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Senior Case Study: Facebook\'s Crisis PR


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In February 2009, the world\'s largest social networking site, Facebook, introduced a series of policy changes regarding privacy and property ownership. Such a move caused much confusion among online users. In response, Facebook needed to develop an internal PR campaign to justify its actions and increase communication with users.

The following presentation is a semester-long case study in which I examined Facebook\'s PR strategies and drew suggestions based on personal experience and academic study.

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Senior Case Study: Facebook\'s Crisis PR

  1. 1. By Vanessa M. Bañuelos
  2. 2. <ul><li>“ Facebook is a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers. “ </li></ul><ul><li>“ The company develops technologies that facilitate the sharing of information through the social graph, the digital mapping of people's real-world social connections.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Facebook's mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” </li></ul>The Organization
  3. 3. <ul><li>Interactive and innovative means of connecting others </li></ul><ul><li>Connectivity among employees is as important as among users (example: corporate play days and socials) </li></ul><ul><li>Creating new tools and applications invites the Facebook community to participate in the growth of the network </li></ul><ul><li>The user-employee relationship must be dynamic and creative </li></ul>The Organization
  4. 4. <ul><li>February 2004- Harvard undergraduate student Mark Zuckerberg launches Facebook from his dorm </li></ul><ul><li>December 2004- The network serves nearly 1 </li></ul><ul><li>million college students in the initial networks </li></ul><ul><li>of Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and Yale </li></ul><ul><li>October 2005- Photos is added as an application </li></ul><ul><li>September 2006- News Feed is introduced </li></ul><ul><li>May 2007- Facebook Platform launches with over 85 applications </li></ul><ul><li>November 2007- Beacon scandal confronts the issue of information privacy among third-party advertisers </li></ul><ul><li>January 2008- Facebook and ABC News sponsor the Presidential Debates </li></ul><ul><li>February 2009- Updated Terms of Use raises uproar, prompting corporate action </li></ul><ul><li>April 2009- Facebook reaches over 200 million active users </li></ul>The Organization
  5. 5. <ul><li>On February 4, Facebook employee Suzie White issued a statement to announce changes to the network’s Terms of Use. The social activist blog, spread word of the legal changes and rumored that the organization threatened the intellectual property of users by implementing the terms without explanation. Bloggers and users quickly picked up the message and responded with outrage, in the form of online protest groups and in the closure of several user accounts. </li></ul>The Situation
  6. 7. <ul><li>Strengths </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Drew attention and creative debate within the blogosphere and technology communities. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Suggested user participation and input on future governance issues. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Offered Zuckerberg the opportunity to become a public figure. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Weaknesses </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Zuckerberg made few announcements, mainly to encourage participation in the beginning of the voting period. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Access to the Facebook Blog was difficult. Many users were unaware of its existence. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Many announcements were only made in English, alienating the 70% usership outside the United States, many of which converse in other languages. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Little presence of press releases or videos interviews hinted at communicating with the press. </li></ul></ul>The Situation
  7. 8. <ul><li>Opportunities </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Facebook had several communication mediums available to issue official corporate announcements, such as through News Feed and group page announcements. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Following the host of the Presidential Debates, Zuckerberg and his organization had credibility and established media ties. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Facebook’s public profile was easily accessible to non-users and bloggers. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The organization had the opportunity to communicate their principles. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Threats </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The Beacon incident remained a stigma on the organization’s availability and timeliness. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Zuckerberg maintained a private profile, communicating disinterest or unavailability. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bloggers capitalized on the slow release of information by Facebook’s communications team, creating more time for debate and spread of misinformation, resulting in worried users. </li></ul></ul>The Situation
  8. 9. <ul><li>Social </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Who do we share information with? Why? How? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The user’s role in social networks” consumer or owner of information? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Economic </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Claiming responsibility and honoring security amid recent corporate dishonesty. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Influenced the perception and investment in social networks as an industry. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Questioned the user’s purpose in adding value to Internet communications networks. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Political </li></ul><ul><ul><li>As a privately-owned company, no laws bound the organization to publicly release information. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Posed the ethical question of the right to information as a consumer. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Technological </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Regardless of products developed for users, tech industries were pressured to communicate regularly. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The use and purpose of the corporate blog became a strong indicator of image. Evaluation was made of its maintenance and reach among users. </li></ul></ul>The Situation
  9. 10. <ul><li>Restore the public perception of Facebook and its role as industry leader. </li></ul><ul><li>Encourage user participation and feedback. </li></ul><ul><li>Clarify the legal changes in respect to is effects on users. </li></ul><ul><li>Increase the visibility of corporate Facebook on its network. </li></ul>The Response
  10. 11. <ul><li>Investigation of anti-Terms of Use group discussion boards and comments on the network. </li></ul><ul><li>Investigation of blogs opposing the organization’s activity. </li></ul><ul><li>Investigation of industry competition’s privacy policies and relevant arguments. </li></ul><ul><li>Solicit feedback through use of user focus groups. </li></ul><ul><li>Seek opinions from privacy, copyright, and Internet law experts. </li></ul>The Response
  11. 12. <ul><li>Facebook users </li></ul><ul><li>Public advocacy bloggers </li></ul><ul><li>Technology bloggers </li></ul><ul><li>Photographers and photo enthusiasts </li></ul><ul><li>Facebook staff </li></ul><ul><li>Industry competition </li></ul>The Response
  12. 13. <ul><li>February 16- Zuckerberg responds to user concerns and acknowledges the reasoning of the changes (via Facebook Blog). </li></ul><ul><li>February 17- Zuckerberg announces Facebook will revert to the former Terms of Use until users can pose questions and comment in an open forum. This leads to the creation of the group, “Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.” </li></ul><ul><li>February 26- Zuckerberg validates the activity in the “Bill of Rights” forum. He proposes a unified means of collecting user input with the creation of “Facebook Principles” and “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” groups to suggest policies for the two governance documents. </li></ul><ul><li>March 12- Zuckerberg opens a public profile to welcome users to his personal side. </li></ul><ul><li>March 18- Simon Axten, public policy team member, updates users on the 30-day comment period, noting the membership of over 10,000 users and the presence of 3,000 comment suggestions. </li></ul><ul><li>April 3- Axten details on the post-comment period, saying Facebook’s legal team is working with volunteer law students and administrators from the original protest group against the Terms update. He announces the dates for voting (April 16 to April 23) and how to vote (through an application by Wildfire). Documents can pass with a 30% vote among active users, with auditing service provided through an independent, third-party auditor. </li></ul><ul><li>April 16- Zuckerberg announces the first day of voting on the corporate blog and creates a video detailing its importance to the future of Facebook. </li></ul><ul><li>April 16 to April 23- Facebook creates a collapsible banner on users’ homepage to encourage voting. </li></ul>The Response
  13. 14. The Response As of 1:30 am (PDT) Note: Tuesday, at 11:45 pm, 308,786 user votes were tallied.
  14. 15. <ul><li>Facebook staff gave personality to the issues as spokespersons during various stages of the campaign. </li></ul><ul><li>Blog updates gave real-time responses, clarification, and validation of user concerns. </li></ul>The Response
  15. 16. <ul><li>Corporate blog: </li></ul><ul><li>Town hall groups, “Facebook Principles” and “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” </li></ul><ul><li>Corporate Governance fan page </li></ul><ul><li>Representatives clarified information on outside blogs </li></ul><ul><li>Videos </li></ul>The Response
  16. 17. <ul><li>Facebook will always communicate with users in an efficient and active manner. </li></ul><ul><li>Facebook holds itself accountable for all actions taken by the company. </li></ul><ul><li>Facebook prides itself in leading the revolution of information exchange. </li></ul><ul><li>Facebook encourages the participation of users to govern the online network. </li></ul><ul><li>Users and employees are the future of Facebook. </li></ul>The Response
  17. 18. <ul><li>Comment evaluation </li></ul><ul><li>Membership and discussion in town halls </li></ul><ul><li>Blog hits and continued coverage </li></ul><ul><li>Quality of arguments in protest groups </li></ul><ul><li>Participation in governance vote </li></ul>Evaluation and Recommendation
  18. 19. <ul><li>Blog hits and continued coverage </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Bloggers then focused on the 30% needed rule by claiming not enough users would log on in the week-long vote. Public advocacy groups such as Privacy International supplemented bloggers with negative information. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Larger news outlets applauded Facebook’s strategy in involving users, calling the move “historic” (Yahoo! Tech). </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Participation in governance vote </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The active usership is near 200 million, so 60,000 votes were needed to approve the new documents. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>About 650,000 users (0.325%) cast their vote since 10:30 this morning. </li></ul></ul>Evaluation and Recommendation
  19. 20. <ul><li>The 30% minimum participation received more backlash than acceptance among users and bloggers. </li></ul><ul><li>The availability of the voting application in multi-languages seemed difficult to access, as noted by bloggers (Davis, Facebook's Site Governance Vote: A Massive Con?). </li></ul>Evaluation and Recommendation
  20. 21. <ul><li>Facebook’s strengths centered around the participation of users and other publics concerned with the changes in the Terms of Use. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The organization should have done more to facilitate conversation instead of hosting the unregulated stream of comments found in the discussion boards of the town hall groups. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Facebook failed at conversing with its publics on the press releases on the Facebook Blog. Few were available and from various spokespersons. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If anything, Facebook succeeded in explaining the purpose of its decisions and the user’s role as valuable to the future of online communication. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Facebook’s weaknesses were rooted in the release of shorthanded information. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The organization did little to increase the visibility of its corporate blog, which was by far the best option it utilized in first addressing the crisis. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Facebook needed to address bloggers in a more formal manner, and could benefit from a discussion with public advocacy groups involved in the protest of the service changes. </li></ul></ul>Evaluation and Recommendation
  21. 22. <ul><li>Designate one spokesperson, preferably Zuckerberg. </li></ul><ul><li>Extend media outreach with television or podcast interviews. </li></ul><ul><li>Make a distinction between ‘updates’ and ‘press releases.’ </li></ul><ul><li>Make the Facebook page a bookmark for every user. </li></ul><ul><li>Host a series of press days to stream online. </li></ul><ul><li>For the future of town halls, host an actual town hall at the corporate headquarters. Utilize reach experienced during the Presidential Debates. </li></ul><ul><li>Designate a public relations contact for press and other media to contact. </li></ul>Evaluation and Recommendation
  22. 23. <ul><li>Privacy will always be an issue with social network organizations such as Facebook, but the means of dealing with conflict is its true judge of leadership in its industry. </li></ul><ul><li>Worth will be determined by responsiveness and accessibility to those needing clarification and information. </li></ul><ul><li>Facebook is recently discovering the power of video news releases. Hopefully the organization utilized them to reach users in an interactive way. </li></ul>Evaluation and Recommendation
  23. 24. <ul><li>Always designate a spokesperson. </li></ul><ul><li>Take an active approach at responding to crisis. Don’t simply inform of the problem, and respond in a variety of media. </li></ul><ul><li>By involving those affected by crisis, an organization has a better means of negating bad press and establishing vital two-way communication. </li></ul>Evaluation and Recommendation