Google vs. Facebook… and the rest

Boxing gloves

ANALYSIS: We shouldn't be all that surprised by Facebook's attempts to besmirch Google's reputation.

Facebook may have used some 'dirty' tricks with its PR efforts against its rival, but it isn't the only company which has gone for the search giant's jugular in recent times.

More generally, such clandestine activity goes on in almost every industry. Unfortunately for the perpetrators, when you get found out it can cause some serious problems.

The social network has denied the claim its project with WPP owned Burson-Marstellar was actually a "smear campaign," but the damage has been done.

Facebook was caught out and the whole thing has blown up in Mark Zuckerburg's face. The social network has not only damaged its own reputation, it has made Google look good.

It may be wise for companies to lay off Google for a little while, however. It's a company that many love. And people don't like seeing their loved ones hurt.

Furthermore, Facebook has not only shown what lengths rivals will go to hurt Google, it has confirmed how much the world's tech giants fear Larry Page's firm.

Google giggling?

Google will be giggling about this gaffe, not to mention the media furore surrounding it. Without doing anything at all, Google has won a battle it didn't even know it was fighting.

Page and Co have had to cope with attacks from competitors plenty of times in the past, whether they were in the public sphere or in court.

It's a company that is spreading itself into numerous markets, threatening to disrupt various industries and upset big players. With success comes envy from others and Google executives will know that.

Just look at the Chromebook it's another area where Google will look to steal OS market share from the likes of Apple and Microsoft. Given how well Android has done thus far and its predicted dominance in the smartphone space, it will come as no surprise if Chrome-based laptops become big players too. So expect the anti-Chromebook comments to start spurting out this summer when the devices arrive.

As for Facebook, Zuckerburg's company wants a bigger slice of the advertising pie. Google has around 43 per cent of the advertising market in the US, compared to Facebook's seven per cent. The latter will obviously want to challenge Google's dominance here. Otherwise, the two have little to compete for when it comes to sales.

With plenty of clout now behind it, Google could enter any sphere and worry the market's big players.

"Google is a company many fear and in the recent past it's managed to put the wind up Microsoft, Apple and Nokia to name just a few - and they're companies who aren't easily scared," Mark Jackson, head of corporate at PR firm Lucre, told IT PRO.

"I think that fear stems from a number of things not least of which is Google's brand which has become one of the most powerful in the 21st century and I suspect many companies worry that Google will use its power and influence to target their businesses."

Sarah Lafferty, co-founder of Round Earth Consulting, which looks after PR for enterprise software companies, went as far to say there may be a widespread "anti-Google campaign" underway.

In particular, Lafferty pointed to attacks on Google from Glenn Beck, who claimed the search firm was in bed with the US Government, and a Daily Mail article with similar insinuations.

"This targeting of paranoid media with paranoia-inducing ideas has all the hallmarks of a ruthless, cynical lobbying effort," Lafferty said.

Whilst it'd be wise to take claims like these with a pinch of salt, they do again show what a force Google has become.

Facbook fumble

As for Facebook, it will have to pick up the pieces of this debacle and carry on. Some clever PR moves i.e. the exact opposite of the Burson-Marstellar project will be needed if the wounds are to heal anytime soon.

"For Facebook, this represents a major setback to its reputation," Jackson said.

"It's managed to make it through some pretty tough times over the last 12 to 18 months but this is a different order of magnitude from disgruntled users upset at UI changes. While I have no doubt it will recover, it may take some time and it would not surprise me - given the appetite for bringing wayward companies to heel - if the US Senate did not get involved at some point which will add to the company's woes."

In particular, Facebook will want to ensure it doesn't make any privacy gaffes, given it attempted to spread anxiety around Google's practices in this department.

The irony here was lost on few. Facebook itself has been criticised in the past for privacy management. Imagine the derision if Facebook slips up in the coming months.

Trash talking

There are plenty of examples of companies saying derogatory things about others in the history of business. Especially in the tech industry.

Remember the openness battle between Adobe and Apple that raged throughout last year? What about when Larry Ellison slammed HP over the departure of Mark Hurd, who was later hired by Oracle?

Now, let's not be naive about this. Whilst surreptitious PR stunts can backfire, trash talking can be a boon to a company's progress. You just need to know where to direct your ire and ensure it'll bring your company benefits. Sticking with the truth will help too.

"To my mind, 'trash talking' is as much a part of the PR arsenal as any other kind of activity but the golden rule when you engage in this kind of work is very simple: don't get caught," Jackson said.

An clat Marketing spokesperson said the Facebook/Google case highlighted "the important first rule of media training to client spokespeople" - sticking to facts when talking to the press.

"Facebook has created a situation in which their public perception has been severely damaged, and this is a very difficult position to recover from," the spokesperson told IT PRO.

"Stakeholders will lose their trust, and it will take the brand a long time to recover, whereas Google now has the upper hand."

If a company has an issue with another, it shouldn't necessarily keep quiet. Instead it should assess whether being honest with the media about its feelings on a rival will bring benefits. Then the business can act.

It may be wise for companies to lay off Google for a little while, however. It's a company that many love. And people don't like seeing their loved ones hurt.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.