Gini Dietrich

The Facebook PR Mess with “60 Minutes”

By: Gini Dietrich | December 7, 2010 | 

On Sunday night, “60 Minutes” had Mark Zuckerberg on to discuss the new Facebook layout and changes. It was pretty funny to watch people on Facebook before it aired – everyone was waiting for the game to end so they could watch “60 Minutes.” And then, of course, we all discussed it during and after the show. It was fun and a great sense of community.

It was interesting to see that Zuckerberg still rarely blinks (how does he do that?), that he still wears a t-shirt, even for a nationally televised interview, and that he’s now gone from Internet child to brilliant master, in the minds of the Baby Boomer reporters.

Lesley Stahl spent a lot of time talking about the new layout Facebook was launching “tomorrow,” meaning yesterday. Zuckerberg walked her through the changes and what they meant to Facebook users. The way the story was presented made it sound like “60 Minutes” was to announce the new changes and we’d all get the new layout on Monday.

After the episode ended, I wrote on my Facebook wall, “Do you think ’60 Minutes’ is mad we got the new Facebook layout before it appeared on their show?”

Because I changed my layout on Sunday…and so did a lot of my friends. So they actually rolled it out before “60 Minutes” aired, even though it was mentioned at least five times during the show that it wouldn’t be rolled out until Monday.

I’ve been doing a lot of armchair quarterbacking this week and I fully admit that I don’t know why they did that or what they had agreed to with “60 Minutes.” But I do know, from experience, that promising media they’re going to have exclusivity to something and then rolling it out after your show is taped, but before it airs, is bad, bad, bad. I even commented on Facebook that I would not want to be their PR people right now.

My guess is “60 Minutes” will never agree to do another exclusive announcement with Facebook again. And I wouldn’t blame them. But you know who will take the flack for this? Their PR team. The next time they want “60 Minutes” and can’t get them, it won’t be because they ruined their credibility this past Sunday. The executives will sit in their offices and claim it’s because the PR professional working with the producers at CBS isn’t doing his or her job correctly.

Sure, the PR team could have promised the announcement of the new layout to “60 Minutes” without confirming it with the techs and the executive team, who rolled it out on Sunday. And, if that happened, they should be fired.

But if everyone was in agreement that Lesley Stahl got to announce it and they’d roll it out on Monday, they need to take a long, hard look at how they’re presenting their brand because that just makes it seem like they’re too arrogant to care who they roll over on their way to domination. They aren’t the only powerful company in this country. It would take one or two of this kind of situation with powerful media and it could be the beginning of their long demise.

Times have changed and news now happens in real-time in the form of bloggers and citizen journalists. But if you’ve given an outlet (TV, radio, blog, magazine, newspaper, etc.) exclusivity to announce something new you’re doing, for heaven’s sakes, don’t roll it out before they have the chance to run their story. It’s not ethical, it’s rude, and it demeans your own credibility.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • HowieSPM

    In 5-10 years when we view Facebook the same way we view AOL today, will 60 Minutes do a “What the F happened Mark?” segment? Can you imagine life at Facebook if their numbers start declining especially before the IPO? Mark Z getting the numbers report every Monday morning..activity leveling off…then slow decline…then he is told where the people are going….then it speeds up……then massive migration….oops..”Hey Mark, its 60 mins, they want to do a follow up segment called ‘What the F happened Mark?’, so what do you want me to tell them?” I see a Hitler’s Bunker Spoof coming because we sure have not seen enough of those in the last 2-3 years.

  • What’s “60 Minutes”? 🙂

  • loripop326

    As a non-PR person, I never even considered the backlash from the early roll-out from this perspective. It certainly puts an interesting spin on the story for me. Thanks for the insight. The only thing I have to add, simply as a viewer and Facebook user, is that I had been looking forward to seeing 60 Minutes that night, for no other reason than to check out the “exclusive” announcement. However, after checking my Facebook, and already seeing the changes there, I didn’t bother tuning in to the show at all. What was the point?

    And if that happened to me, I’m betting it happened to others as well. Makes me wonder how many viewers 60 Minutes lost that night because of the non-exclusive “announcement”.

  • a_greenwood

    I watched too, but didn’t get the impression that it was an exclusive announcement–I was probably not paying close enough attention. And yup, I changed my profile that night. However, your point is well made about not crossing the media when you make an “exclusive” promise.

  • Brendon

    Interesting idea that FB burned 60 Minutes, but it’s a little bit of the tail wagging the dog. FB boasts a half billion users — many of them very engaged. 60 Minutes would kill to have 1% of Facebook’s audience on any given night.

    And the only folks influenced by 60 Minutes to join Facebook are those who don’t know that much about it to begin with. I’ll bet that most Facebook users aren’t going to turn to 60 Minutes to learn about a platform they’re actively engaged with.

  • FollowtheLawyer

    I think it’s curious that Zuckerberg chose to use the rest home of American journalism, with its superannuated core audience, for any interview at all, let alone a “major” upgrade announcement.

    Contrast that with his infamous SXSW 1:1 with Sarah Lacy.

    I doubt that the “60 Minutes” PR team is particularly bothered about whether Facebook jumped the gun because 1) to be kind, their regular viewers largely are not FB power users and 2) they’re thrilled to have gotten the ratings bump.

  • HowieSPM

    @DannyBrown don’t tell me Canada uses some sort of Metric Time Measurement. In the US 60 Minutes makes up an Hour and we tend to have our sporting events last for 60 mins. Except Basketball which is 48mins and Baseball which just doesn’t have a time lime. Not sure why because it should. But then I think Air Hockey games last only a few minutes before we have to put in more money into the machine.Usually Quarters but I think now our Quarter only buys 24 cents of Canadian money. Its all very complicated. Did I answer your question Danny?

  • @HowieSPM @DannyBrown This made me laugh out loud. Therefore it should be Comment of the Week.

  • Am I the only person who was wondering why a new Facebook layout was worthy of 60 Minutes in the first place? It’s a new layout, not anything lifechanging.

  • 1) Gini, I agree that Facebook’s rollout-plan was a mess-up. No company is above that.

    2) Turning to 60 Minutes for a “rollout announcement”? Brilliant. Facebook’s user-base is only large because of email-invites and word-of-mouth. I’m willing to bet thousands of older Americans checked out Facebook for the first time on Monday….they invite their friends….wa’la : email-invites and word-of-mouth. My thinking here was proven today; on a call with my dad, he asks : “Hey, have you heard of this thing called Facebook?”

    What social-network do I turn to when the one I’m using isn’t “cool” anymore?

  • @Sushi
    Agreed. Sad that 60mins gives Mark Z more air-time than Bernanke. Hello? Does anybody remember the financial crisis???

  • Elizabeth

    You know, I hadn’t even considered this, perhaps because, like many of us, I didn’t actually turn over to the “new” Facebook until sometime Monday. At this point, it’s all Facebook can do to hope that there were more like me who DID first find out about the changes via 60 Minutes.

    But either way, shame on them for slighting 60 Minutes like that.

  • @HowieSPM Why would a unit of time have a person as their guest (how would that even work?). Perhaps Doc could explain with his Flux Capacitator?

  • “The executives will sit in their offices and claim it’s because the PR professional working with the producers at CBS isn’t doing his or her job correctly.” So true.

    Too often, PR people are the last to receive the credit and the first to get the blame when something doesn’t go entirely according to plan.

  • trontastic

    @Brendon I think you just hit the nail on the head. I’ve been going ’round and ’round in my head as to WHY Facebook would choose this show to make the announcement. I can name a few other ways FB could have hit at the heart of their core audience.

    Fact is, the folks influenced by 60 minutes are still somewhat of a small, but growing, segment of FB users. This was a new-biz move.

    That also sheds interesting light on why they decided to allow the release before the announcement. My guess is that the assessment was done and ye ole PR folks recognized the risk of not being able to go back to that vehicle again as small and dispensable. They know thats not their core audience.

    Question is, would they ever do such a thing to Mashable or any other major media tied to their core?

  • Brendon

    @trontastic Agreed on all counts.

    I’m guessing FB knows a pretty good channel to reach their current users.

    One other thought: let’s not rule out the power of serendipity in this case.

    I’ve managed high-profile media exposures in the past and what sometimes looks like shrewd marketing (or, conversely, dumb PR), can sometimes be chalked up to being at the right place at the right time. Especially in a one-off instance like this story.

  • rustyspeidel

    60 Minutes…sure sign that Facebook has gone mainstream. Let the shark jumping begin!

  • FollowtheLawyer

    I can’t help but lament that they didn’t have Andy Rooney conduct the interview — or at least periodically cut away to him kibitzing in an opera box a la Statler & Waldorf.

    A real Broadcasting Hall of Fame opportunity lost.

  • ginidietrich

    @HowieSPM It could be like the MTV One Hit Wonders! I actually don’t think Facebook is going anywhere. We’re all too massively tied to it. But I really don’t like watching them play PR games.

  • ginidietrich

    @Sushi @HowieSPM @DannyBrown It also made ME laugh out loud!

  • ginidietrich

    @loripop326 Really great insight on who was watching. I’m typically not a 60 Minutes viewer, and I wasn’t watching to see the announcement. But I was super excited to see him interviewed because I was curious if any of his media training has helped (not much).

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • ginidietrich

    @a_greenwood Maybe I was too sensitive to it, but every time Lesley Stahl said, “And we’ll see these changes tomorrow?” I cringed.

  • ginidietrich

    @Brendon @trontastic I hadn’t even considered WHY they did 60 Minutes. I was just excited to see little Mark interviewed. And then, as I watched, was shocked at how many times Stahl mentioned the roll-out coming on Monday…as if it hadn’t already happened. But good point about the tail wagging the dog. Hoogly moogly, as jasonverhoosky would say.

  • ginidietrich

    @FollowtheLawyer “The rest home of American journalism.” LOL!!! But I’d be willing to bet my right arm the CBS producers called the Facebook PR team and said, “WTF?” Because, even though they got the ratings bump, they still got scooped. And that is a HUGE no-no. It makes my stomach hurt thinking about getting that call.

  • ginidietrich

    @JohnnyP @Sushi Bernanke who?! And sad that I didn’t watch him. Just Zuckerberg.

  • ginidietrich

    @JohnnyP Conversations with your dad crack me up! And I have yet to see you on Facebook. Do YOU even know what it is?!? 🙂

  • ginidietrich

    @Elizabeth Shame on them is right!

  • ginidietrich

    @DanielDubya Yet, we have NO control. In the words of my mom, “Life isn’t fair.”

  • ginidietrich

    @FollowtheLawyer You are full of them today! LOVE!!

  • FollowtheLawyer

    @ginidietrich Three alternative hypotheses:

    1) In Facebook’s view, CBS broke the embargo by oversharing in the promos.
    2) Facebook alerted the producers that the new features were going to cut over early, but CBS moved ahead as planned because it was too late to unring the promo bell.
    3) S**t happens in complex systems. From my experience with Dell I know only too well that test pages go live somewhere in the world before they’re supposed to, some enterprising tech blogger or fanboi finds it, and the decision is made to roll.

    Regardless, the responsible thing for Facebook to have done would have been to issue an immediate public acknowledgement/explanation — if not apology — to CBS. That is, of course, unless scenario #1 obtained, in which case Facebook would owe CBS no special consideration.

  • ginidietrich

    @FollowtheLawyer I had a really good fourth alternative and now I can’t remember what it was!

  • Nylons

    Ok I didn’t watch the interview. But I have to believe that this story wasn’t so much about ‘exclusivity’ of the story as much as a sort of mutual validation or endorsement. Facebook clearly used the credibility of 60 Minutes to gain the trust of an aging user base that is terrified every time they change their layout, or terrified of the hype that is the Facebook brand and what they perceive as a general lack of regard for privacy. Let’s be real – Facebook does what it wants when it wants – and we (we meaning the mainstream) FREAK out about how they are violating our privacy and yet, we use it anyway. We essentially give them permission to continue this behavior by continuing to use the service with no real resistance. While the aging boomers and beyond are getting more and more wired, they are also among the real hold-outs for Facebook. They are afraid of Big Brother having unrestricted access to their info. What the Zbag did on 60 Minutes was get the queen of the dustmeisters, Ms Stahl, to quiver in his presence and wax on like a giddy school girl about some lame, and really minor changes to the profile interface. Big deal! But the 60 minutes audience doesn’t know it’s not a big deal! They were sitting there thinking, ‘damn, why hasn’t my daughter, the tech professional told me about this awesome Facebook thing? (damn you, Zbag) and ‘look at how this sweet young man is telling Leslie Stahl all about it. Now, he’s not so bad! It can’t be so bad!’ A brilliant maneuver!

    Meanwhile – 60 Minutes, like so many media outlets, is striving for relevance! Well, gee – what’s more relevant than Facebook?

    Just my 2 cents.

  • rustyspeidel

    Nylons: absolutely brilliant assessment.

  • Nylons

    @rustyspeidel -why thank you!

  • ginidietrich

    @Nylons We’re in total agreement about why 60 Minutes did the show and what both parties got out of the program. And I agree that having Facebook on provides the outlet relevance. What I have a problem with is the PR side of things… what you said, “Facebook does what it wants when it wants.” I guess maybe my ethical lines about my profession are too black and white, but if a media outlet is airing a program and says over and over and over again that the new Facebook changes are rolling out on Monday, don’t roll them out on Sunday. It’s plain old unethical.

  • My apologies, but I have to kindly disagree.

    I understand the idea that Facebook promised for 60 Minutes to have the “first glimpse,” and that in media and journalism, these should be strictly upheld. But I can’t lie – I don’t think that anyone’s PR team spent days trying to clean up the mess of Zuckerberg not waiting long enough. I just don’t think it happened.

    In my opinion, people didn’t watch the interview to see the new pages. We could see them online. We watched to see what Zuckerberg is like in real life, how he reacted to the move The Social Network, etc. Maybe 60 Minutes just assumed that everyone would want to see the new profile pages and overemphasized that aspect of the interview. I bet most people didn’t even notice that they were rolled out before the interview. I just don’t think its that big of a deal.

    Even more so, Facebook makes changes all the time. I don’t think is a brand misrepresentation to not wait for the 60 Minutes interview. They’ve never waited for anyone, so to me, it really isn’t a shocker.

    Regardless, thanks for your insight. Its always great knowing what other industry professionals think.


  • ginidietrich

    @JocelynRimbey I think you’re right that most PR pros didn’t watch the program to see the new pages and I watched for the reasons you list. But Stahl said over and over again that the new layout was being rolled out on Monday, yet we all had the new layout on Sunday. Which leads me to believe they told 60 Minutes they got to announce the layout. Like I said, I’m an armchair QB, but my experience tells me they gave 60 Minutes the bird.

  • DanielleDAli

    @ginidietrich @JocelynRimbey I think what’s more likely is that Facebook is very much in the Facebook bubble, where updates to the interface are as common as coffee breaks, but the folks at 60 Minutes jumped on the updates as an “exclusive” they could really leverage. I could see it being a misunderstanding between an insular, always-changing company and a very traditional media entity. I do think its a great example of how young Facebook is despite their power – I wonder how much experience their PR peeps have with huge media like 60 Minutes.

  • ginidietrich

    @DanielleDAli @JocelynRimbey THAT is a great point! Perhaps I’m giving them all too much credit. 🙂

  • JasonVerhoosky

    @ginidietrich @Brendon @trontastic Hoogly moogly indeed!

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