Daney Parker, Editor, PRmoment.com
Last week, we discussed the importance of freedom of speech and whether PRs can speak their minds on social channels. This week, we explore how PRs should advise employees and clients about what they post.
Don’t communicate for its own sake
Tim Toulmin, director of crisis PR agency Alder: “It would be a very odd thing for someone working in communications to broadcast their opinions widely without thinking about how their personal and professional stakeholders might react. Frankly, it would be totally contrary to the advice they give their own clients.
“As crisis specialists, the team at Alder follow the advice we give: assume everything is in the public domain and think carefully about what you're trying to achieve when communicating, rather than communicating for its own sake. This doesn't mean we're 'gagging' anyone - there is so much noise out there already, and we rather enjoy not feeling the pressure to be constantly entering every discourse.
“As for clients' own social media activity, it is not just prudent but essential to flag any risks arising from what senior figures, spokespeople or higher-profile individuals are saying.”
Remember who pays the bills
Rhiannon Evans, crisis account director at marketing agency tigerbond: “You need to remember who pays the bills. That means having an awareness that a contentious comment could have commercial implications.
“Clients might legitimately enquire about shared values, triggering difficult conversations. In an advisory role, advice needs to be balanced, reasoned and practical - having strongly held personal views indistinguishable from your professional life can be a red flag to prospective clients.
It’s also important to be mindful of your internal audience. It’s highly unlikely that colleagues will share the same views on all topics, but if you wouldn’t say something in person, is it really sensible to express it publicly?
“The hotter the topic, the greater the potential for people to take notice. That’s not restricting free speech, that’s making the best choice for yourself about where and how to express your opinions.”
Put a social media policy in place
Alena Dalskaya-Latosiewicz, co-founder of PRaxis Agency: “For PR people, communication is no longer as “Sender” -> “Receiver”. The key moment in communication is not what you say and even not what other people hear - it is how they interpret your message.
“Social media policy is an effective tool of communication management in companies and organisations which saves them reputation and a lot of money. Yet what worries me more is how social media control what people share - this is the real threat for freedom of the information. Example: I guess every Ukrainian or the person who shares the content with the autocracies of Russians in Ukraine during the war were banned. This is the real problem which is definitely worth to be discussed wider.”
Emotional outbursts are inappropriate
Laura Perkes is the founder of PR with Perkes: and the author How To Get PR: “Working in PR teaches us key skills in how to communicate effectively in a way that resonates with those we’re communicating with and how, in line with the values and beliefs of the brands we’re representing internally and externally.
“As a founder of my own business, I’ve probably got more freedom than someone working in-house, as the buck stops with me, therefore anything I say will directly impact my reputation, as well as how I’m viewed by those I’m working with. The majority of my clients are female entrepreneurs who hold similar beliefs to me and are working to rewrite the narrative and disrupt societal conditioning, therefore any divisive opinions that I have, are echoed in the beliefs of my clients and actively encouraged.
“However, if you’re an employee, or contracted to represent a brand, then I do believe that you should bear their values and beliefs in mind so as not to go against their rules of engagement and run the risk of negatively impacting their reputation and relationship with their customers, clients and stakeholders.
“I don’t believe that anyone should be able to say what they want, when they want, without considering the repercussions first. Emotional outbursts, whilst valid, don’t always feed into the growth of any brand or organisation, therefore any issues should be dealt with privately, regardless of how incensed you may be.”
Avoid politics and religion
Phil Szomszor co-founder and partner at digital agency Brightside: “Back in the day, I was an avid Twitter user. Once I got pulled up by my boss after a client had complained about what I’d tweeted. Not critical of them or even what they did, but tangentially related. Felt like I was under the spotlight from then on. On the plus side it made me more careful, but it felt stifling.
“Some would say PR people should stay completely in the background, but I disagree. Guidelines and training need to be in place, but if we aren’t users of the tools we advocate, it’s harder to advise. Plus if you’re agency-side, it’s invaluable to win business.
“Personally, I try to avoid politics or religion. You’re going to upset about 50% of your audience at some point. But that seems to be less clear, as topics such as sustainability and equality have been weaponised in the culture wars.”
If in doubt, don’t post
Vicky Stoakes, communications director at brand design PR specialist Red Setter: “Questions around the blur between the use of business and personal in social networks often crop up. But there’s no longer a line. It’s a naïve understanding of how social now works. I was recently asked by a colleague for guidance on what not to post, but believe as an agency it’s not our role to dictate this. If in doubt, don’t post.
“PR people are generally great purveyors of common sense. When you understand that you can’t separate work life from social life and that you will attract followers from both, there’s definitely an automatic filter applied. That’s not such a bad thing. In the early days of social media use, we’ve all had our failures (personally and for clients!). But rather than fearing your words, just behave and be yourself. Because it’s the personal stuff that people really do care about and make you unique.”
Talking of personal stuff, I’m off to post some pics of my cats. When in doubt, post a video of a cat or dog - that’s always a crowd pleaser!
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