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Social Media’s all the rage. But is it keeping you from what you’re supposed to be doing?

We know this new technology isn’t the end-all-be-all of the PR/Advertising world, but it is significant. So much so, that some companies are hiring SM specialists to focus solely in this realm. But where does that leave the rest of us? Should we ignore our Twitter and Facebook feeds during the day? Is it wrong to read or <gasp> write a blog post between the hours of 9 and 5?

Is it wrong to use SM on company time?

chris prompt

CHRIS:

If you’re in PR, you’re responsible for your company or client’s reputation. This means knowing what people are saying about you and your brand. SM is a great place to start, especially if you operate in the consumer market. And while most PR/Marketing Communication agencies now have full-time staffers devoted to SM “listening,” many companies still avoid the SM playground for various reasons.

But why? Don’t they understand the value of monitoring sites like Twitter and Facebook? Can’t they see the value in the early warning systems of Google Alerts, or the ROI a company can gain from engaging in industry specific forums and wikis? In my eyes, it’s the role of the PR professional to be aware of these opportunities and train employees on how to take advantage of them. Social Media is about engaging with external audiences, and in my eyes, that’s the essence of public relations.

amandafaceAMANDA:

I’m not here to argue that any communications professional should ignore social media – that would just be irresponsible. Like Motrin learned from the mommy bloggers, social media is just as important as any traditional communication forum. It just takes a spark to start a wildfire, and it’s important for us to monitor what is being said about our companies online so we can address any issues before they become full-on disasters.

I will argue, however, that there is a fine line between effectively monitoring social media and letting it take over your workday. What were you hired to do? More and more companies are creating social media positions – a good idea for companies that have the resources, in my opinion. But for those at companies that haven’t jumped on that train yet – how much of your workday should be devoted to SM?

CHRIS:

While it may not appear specifically in a job description, we’re all charged with professional development throughout our careers. Over the course of five years with a company, you should not only by knowledgeable about how that company does business, but also learn more about your role and how to do it more efficiently and effectively. While management and supervisors can be great sources of wisdom and experience, an infinite amount of information is only a few clicks away – and with SM, it’s now specific and personal.

For instance, I subscribe to a number of professional newsletters and blogs that give me invaluable information specific to my job. Suggestions that help me do my job better, quicker and cheaper. Should I forgo reading these blogs on company time because they also help me personally? Not happening (and I think my employer would agree). The trick here, is looking at Twitter feeds and blog rolls through the lens of my position as the company’s communicator. I ask myself, is this relevant to my job and how can I apply it? If  it doesn’t apply, I tag it for after hours.

balance-scale

AMANDA:

Absolutely. If you grow as a professional, chances are your company will benefit – however, I think this gets tricky with social media. The fact is, social media was meant for people to engage, well, socially. Yes, professionals interact via SM constantly, and I’ve learned a lot from watching what these experienced pros say on their blogs and Twitter pages. It just seems like a slippery slope – there is virtually no hard line between what could and couldn’t be considered ultimately beneficial to your work productivity.

But, as important as my boss thinks online media is, I wasn’t hired to grow an online presence – neither mine nor the company’s. Do I ignore social media during the workday? Not at all. I have Google alerts and SM keyword searches on my company’s brand and I absolutely RT when someone tweets a positive message about the company or product. But I can’t justify focusing on social media – even if it could be considered beneficial to the company – at the expense of my assigned responsibilities.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t go above and beyond what we are hired to do – I am definitely not saying we should ignore SM or not consider what other ways we could advance our client or company. I guess all I’m trying to point out is that, as sexy as SM is, we need to make sure we aren’t sacrificing performance or efficiency in our assigned roles in favor of social media management.

CHRIS:

I’ll agree that engaging in SM while at work is all about time management, and finding a balance is definitely tricky. But ultimately, I think the PR pro is better off engaging throughout the day as the potential ROI for the company is too big to be ignored (so long as the day-to-day tasks are still being completed).

But it looks like we’ve got another sticky one here. And another one people can relate to, considering most are probably reading at work. But we want your input. With less than 4 years combined experience, Amanda and I realize our words only carry so much mustard. So, let us know what you do. Or maybe more importantly, what your employer demands you do. (FYI, if the comment box doesn’t appear below, click on the top title of the post then scroll down.)

As young pros in the communications industry, navigating sticky ethical dilemmas isn’t always easy.  Working on behalf of our companies/clients, PR pros generally function as the go-between when our bosses are looking to control what messages reach the public. It’s nothing new, but PR practitioners have both succeeded and failed at conveying messages the “right” way.

But as PR practitioners, what’s more important: Being loyal to our employers OR loyal to the public?

amandaskepface2

AMANDA:

I am by no means well-versed in the professional world, but as a cynical observer, here’s how I see it: If you’re writing the checks, you’re making the rules. This isn’t unique to public relations, of course, but it seems easier than in most industries to let personal opinions and beliefs affect our work. Clients aren’t paying you to agree with them; they are paying you for a service. We are the liaisons between these organizations and the public; we are simply the bullhorn, the channel the client uses to spread a message. We are being paid to communicate and gain positive attention on behalf of a client, not to decide whether the client is responsible or morally in the right – if you have really strong misgivings about a client’s behavior, you probably shouldn’t take the account.

Regardless of personal opinion, I am being employed to serve a client’s PR needs to the best of my ability. If I can’t do my job well – for personal objections or any other reason – I need to step away.

chrisfaceCHRIS:

I agree that it’s our job to represent the view points of our clients in the media. But it’s not our job to lie. Not only is the idea of “massaging the truth” one that can damage the entire PR industry, but I would argue that mis-representing the truth is never in the client’s best business interest. A company can only hide from the truth for so long, and in the digitally connect world we live, that timeline is growing shorter every day. My recommendation would be to take corrective action as a company so that the PR pro can portray the company accurately to the media. If you want a spin artist, try these guys.  No pun intended, Little Miss Amanda.

AMANDA:

I hate the term “spin doctor” as much as the next PR enthusiast, but either way, I’m not saying we should lie. Framing does not equal lying. When you are working on behalf of a client, you are being employed to present that client in the best light possible. Should you tell blatant lies to make the client look better? We all know the answer to that one. But are critics like John Stauber right to generalize and paint all PR pros as deceptive, conniving lie machines? Hell, no. Presenting your client in a more flattering light is not wrong.

We all do it – you don’t trumpet your own downfalls to others in order to maintain a positive image. Maintaining a client’s image is no different, and highlighting the positive while mitigating the negative is inherent in all of us to some degree. Some PR pros might engage in controversial practices, but that’s no different than any other profession. Not all accountants are dirty, not all cops are crooked and not all PR pros are liars.

CHRIS:

Ballon boy on CNN (or not).

I guess my point is that we need to look at all suggestions from upper management subjectively. Whether they’re asking you to “spin” a situation to make the company look favorable or requesting something else dishonest.  Let’s take the recent events of Balloon Boy as an example – or to clarify, the balloon boy hoax. Suppose you represented the Heene family and they approached you with the idea to pitch a deceptive storyline in order to gain national media exposure? Are you still going to play the role of “bull-horn” and let them use your professional talents unethically? I’m not.

And to me this goes beyond the obvious ethical ramifications. Looking forward, any business success garnered by the Heene family will be tainted with their inauthentic burst onto the national stage and will likely be short-lived (at least I hope our society is better than that).

AMANDA:

Hmm… well, I agree in the fact that we need to use discretion when deciding which PR tactics to implement on behalf of a client. Sometimes clients or management get excited over specific tactics that would actually provide little benefit to their end goals. As PR pros, we need to think critically about what strategies will ultimately be most effective and provide our counsel from there. Should we be puppets? Not what I’m saying. But we need to listen to a client’s objective and then serve it in the best way possible, regardless of our opinion. Do I believe Mr. Heene’s theories about aliens and an imminent Armageddon? Negative; like a lot of people, I think the guy’s got a couple screws loose. But if I agreed to represent his cause, it would be my responsibility to make strategic decisions that would best serve his interests.

CHRIS:

The joy I’m getting from role-playing as PR counsel for the Heene family could be considered slightly abnormal. But I’m gonna give our readers a chance to do the same. I think Amanda and I are in agreement on some things here (miraculously), but I’m wondering where to draw the line? Is it based on personal pride or ethics? If you represented the Heene’s what would you have suggested? Let us know what you think.

As young pros in the communications industry, navigating sticky ethical dilemmas isn’t always easy.  Working on behalf of our companies/clients, PR pros frequently function as the go-between when our bosses are looking to control messages in the media. It’s nothing new, but in the relatively breif history of our profession, PR practitioners have both succeeded (http://www.icmrindia.org/casestudies/catalogue/Business%20Ethics/BECG015.htm) and failed (http://www.prwatch.org/books/tsigfy.html) to get the right message out.

But as PR practitioners, what’s more important: Being loyal to our employers or loyal to the public?

AMANDA: I’m not wise to the PR world by any means, but as a cynical observer, here’s how I see it: If you’re writing the checks, you’re making the rules. This isn’t unique to public relations, of course, but it seems easier than in most industries to let personal opinions and beliefs affect our work. Clients aren’t paying you to agree with them; they are paying you for a service. We are the liaisons between these organizations and the public; we are simply the bullhorn, the medium the client uses to spread a message. We are being paid to communicate and gain positive attention on behalf of a client, not to decide whether the client is responsible or morally in the right – if you have really strong misgivings about a client’s behavior, you probably shouldn’t take the account.

Regardless of personal opinion, I am being employed to serve a client’s PR needs to the best of my ability. If I can’t do my job well – for personal objections or any other reason – I need to step away.

CHRIS: I agree that it’s our job to represent the view points of our clients in the media. But it’s not our job to lie. Not only is the idea of “massaging the truth” one that can damage the entire PR industry, but I would argue that mis-representing the truth is never in the client’s best business interest. A company can only hide from the truth for so long, and in the digitally connect world we live, that timeline is growing shorter every day. My recommendation would be to take corrective action as a company so that the PR pro can portray the company accurately to the media. If you want a spin artist, try these guys. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=givZsEAW80k) No pun intended, Little Miss Amanda.

AMANDA: I hate the term “spin doctor” as much as the next PR enthusiast, but either way, I’m not saying we should lie. Framing, as I prefer to think of it, does not equal lying. When you are working on behalf of a client, you are being employed to present that client in the best light possible. Should you tell blatant lies to make the client look better? We all know the answer to that one. But are critics like John Stauber right to generalize all PR pros as deceptive, conniving lie machines (http://www.commondreams.org/views01/0901-05.htm) ? Hell, no. Highlighting the positive and mitigating the negative about your client is not wrong. We all do it – you don’t trumpet your own downfalls to others in order to maintain a positive image. Maintaining a client’s image is no different, and highlighting the positive while mitigating the negative is inherent in all of us to some degree. Some PR pros might engage in controversial practices, but that’s no different than any other profession. Not all accountants are dirty, not all cops are crooked and not all PR pros are liars.

CHRIS: I guess my point is that we need to look at all suggestions from upper management subjectively.  Let’s take the recent events of Balloon Boy as an example – or to clarify, the balloon boy hoax (http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/10/18/colorado.balloon.investigation/index.html) Suppose you represented the Heene family and they approached you with the idea to pitch a deceptive storyline in order to gain national media exposure? Are you still going to play the role of “bull-horn” and let them use your talents as a professional merely as a tool? I’m not.

And to me this goes beyond the obvious ethical ramifications. Looking forward, any business success garnered by the Heene family will be tainted with their inauthentic burst onto the national stage and will likely be short-lived (at least I hope our society is better than that). http://gawker.com/5384375/deflated-balloon-boys-the-story-of-our-ugly-sorry-era

AMANDA: Hmm… well, I agree in the fact that you need to use discretion when deciding on what PR tactics to implement on behalf of a client. Sometimes clients or management get excited over specific tactics that would actually provide little benefit to their end goals. As PR pros, we need to think critically about what strategies will ultimately be most effective and provide our counsel from there. Should we be puppets? Not what I’m saying. But we need to listen to a client’s objective and then serve it in the best way possible, regardless of our opinion. Do I believe Mr. Heene’s theories about aliens and an imminent Armageddon (http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/pals_airing_balloon_dad_criminal_A1rvE19eLczSLW47nwTHHK) ? Heck no; like a lot of people, I think the guy’s got a couple screws loose. But if I agreed to represent his cause, it would be my responsibility to make strategic decisions that would best serve his interests.