“I tend to keep [social media interactions] open and neutral.… As I represent a global brand it is vitally important that I ‘keep my nose clean’ at all times.” David Graham, Deloitte South Africa
I first “met” David Graham in a Twitter chat; I think perhaps it was the Harvard Business Review’s #hbrchat. His positive and friendly manner impressed me, plus his focus on Deloitte’s goals and objectives in the right “fly zone” (per last month’s Profile Byte).
His Twitter bio could be a template for best practices in social business:
Digital Channels Exec at Deloitte SA responsible for connecting and initiating dialogue between Deloitte subject-matter specialists and business decision makers.
It is clear “brand champion” David Graham understands he’s practising PR2.0 in a competitive, regulated industry and sector. I’m sure Deloitte’s global C-suite is happy with its digital channels executive, who demonstrates Goldilocks character and personality—plus decorum—in “just right” amounts.
In a Google+ discussion, David indicated,
“I use Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ [for business]. I find levels vary, depending on the subject matter and audience you choose to share it with or seed a discussion.
I focus primarily on LinkedIn to enter into online dialogue with our target market and clients (i.e., business decision-makers), and Twitter and Google+ for sharing information with the media, having social-media-related conversations with many of the social influencers I have met, and general local and global eminence building.”
As social business revolves around human interactions, the right hiring decisions for brand representatives (in-house, agency or consultant) are vital. History demonstrates footprints of individuals may have more impact than the corporations that employ them—digital is no different. If anything, it enhances this PR2.0 reality as there are a lot more non-erasable digital footprints that have reputation influence originating from a single enterprise.
Is the digital energy and reputational footprint you leave travelling around the interwebs decorous?
In our G+ discussion about the “tone” around various social media sites, gracious American PR consultant, Karen Swim weighed in:
“What an interesting discussion and I wholeheartedly agree each network has a distinctive vibe. I believe initially it was the early users/network developers that set the tone….in the early days of Twitter no one had thousands of followers. We all interacted with everyone daily and it was like an underground network. It was chit chat about the mundane and we were taking our lead from the founders. By contrast, G+ was initially unveiled to big brands, savvy about social media marketing. Right out of the box the ‘instructions’ seemed to favor a business, neutral approach.
As for Switzerland, the strategy has worked for me. I try to remain open, inviting both sides to engage respectfully. I have opinions and share them but always with respect. It’s not worth it to get into a virtual shouting match that burns a bridge you may one day need to cross.”
I asked Neal Schaffer about his personal motto and sense of decorum:
“’You are what you tweet.’ If you only post the negative, you will lose your following.
Not to say that you have to be positive all of the time, but if social media is about the convergence of information and communication, I try to keep the communication as close to 100 percent positive as possible, while maybe having information at 90 percent positive and 10 percent negative—but the negative is mainly curated content that is shared for the purpose of education.”
The HR/Facebook imbroglio and other digital footprints
North American media broke the news that some companies were demanding Facebook usernames and passwords from candidates during job interviews. Although shocking regarding privacy issues, perhaps it’s not that surprising. It’s indicative of corporations recognizing the impact of social media in terms of mitigation of risks and resources when it comes to new hires (i.e., a proactive PR2.0 strategy).
Probably various legislation will curtail this practice. On the other hand, if conducting reconnaissance to root out indecorous behaviours, HR has public options to explore via Internet search engines and alerts.
Besides (public) Facebook updates/Likes/photo tags, digital footprints emanate from:
- LinkedIn public account updates and/or Group discussions
- tweets—general updates and Twitter chat participation
- authored blog posts and website articles
- comments on blogs, including Likes given to comments by others
- Google+ posts and shares, including +1s
- Google+ comments, including +1s given to comments by others
- YouTube videos and/or comments
- comments on media sites
- Pinterest “pin” choices and comments
Blog post comments, Facebook Likes and Google+ posts/comments +1s, demonstrate a person’s point of view and behaviour. Much can be gleaned through these secondary digital footprints.
Most digital footprints of social business representatives are innocuous, but others indicate when individuals express—or demonstrate approval of—negative opinions (i.e., a bullying or pile-on aspect) towards organizations or individuals. This is particularly true when commentary exists in in a “filter bubble” of “opinionating.” To paraphrase Neal Schaffer, not only are you what you tweet, but what you blog, comment, Like or +1.
I’m dismayed by the mean-spirited thoughts and indecorous behaviours some PR practitioners, marketers, book authors, etc., exhibit in their digital footprints. A few times I’ve been at the receiving end, either directly or by obvious insinuation. I remember every single incident as well as the names of the perpetrators. I’ve quietly shared a few with people in positions of authority when asked about vendors, startups or consultant recommendations.
I queried Neal Schaffer: “Is your opinion of a social business impacted if you see an employee or consultant expressing negative sentiments against other organizations or individuals? Would it give you pause about affiliating with them in future?” He responded: “Yes. Organizations need to always be positive with the public and never burn bridges. Period. When public complaints need to be made, they should be neutral, rational, and objective in tone—not negative.”
“Being controversial often generates attention, but unless it’s an emperor-has-no-clothes situation it’s not very lasting.
I actually think there are plenty of positive blogs, but the negative viewpoints get more than their fair share of attention (which is what leads some to engage in that as a practice). Let me note that some of the negative commentary is designed to attract links for SEO.
Overall, I think most clients want to work with positive people. They’re human beings first, after all. Some people are cranky for cranky’s sake—it may result in book deals, but probably not a lot of clients.”
Eight months of reflection
An extract from a July 2011 interview with Arthur Yann, vice-president of PRSA: “As public relations professionals, we’ve come to realize (sadly) that the speed, tenor and stridency of social media communications have come to count more than depth, balance, facts and expertise.”
As David Rickey wrote in Embracing Change: Reactions to the New Definition of Public Relations: “Sure, there are some who criticize. That’s fine. In fact, we expected a diversity of opinion, regarding the initiative itself and its outcome. Or, as Stuart Elliot wryly put it in his New York Times column announcing the new definition, there was no “small amount of sniping, snide commentary and second-guessing.”
Would you want your blog post or comment identified by a New York Times journalist in this manner?
Contacting Arthur Yann for current thoughts on the civility—or not—of online discourse (and its potential impact on business reputation), this decorous response was received:
“I think it was Byron who said, ‘Believe in all that’s false before you trust in critics.’ Although it’s likely he was commenting on the cultural critics of his day, the same sentiment rings true in business—bricks-and-mortar or digital.
I’ve always been taught never to criticize my competition. Not only does such negativity reflect poorly on the critic and his or her credibility, it’s a lost opportunity to talk about yourself and what differentiates you. On the surface, seeing such criticism might not immediately impact my opinion of a business, but it most certainly would impact my opinion of the source, assuming you can separate the two.”
Are there any exceptions? Once again I sought out Neal Schaffer’s opinion:
“I really try to avoid negativity in social media, but there have been a few times I have done so.
When analyzing when and why I do this, I would say they are either for:
1. Educational purposes.
2. When I get a feeling that I have exhausted all other available channels and it is my last option.
Consumers feel empowered by social media and I am no different. However, when said organization tries to amend the situation through the same social media, I try to go out of my way to congratulate them on their effort through the same social channels.”
CommPRO.biz-style decorum and PR2.0
Despite the profile and possibilities offered by PR2.0 channels, most social businesses and their PR and marketing reps still aspire for third-party endorsement in traditional media.
I was an early subscriber when Brian Pittman and his partners (Fay Shapiro, Todd Fabacher and Bruce Merchant) introduced the online commPRO.biz publication—mainly because I’ve found Brian to be a positive and encouraging editor with whom to cultivate a relationship. (Supportive of PR Conversations for years, he now regularly includes posts from Windmill Networking into the daily Top Blogs selection.)
As CommPRO.biz “feels” like a positive and decorous industry publication, I asked Brian if this involved deliberate editorial choices. He responded,
“I tend to focus on what’s timely, trending and tips-worthy. I am a service journalist at heart and want to spotlight both what’s new (i.e., news, whether negative or positive) and what’s working (i.e., tips, techniques, tools and best practices others can use to improve their businesses and integrated marketing, communications, PR, etc.).
One of the better ways to spotlight best practices is to seek out positive—or better, instructive—stories, because they spotlight what’s working as opposed to what’s not working. That said, crisis communications-related stories will often, almost always in fact, come across as being positioned negatively—and CommPRO.biz does run quite a few crisis PR/communications-related items.
Beyond that, I believe that if a story isn’t hard-news oriented, there are generally two ways to position it for readers:
One is highlighting the opportunity or benefit they will receive by reading it (that’s a positive angle/lead/slant). I prefer this to leveraging—as many in advertising or old-school direct marketing copy writing do—the “fear and greed” hook/angle/approach.”
And that appears to be an equally great PR2.0 mantra to adopt as an ending to this Decorum Byte.