Does PR have a role to play in social media?
Sorry, was that a chorus of PR agencies and professionals I heard screaming in unison “Duh, of course it does!”?
Well, people, you might be right. But - more often than not - it’s good to stop and think.
That’s what I was asking a group of nominated company spokespeople to do during media training this week. For while engaging with the media is an opportunity, it’s also a risk. And whether you’re a CEO, engineer or on the shop floor, opening your mouth on the company’s behalf means you are entering new territory; you’re now in the business of public relations and reputation management.
Which is why media training shouldn’t be about soundbites or spin, but taking a carefully considered and methodical approach to the impact of what you say in a public domain.
Which brings us neatly back to social media.
Blogging technology has torn down the barriers to publishing and this is a good thing for both PR agencies and their clients, so long beholden to the media’s permission for their story to be heard. The turnout at a CIPR social media learning event in Preston last night suggests there’s an insatiable appetite for PR consultants to get involved in the brave new(ish) world online.
But as anyone who’s been through journalistic training will tell you, the privilege of publishing also comes with a high degree of responsibility. Get it wrong and you could end up in court facing the full force of the law. British defamation law may leave something to be desired, but for now it remains the law. Which is why the checks and balances of an editorial hierarchy are essential.
PR agencies and their clients are neither professional publishers nor editors. And yet the button marked “publish” on the blogging software enables them to be so. Which takes us back to “stop and think”.
One of the lazy, get-out clauses of making an editorial mistake in the bygone days of print-only publishing was that today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper. But this is not so online. Not only does your online content or comment not end up wrapping fast food, it is potentially one click away from Google’s homepage.
Knowing how to respond in the event of a client’s potential reputation meltdown should be the meat and drink for PR practitioners. But even better is working to ensure it doesn’t happen at all.
That’s why the passion to publish online needs, sometimes, to take a cold shower first.