Do It Right. . .Before Pushing the SEND Button

Guest post by Michael L. Herman, APR

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. 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.             


18 thoughts on “Do It Right. . .Before Pushing the SEND Button

  1. I agree with your opinion on the swift emotional responses in social media by professionals that end up being costly. I also think it is interesting how you have made this topic sound so simple but even as I read through the bullet points I can recall times that I have done the same regrettable things. Do you think that Public Relations might go into hiring teams of people with the sole task of managing the social media for a client? Is this avenue of PR something that you think will stay around as a staple or will fade away like many other fads that become obsolete?

    1. Kyle: Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you were able to take away some positive points from my thoughts. Many of the agencies with which I work now are already putting together “Social Media” teams to create, handle and manage social media activities and message delivery mechanisms for client. The smart ones realize that these teams do not exist in a vacuum. SM is simply an additional tactic that can be used in addition to the other strategies and tactics already in place for their clients. I’m not sure how long it will be relevant, but for the foreseeable future it’s an exciting area…especially for young practitioners just beginning to build their careers. I will be replaced eventually but whatever happens after what comes next. Thanks again for your interest.

  2. In this post you mentioned how social media creates the need for immediate response. You also said that this immediate response may not need to be so immediate. As a PR Professsional when do you reccommend that we essentially “turn off” our immediate response? I have recently dealt with this problem on a personal level, I always feel it necessary to be the first to reply to something or respond to an e-mail from my internship, co-worker, etc. at all hours of the night. When do you draw that line between business time and personal time? This concept is very hard for me to grasp due to the fact that I not only use social media at work, but in my personal life as well.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. I’m not advocating that we “turn off” our response mechanism, just that we make sure that we take some time to review the environment in which we are responding and make sure that we have considered how those words may be received and understood. It’s rather like being “first” to jump off a cliff. Perhaps with a few moments of reflection, a few moments of discussion, and even perhaps a few words of advice from a non-involved mentor or friend, you may find that there are easier ways down the cliff…..or even come to the inclusion that you’d rather go home and read a good book. Whether business or personal being first is not always being best.

  3. I found your article very interesting to read. It is fascinating to see the impact social media has on the world we live in; both for the good and bad. Before social media, words could be exchanged and forgotten. Now, in the social media world, just like you stated, when words are posted to the ether-net, they are there forever. I was very happy to read your second to last paragraph about how we as future professionals must tie the foundation of ethics to our use of social media. Your tips on what to think about before pressing the send button seem so simple, yet so important to upholding not only our values professionally, but in our personal lives as well. Thank you so much for sharing your tips and knowledge for present and future Public Relations Professionals.

    1. I’m pleased that you found my thoughts worth considering. With regard to ethics, I think you will find that who you are is reflected in how you do what you do. Remember to value people and use things…the opposite will not serve you well.

  4. The idea of not allowing social media to control the way you think is a really poignant and important one these days. Too many people seem to buy whole-heartedly into the notion “that Social Media ‘demands’ immediate response.” When it is only true when you allow it to be. All to often people do exactly what this article warns about and they respond instantly to something while they are still in the heat of a moment. Another salient idea put forward here is that some people today do seem to think that a newly friended person on Facebook is equivalent to someone you have know since you were six. While it is likely that the people who make the mistake of telling people that do not know too much information would do it regardless of medium; Social Media only magnifies this problem because of the ramifications. Overall this article is right on target with its message of thinking before you say anything especially on the internet where once posted it never goes away and its tips to take a step back, draft a message, have several sets of eyes check the message and then send.

  5. I found this article very interesting. Social Media has changed the way people live. I think that it’s just going to keep changing and progressing. I am part of a school sponsored organization that has rules for what we can have posted on our Social Media sites. Many things that other people share I would get in trouble for having on my page. I am thankful for these rules that I have had to adhere to since I joined the Social Media network. This will benefit me in the future when potential employers are looking to hire me. Thank you for these steps I will definitely put them to use.

  6. I found this article really interesting. You said some companies are attempting to restrict access to the Internet to specific periods during the day and for only organizationally specific purposes. Do you think that will help employees stay on task or just make it harder for them to want to be there? Also I liked how you gave bulletpoints on what we must do before we hit the send button. I see so often people not review what they are writing and hit send and then its out for everyone to see. Overall I think this article is really helpful to those people who just write something without thinking about it. Once it is out on the internet, it is out for the wold to see. Social media is now and I think people really need to understand the impact it can make.

  7. “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 great advice for any professional in today’s world. Almost everyone has a social media account, and many treat their pages as personal journals. I think it is important to vent sometimes, but doing so on social media can be very damaging to your reputation.
    In ancient times, writing for pleasure was viewed as frivolous. Only the wealthy could narrate their lives, because they had more free time and more leisure events to document. Now everyone is documenting everything.
    Such open disclosure can make someone look like a narcissistic and emotional loose cannon. This is not impressive to potential employers. I will definitely keep these things in mind.

    Thanks for a great article.

  8. I believe what you have just shared with your readers is one of the most important things for students (of any discipline) to realize. All too often I see fellow students, and even young professionals, writing lurid comments and posting inappropriate pictures that may have a detrimental effect on their ability to get the job they want later in life. As you said, “once on the ether-net, always on the ether-net”; a lot of people don’t realize that pushing the “delete” button doesn’t do much more than hide the fact that what you have sent to the internet is still on your webpage; the offending post is permanently latched to the web. The other thing many people don’t realize: how heavy of an impact just ONE wrong post can have on your future.

    Here is an article I would like to share about a student’s seemingly harmless mistake back in 2007, that is infamous among Pennsylvania’s Millersville University students; past, present and future. Basically what happened was this; a female student was set to graduate in the Spring of ’07, but was denied her teaching degree due to a photograph university officials found on her Myspace page. In the picture was the student, wearing a pirate costume and holding a drink. She was 21 at the time, but the picture was considered “unprofessional.” She ended up suing Millersville University.
    (Read the whole article here: )

    I would love for every student and recent graduate I know to read what you have written and UNDERSTAND that they have to consider, revise and edit everything they send to social media networking sites. If you wouldn’t email your boss an off-color joke, or drunken photo of yourself, why would you post it on the internet where they can — and will– find it? Thank you for this article, Mr. Herman. I will be sharing this with my peers and colleagues.

  9. I think this article hit on a lot of very important topics. These things should all be common sense to anyone using the internet, although many people seem to forget that once something is on the web it is there forever. Something that you touched on was the emotional part of emails. I think that it is important that you are aware of the opposite effect of emotions. Sometimes it is hard to tell what emotion a person is trying to express when you are just reading a message. On the other hand it is important that when composing an email that you use the correct words in an email to make sure that your coming across in the right way. Even if you are not trying to sound rude or mad, the words you use could imply it.

  10. “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 an outstanding piece of advice for not only younger professionals but for every individual in their daily life. Too often people don’t realize that the words they say have immediate consequences and can not be taken back. Although this truth is something we are taught from a young age, “words can hurt” our culture has become so emotionally driven that more often than not rational thinking is left out of decision making. I really appreciated you mentioning it was necessary to take three breaths before hitting the send button. This point is not only valid but aids in healthy daily communication methods. It is important for all students and professionals to remain in control while dealing with a crisis situation or an emotionally driven conversation. Thank you for sharing your wise words and helpful hints with us.

  11. This article is very profound. Although it is simply stating that one should proof read their work, it is profound in that this seems to be a lost art. With social media continually increasing its reach, people seem to post anything and everything that is on their mind and while the unfiltered information can sometimes be a good thing as people bare their souls, in reality most people do not understand the repercussions of posting whatever is on their mind at the moment. Perhaps it is because many people view the remove button on facebook as a time machine and believe that the information in the post gets deleted after they hit that “x.” The truth, however, is that the information is forever posted once they hit the send button and anything with the proper skills and training can see anything you have ever posted on a social media cite, including anything deleted after the fact. It is for this reason that I thoroughly enjoyed this article. After all, in today’s fast past world of immediacy, it is often asking too much for people to check their facts and to ensure that the information they posted was factual. Even media members once credited with being the carriers of accurate information are nowadays becoming sloppy in the race to be first out with the information. However, this trend is not necessarily a good one and I am probably one of the few people who believe that in this fast past world the truth and accuracy are everything. I would rather have something posted last and be correct than first and completely inaccurate. This is something we should all think about before hitting the send button. We could all benefit from a little bit of patience and a lot of proof reading. Again, great article Mr. Herman thanks for sharing you experience and knowledge with us.

  12. Thanks for a very helpful article! In a perfect world, everyone – not just PR professionals – would heed your indispensable advice. But here on Earth, we are only human. Emotions often reign, we err in judgment and mistakes happen. What advice can you offer to someone who has already hit that irreversible SEND button?

    1. When I was growing up in Oklahoma I once tried to ride a horse that hadn’t been trained to allow that. We were great friends, that horse and I, but I made the mistake of thinking that would allow me to do what I wanted without consulting him. I made it to his back, he didn’t buck, just took off about 100 miles an hour straight for a fence. Needless to say getting off left me with a few scars, a lot more insight and a goodly portion of pain for a time. It didn’t stop me from riding, just made me a little more careful in my judgments regarding when and when not to do it. ;o)

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