The Importance of Keeping Your Story Straight

When developing any content related to your business keeping your story straight is an important principle to keep in mind that helps to develop and maintain good relationships with your clients and prospects.

The recent news story about FaceBook’s change to their terms of service is good example of how not following this business communication principle can lead to a lot of ill-will with your customers and create a lot of bad PR
In early February of 2009 FaceBook updated it’s terms of service to include the following:

"You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service . . . "

I am not an IP attorney, however, it is an arguable interpretation of that excerpt that FaceBook owns any and all content that you post to your account and can do whatever they want to with it.  This caused a veritable uproar among the FaceBook user base as well as many privacy and intellectual property rights groups.  On Monday, February 16, 2009 FaceBook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted the following to his blog:

"Our philosophy is that people own their information and control who they share it with. When a person shares information on Facebook, they first need to grant Facebook a license to use that information so that we can show it to the other people they’ve asked us to share it with. Without this license, we couldn’t help people share that information."

This only fueled the controversy as it was clear to pretty much anyone who read the two documents that they just didn’t match up.  You cannot update your TOS to say one thing and then post to your blog that your corporate philosophy is another without begging to raise the ire of your customers/user base.  In this case they are clearly saying one thing and doing another and in the process degrading their credibility.  It is one thing to contradict your competitors, other organizations, or the media, but very bad to contradict yourself.  Your customers and prospects will now look at everything you say with skepticism and it will take a long time to regain their trust.

Now, that’s not to say that FaceBook shouldn’t have changed it’s TOS, or that at some point, you shouldn’t change company policies and practices that are determined important to its ongoing business strategy.  The important part is to stay on message and not to contradict yourself.  Be honest with your customers and prospects and then, even if you do things that they don’t like, you don’t make the problem worse by then ruining your credibility and losing their trust.

FaceBook has since back-peddled and re-instated the old version of its TOS.  Unfortunately, because they did not keep their story straight, not only did they upset people with the initial change to the TOS, but they have also strained their user base’s trust.

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