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Are PRs free to say what they like on social?

We asked PRs about the importance of freedom of speech and being able to speak their true minds in the media. Here they discuss posting frank and honest opinions on social channels.

Be prepared for opposing views

Grace Keeling, co-founder of comms agency Made By Giants: “Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences. Our world will never be a place where everyone can say what they want, when they want to say it, without future implications. It’s an imperfect place. PR professionals know this more than most, given what we do for a living.

“I’d like to hope that all PR people are able to speak truth to power, by questioning, discussing and challenging views - whether that’s on social media, or in other forums like face-to-face meetings and phone calls. But in doing so, they should anticipate disagreement with their own views, because no two people think alike. That’s the inherent power - but also pitfall - of freedom of speech.

“I certainly believe that I have the freedom to choose how I exercise my right to free speech, whether that’s via social media or otherwise.”

It is important to be kind

Richard Knowles, head of PR at independent full-service agency Low&Behold: “I’ve helped global companies set up social channels over the years, and also guide strategy that aligns social media and PR activity with wider marketing objectives.

“The content of all my social channels (*quickly checks) has always been created with a straight bat, so I don’t score any own goals.

“Whilst the debate continues on the rights of what’s been said and done by Gary Lineker recently, it appears that there’s a degree of hypocrisy from all sides.

“We should always have the freedom to express our opinions, but not the right to be offended at anything and everything - the intention of opinions are key here.

“But really it all boils down to this, if you can’t have a healthy, constructive debate with people who think differently to you, then best say nothing at all. After all, shouldn’t we all be being kind?”

Adding humour helps

Sue Cade, independent PR In The Right Order: “In the past I’ve often drafted tweets responding to political or other issues that I have strong feelings about. Then I’ve taken a deep breath and deleted them. I worried that some of my clients might not like the fact that I have a particular political stance or that I have an ‘angry’ side - I’m generally calm and balanced in my work life! But I’ve become a little bolder. I’ve responded to tweets I agree with. I recently interacted with Carol Vorderman who’s become incredibly active calling out injustices. Go Carol! I tweeted about the way I felt students were let down during the pandemic, and in fact, some of my clients were supportive of my opinions. I try not to come across as too militant by injecting a little humour into my tweets. Today I tweeted about the impossibility of getting an appointment at my GP surgery - a bit like trying to get tickets for Glastonbury. My preference is towards positivity so you won’t find me ranting on any platform. There’s enough people doing that already.”

Being authentic is powerful

Ben Veal, founder and director of consultancy Second Mountain Comms secondmountaincomms.co.uk: “For almost the first 15 years of my PR career, I was always hyper-conscious of what I said personally on social channels. I always had in mind the old mantra that ‘loose lips sink ships’, and that’s especially true in today’s world, where reputations can be damaged irreparably and individuals and brands cancelled with one ill-timed or poorly-considered post. I also felt that I should always be demonstrating best practice and a prudent, strategic content approach to my clients through my own social media activity.

“It was only when I turned freelance and formed my own consultancy, that the barriers came down and I felt I could finally, and freely, express myself online. The net result of doing so, and sharing my authentic self and story via my channels, has been a huge uplift in engagement and reach. Whilst as PR professionals our natural inclination is to err on the side of caution and always consider the reputational impact, the reality is that we can also have a powerful voice - and make a real positive influence - if we use our social channels to talk with passion about the causes that matter most to us.”

Don’t be afraid of trolls

Sarah Lloyd, founder of agency IndigoSoulPR: “A few months back I shared two very differing mainstream media pieces of coverage about the same story online; I had a personal opinion on the story and felt I needed to show the two sides to my followers on Twitter. The story itself doesn’t really matter all that much, only that I wanted to highlight how the same story can be taken in two very different directions, and that cancel culture is a very real thing.

“Being discerning and open to the possibility that our opinions can change dependent on the information we consume, to stay curious, was the message I was trying to convey. It resulted in a bunch of trolls who didn’t read quite understand what I meant, choosing to attack me with their beliefs and narrative; but also go looking at my profile and accuse me of being a ‘cult’ leader. It was water off a ducks back for me because I stand by what I posted.

“I think being a PR it is our job to be sceptical and curious and be open to different narratives; that said I would always counsel, thinking twice before sharing something that could dent your brand reputation.”

Next week, we discuss freedom of speech in PR further and explore how PRs should advise employees and their clients about sharing on social.

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