications strategy.
It’s my hope that the so-called “PR war” between two of the most popular global web brands will end, and both companies will find a more proactive way to continue building their own audiences. The history of the web has been of evolving and growing use, rather than competition between competing sources (as in print and broadcast media before it) for our attention, and I’d expect this to be the inevitable outcome between Google and Facebook.
The social-networking company secretly hired a public-relations firm to push stories critical of Google’s privacy practices. But the strategy backfired when bloggers and journalists disclosed Facebook’s behind-the-scenes role, forcing the company to explain its tactics.
Rosanna Fiske, the chief executive of the nonprofit Public Relations Society of America, said Burson-Marsteller’s lack of disclosure is “deceptive” and violates her organization’s ethical standards.
Privacy has become a major battleground in that fight as both companies face regulatory scrutiny and the threat of customer revolts over privacy practices.
“Google continues to be viewed as an organization—even if it is a monster in terms of data collection—that is somehow meeting best privacy practices,” said Larry Ponemon, the founder of the Institute.
In this case, Facebook was trying to draw scrutiny to Google’s practice of collecting information from some users’ Facebook and other social-networking accounts in order to build out a list of each user’s “social connections” on the Web.
Facebook and Google are increasingly competing against each other for advertiser dollars and user loyalty
Facebook and Google also traded public barbs last fall after Google sought access to Facebook users’ friends lists as it looked toward building a social-networking service that could rival Facebook’s, people familiar with the matter have said.
Full article available via WSJ.
Image c/o DeneyTerrio on Flickr (under CC-licensing)