On ‘Slime-Slinging’ and Facebook Likes Becoming the New AVE…

This week, I wanted to weigh in on two issues related to Facebook that are gaining attention from PR pros and marketers alike: the fallout of over the Facebook/Burson-Marsteller ethics flap and the growing fascination over Facebook ‘Likes.’

Regarding the recent ethics flap, I made quite clear last week my belief, as well as that of PRSA, that the tactics B-M engaged in were unethical and improper. Now, I want to turn my attention to The Economist’s examination into what this incident portends for the future of media.

Writing in the May 19 print edition, the venerable British newsweekly (which has previously made clear its disdain for PR) attempts to make the rather bizarre connection between the growing number of PR pros, combined with declining ranks in journalists, as somehow causing PRs to engage in ever more shameless tactics.

To which I say, hogwash.

There is no evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship between the two. I know where The Economist got its message points for this article — from a recent feature on the growing influence of PR in the Columbia Journalism Review. That article eloquently and objectively laid out the facts and came to the conclusion that while PR’s influence is growing, the profession shouldn’t be blamed for the rise in journalism, no more so than one should blame the rise in speeding on the decline of police officers on patrol.

Of course, it doesn’t help matters that The Economist, as it often does, presents its points as though it were still 1950 and PR pros were happily laughing it up with reporters during a three-martini lunch. A  paragraph from this same article practically says just that:

“More seasoned PR flacks might have done it differently. First, lunch the journalists concerned, ostensibly to discuss some other story. Then … casually slip into the conversation the poison that their secret client wanted them to spread.… The reporters would follow up on the scuttlebutt without mentioning its source…

Well, all right, then.

I’ll leave this topic with one final thought: The majority of PR pros are ethical and modern practitioners — a far cry from the under-the-table dealers of “scuttlebutt” and leaked information to reporters, as portrayed in The Economist’s outdated illustration.

Turning to the other Facebook issue…

In other Facebook-related matters, there is growing concern that the fascination among marketers and clients over Facebook ‘Likes’ is reaching breathtaking levels.

Writing for PRWeek, Ged Carroll asks a most prescient question: Are Facebook ‘Likes’ turning into the social media equivalent of the AVE (Advertising Value Equivalency)? Unfortunately, I fear that is the case.

Far too often, we see PRs and marketers passing off ‘Like’ as a broad metric to please management. In a client meeting, it often goes something like, “Well, that video we posted on your brand’s Facebook wall had 6,000 Likes, which means it got X number of views for X number of minutes viewed … a total win for your brand!”.

This couldn’t be further from reality.

Unfortunately, I don’t see any easy answer to stopping this madness beyond educating clients and management that Facebook ‘Likes’ are but one of many measurement tools we now have in our arsenal. And much like the derided AVE, Facebook ‘Likes’ aren’t a panacea to long-term issues for PRs and marketers seeking to properly measure the value of their work.

Like most things in life and business, doing proper measurement isn’t easy; it takes considerable time and it surely is not as easy as equating ‘Likes’ to brand value. I’d like to say I’m hopeful the hype will calm down a bit, but as it is with most things Facebook touches, if it brings eyeballs to the page, all the better for some.