A few words of caution may be in order for those who are currently entering the job market, or who have just begun their career journey. Virtually every conference, message and discussion currently seems to center around the impact and importance of “Social Media” to the practise and profession of public relations. In a recent conversation with Dr. Larry Long at Illinois State University concerning that topic, he remarked that “it no great surprise, because public relations has always been based in social science and when you combine that with the importance of the changing media landscape, calling it “social media” makes a great deal of sense.”
The reality may be that we are now and must for the foreseeable future combine both, with clear understanding that our historic strategic approach to public relations, based on research, applied social science and experience has simply added a new tactical tool – electronic and digital “social” media, which can, possibly, make us even more effective. It doesn’t change the fact that PR has always been about creating and maintaining relationships with those important to the establishment of and the continuing support of an organization’s or individual’s reputation and brand.
Today’s addiction to 24-7 immediate access and constant connectedness, not just at work, but in social interaction and even on vacation is, however, reportedly affecting the ability of both communicators and information consumers to make effective decisions due to information overload and the frenetic pace of its delivery.
Some companies and organizations, are reported to be so concerned with reduced productivity and the increasing inability of employee’s to focus on the tasks at hand as the result of constant interruptions of Social Media, they are attempting to restrict access to the Internet to specific periods during the day and for only organizationally specific purposes. While a valiant effort, it may prove to be like trying to put the lid back on Pandora’s Box.
Historically, reporters, editors and broadcasters in traditional media were assumed by most to have the education, ability and experience to fulfill the responsibilities of the fairness, objectivity and accuracy of their communications. Through attrition and downsizing what’s left of those media seem to have lost, misplaced or perhaps abdicated their reputed role as the arbiters of thought, fact, ethics and news.
To fill that vacuum, we seemingly now face a media environment increasingly filled with a hodgepodge of virtually anyone with Internet access who believe themselves entitled to provide not only the “news” but their opinion to go with it. These self-appointed purveyors of information seem convinced that everyone within the reach of their “voice” cannot live without knowing what they had for breakfast, where they last “checked in” and what they think, believe and wish for the world.
Combine this with the blurring lines between professional and personal sharing of information and the tendency to combine social media platforms, we’re witnessing a media atmosphere tailor-made for wreaking havoc on either professional or personal reputations…and sometimes both.
There have been numerous recent instances of inappropriate “posts” costing the jobs and reputations of those in government, politics, entertainment and international relations. Most instances seemed to be the result of immediate communication at times of high emotional turmoil. A few, however, seemed to occur due to individuals forgetting that “friending” someone on Social Media does NOT make them your friend.
This leads to two new suggested foundation rules.
- Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut and your finger off the send button when you are upset, emotional, and not in full control of your faculties or thought processes. This is especially important for those just beginning their careers. Words, thoughts, deeds and opinions cannot be retrieved once said, written, blogged and sent.
- Never write, send or copy others with words or pictures that you don’t want the whole world to see…forever. Once in the ether-net, always in the ether-net.
The newly minted mantra that Social Media “demands” immediate response is only true if we allow it to be. In fact Social Media’s credibility is contingent upon people believing in the trustworthiness of the information provided and for that, the race goes not always to the fleetest.
To build that trust, we have a responsibility to master the Social Media tools and marry them to the foundation of ethics, information and truth that have built the reputation of our profession.
We must, before we push the send button:
- Understand the immediate situation confronting the organization or individual and the parameters of that situation.
- Draft messages points, in simple, straightforward language, which explain the reality of the events and information concerning the situation that is understood and known to be true.
- Review the statements and responses through at least two additional sets of eyes to assure that messages are free of error, factual, not defensive and crafted to attain the trust and supportive response of the reader or listener.
- Take three deep breaths, check everything again, and then press the send button.
While these seem like simple steps, they seem to be too often neglected in the rush to “do it right now”. There is often wisdom in the words….”make haste slowly.”
Michael L. Herman, APR, SAGE, Fellow PRSA is chief executive officer of Communication Sciences (CSI) a business and communication consultancy based in Raleigh, NC.