I admit to being a woman of strong opinions, and not knowing much about a subject has never been reason to hold me back from having one. But when it comes to the topic of authenticity in social media, I don’t have a strong opinion because I see two valid sides of the argument. I would really like to hear your thoughts to help me shape my own.
Here’s the situation.
Social media, in my view, works best when what you say is authentic and real. When it’s about sharing information and conversation. Works worst when it’s being used as a one-way tool for broadcasting and has no intention of engaging.
Authenticity requires a person to be who they are. Establish themselves in a real way. So if you met them in person, you wouldn’t be all that surprised.
As a PR professional working in a global company, it can be challenging to be authentic all the time. In some cases, it’s not appropriate to comment on a product of a client’s competitor — whether you really like it or you don’t. And, goes without saying, really never appropriate to make a negative comment about a client’s product.
But with offices around the globe, it’s not always easy to know who all the clients are. And we don’t yet know who all our clients will be in the future, so it might mean if you’re in PR, you’re ability to speak authentically in social media is severely curtailed.
The recent case of the PR firm that was supporting Chrysler’s Made in Detroit campaign, (which by the way is one of my favourites this year so have a watch), in which an errant tweet by a staffer got him fired and then resulted in the termination of the PR company’s contract, is a perfect example of where it’s really not easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
Many of us leading businesses encourage our staff to take risks and think big. But this only works if the downside of making a mistake or showing poor judgement, and I’m not speaking of malicious intentions, is that the penalty doesn’t involve termination. Because if it does, why would anyone want to take any risks? Wouldn’t it be far easier to keep completely silent and then how would we offer good advice about social media to our clients.
If I put a client’s hat on, I certainly get why they wouldn’t want to pay for a company’s services if individuals in that company are trashing them in social media, or more benignly, lauding their competition. Point taken.
So herein lies the dilemma. How can you be authentic if there are numerous topics that are out of bounds? What are the risks we take by sharing our opinions, knowing that sooner or later, someone inevitably will be offended by them.
And what advice and information do we provide the PR people who work for us, and want to be active in social media on their own time. In the age of social media, is their personal time really their own?
Would love to hear your thoughts, so I can better reflect on my own.