Nice concept, Phorm, pity about the execution


An organization often in the news here in the UK is Phorm, the US-registered company behind some controversial experiments to measure people’s behaviours when they’re online through behavioural targeting.

The latest move by Phorm in an escalating battle to win over opinions is an interesting one – set up a website with a catchy name where you can explain your position on all the issues you want.

This lets you directly address your critics and what you see as misleading, even incorrect, commentary and opinion elsewhere about you and what you do, on your own terms: you’re in charge, in control of the venue, as it were, and able to offer written content that’s discoverable, linkable and shareable, embracing many of the social aspects of online communication methods today to give your content some good chances of it being shared and, thus, talked about.

I like the concept of what Phorm is doing. It reminds me of what General Motors is doing in the US and what their subsidiaries Opel and Vauxhall are doing in Europe with websites that enable the automaker to directly address myths  and falsehoods about their companies, business and brands through credible content and connections to where conversations about that content can take place online. Indeed, conversations are encouraged.

The trouble is, Phorm’s execution of the idea doesn’t look very good at all. To start with, the site is a launchpad for some eyebrow-raising personal attacks on their critics. How not to win friends and influence people.

There’s also the growing controversy over allegations of government and Phorm collusion, not to mention disquiet about government plans for monitoring what everyone does online, whatever they do.

But even in such a general climate of mistrust, maybe it’s mostly about a huge piece of the jigsaw that’s missing – connections to conversation places where you can engage with others and voice your opinion. I don’t see that on their ‘Stop Phoul Play’ site. Phorm does have a blog but little or no conversation takes place there (indeed, it looks like commenting there is disabled).

Instead, conversation takes place almost anywhere else – and Phorm’s not an active participant in so many different places.

Earlier, I recorded an Audioboo with some initial thoughts about Phorm’s new website and what they might be trying to do with it.


What do you think of Phorm’s move? A good move to focus their story, or simply a poorly-executed PR tactic?

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. SomeRandomNerd

    It was quite clear at their last town hall meeting that they aimed to paint a picture of their detractors as a small bunch of people with personal vendettas, hiding behind online screen names.

    The impression I got from the Q&A session afterwards was that there was still a lot of mistrust about the privacy issue, the opt in/opt out question.

    This looks like an emotional reaction- and not a clever one. By “naming and shaming” their critics in this way, Phorm have completely lost any moral high ground that they might have had. It also raises some uncomfortable questions- I’ve voiced my own concerns about Phorm on my own blog. Should I expect to see my name on their new smear site any time soon? (I guess my username undermines their tactic of putting pithy taglines against “the enemy.”)

    It certainly doesn’t sit too well with their “we’re all about user privacy” brand position, does it?

    The bigger question is how an advertiser would feel about their brand being associated with Phorm- not just because of the privacy issues that their tracking technology raises, but because they would then by extension be associated with this public smear

  2. Atul Chatterjee

    What I find disturbing about Phorm is your indication that there is collusion with governments.
    As and aside, I have yet to see a single site which tracks the voting taking place across the web. That would be interesting to everyone in marketing research.

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