When does what "you" say interfere with who "YOU" are in PR?

Recently I (and quite a few other people) wrote about the recent Twitter-gate post of Ketchum VP James Andrews. As I’ve explained already, I thought it was a mistake, and if he had a problem with where he was, he should have given constructive criticism. However, he was there to share his knowledge of social media with FedEx employees and his Twitter post got turned upside down before the end of the day. It sucks, and he got a bit of the raw end of the media dished at him.

As usual there is more than one side to a story, and Mr. Andrews gives his side of it here. This is a learning exercise for all of us on the importance of counting to ten before speaking when angry (to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson), but as my fiancee says when I screw up, “No one died, move on.”

So we are moving on to a question that’s been bouncing around my mind for a while. When you’re working in public relations, where is the line between the “public YOU”, that is connected to your business or clients, and the “private you,” where you’re allowed to have personal opinions and viewpoints that might not always be sweet and nice but shouldn’t cost you your livelihood?

When I was working at a former gig, a memo floated down from on high, stating that we were not allowed to write anything for any electronic outlets, or we’d be fired. I was told this included blogs (hence the reason I blogged under a pseudonym for many years). Since I wasn’t a writer, I didn’t know if that applied to me, but as an employee, anything I wrote, even on my own time, appeared to be held to this standard. (in fact a friend of mine got suspended a couple of weeks without pay for writing something for an online-only outlet).

Regardless of where you work, when you are off of the company time and dime, should you be forced to take Ari Fleisher’s advice to Bill Maher and “Watch what you say?” This is especially prevalent in public relations, the field that thousands of us toil in daily. We are seen not only as employees, but due to our profession, representatives of our respective companies. (or as in the case of Mr. Andrews’ Twitter-gate, representative of not only his firm, but also the companies we represent)

As people in PR talk about “Brand You,” the idea that what you write/podcast/etc. is connected to the “you” brand, discussion is moving closer towards the idea that the “you” brand, and the “YOU” brand are interconnected – allowing your employer to connect to and impose upon your online/social media persona. If these two brands are interconnected, then everyone must be careful about what they post, whether privately or for their employer, as the perception is these actions somehow reflect their employer.

On the other side of the equation, corporate America needs to change enough to realize that people are people. They are going to react to things that happen to them. If you watch CNN’s iReport or FoxNews’ YouReport pages, people have taken on the mantle of citizen journalists in a big way, and are reporting news in a pixel instant, because seconds have become too long now. Social media (previously called “new media”) now allow anyone to write anything anytime.

By recognizing the importance and influence of communicating through social media outlets like Twitter, employers will go a long way in providing their companies with the key element it needs to succeed in the social media-sphere: a personality.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? In this new media world of 24-hour iReporting and the all-day media cycle, should PR people be forced to represent their organizations 24-7?

Edit: Peter Himler has a great post, and an interview with Edelman’s Social Media maven Steve Rubel here.

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