What Marketers Can Learn from the Facebook Messenger Controversy

April of this year, Facebook announced that they would split their messaging service from the main Facebook app to the Facebook Messenger app.  It did.  And it didn’t go well – not because the app doesn’t work (which it does) but because users are unhappy with the privacy controls.

A video uploaded to Facebook claims the social media company is reading private texts and messages and selling the information to advertisers.  The user also claims that the app can access your location, take pictures and videos and record your phone calls without permission – also for the purposes of selling information to advertisers.  The gist is that Facebook has “invaded” your phone and data.

Facebook has countered that the permissions required for the app are not unusual for most apps on the market, that the language in the permissions “doesn’t necessarily reflect the way the Messenger app and other apps use them” and that the permissions are, in fact, optional.  If you deny the app’s access to your camera, you won’t be able to send photos and videos through the app, etc.

On the other hand, some are claiming that the very nature of all permission requests are over-the-top and our culture of “not reading the fine print” is the problem.

Regardless of where you fall on the issue, we can learn a lot from what is obviously a big public relations debacle and a messaging crisis for Facebook.

1. Control the Message

In public relations, you have to be proactive in preparing for crisis.  In some cases, you can anticipate problems, so be sure you craft a message that will address those issues up-front.  Identify a communications team to be on stand-by when the message is released and monitor the reaction.  Go ahead and train a spokesperson and brief your internal and external stakeholders as they are going to be your best PR representatives.

2. Be Up-front, Specific and Authentic

Sometimes you don’t or can’t anticipate a communications crisis, so err on the side of authenticity and transparency.  Go ahead and send out email messages and post information about a change that addresses what would likely be concerns.  In other words, don’t skate over the probable issues hoping no one will notice.  Steer away from puffery by avoiding claims and promises you can’t deliver.

3. Respond quickly and be positive

It was only last week that Facebook came out with a definitive denial of the claims and plans to roll out a “Privacy Checkup” feature that helps users review and control sharing.  The message is good, but is it “too little too late?”  If you are controlling the message and are prepared, you will be able to respond – as Facebook did not – immediately.  Make sure when you do, it’s positive and uplifting.  Make sure you are affirming in your response to crises.

For more info on the issue here are some resources:






About the Author
Hallie Shoffner

Hallie Shoffner


Hallie Shoffner is a devotee of helping people via the Internet.

Hallie Shoffner
Hallie Shoffner is a devotee of helping people via the Internet.
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