Burson-Marsteller Commentgate/Deletegate Demonstrates Need for Social Media Policies

There’s been this ongoing debate in the marketing profession for a while now about where social media should live within the whole mix. I’m definitely part of the camp that sees (as my employer Spring Creek Group does) Social living in the middle of a triangle that includes Marketing/Advertising, PR, and Customer Service. Now, there are many in each camp who will talk, at length, about why their respective organizational fiefdoms should hold the Social Media reins, but none has really made a convincing argument that’s become widely agreed upon.

However, what happens more often than not are cases where each part of that triangle make incredibly embarrassing blunders that shoot their argument for control squarely in the foot. The most-recent of these tremendous gaffes comes on the heels of what might be one of the biggest marketing-related stories in a while – Burson-Marsteller‘s campaign on behalf of Facebook to smear the crap out of Google. I’m not a fan of Google and believe their “don’t be evil” mantra about as much as I believe anything that comes out of Sarah Palin‘s mouth, but come on Facebook.

But, that’s beside the point…

When Burson-Marsteller was outed as the agency that took on this devious client project, people took to Burson-Marsteller’s Facebook Page to let them know how they felt… only to have their comments deleted by Burson-Marsteller’s Facebook community manager (or whatever the pseudo-equivalent to CMs in the PR world). Big no-no. WIRED broke the story about that and the Twitterverse has been exploding since.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Heck, Apple deleted comments about the faulty iPhone 4 antenna from its community forums – and they have die-hard fans. What these situations do point out, though, is the importance of a public-facing Social Media Policy.

Policies like those at Best Buy, Coca-Cola, and others offer a one-stop shop for users to see exactly what they can expect when dealing with these brands in social. These policies not only say how the brands act in the social space, they also lay out guidelines for how they expect their communities to behave (i.e. their thoughts around what is and isn’t acceptable in their communities).

Yes, Burson-Marsteller crapped the bed by removing posts (some of which were probably warranted based on their idea of what was and was not appropriate on their page), but without outwardly sharing that view of “appropriate” content, they don’t have a leg to stand on when making that claim. If your page is receiving enough volume, or you plan on doing so in the future, you’ll want to look into creating a social policy.