“Don’t Look At Me!” – Twitter and “off the record”

This is starting to become quite the epidemic for communications professionals.  Not all communications professionals, but those who still insist on operating in the pre-2.0 mindset of a centralized command and control structure.  These people still think they can dictate the terms of engagement to the social media-sphere.  The actor in question this time is Matt Farrauto, the former N.M. Democratic party head honcho and currently working as a communications professional on Capitol Hill.

In an exchange with myself and with the Albuquerque Journal’s Washington Bureau chief Michael Coleman, Farrauto claimed we didn’t get his point about not commenting on his Tweets.  They were off the record – he said so.

Specifically, Farrauto put up a sentence on his Twitter account stating that all of his “musings” are off of the record.  It’s like standing in the middle of a room of people, some of whom are his friends and others of whom are reporters, and shouting at the top of his lungs, then not expecting the reporters to write about any stupid things he said. Right, I really see reporters giving up that kind of control.
(Plus, going “off the record” is nothing more than a hope that the reporter you are spilling the beans to will not publish your name next to the beans.)

Then he decides to get in an argument with those same reporters and bloggers who are really the lifeblood of his profession. PR people know that’s usually not the best thing to do, especially after trying to dictate to them what they can and can’t report about.

In the age of Media 2.0 and social networking, the role of communications personnel has to change.  We are no longer the “gatekeeper” for the company, customer or candidate.  We are now part-facilitator, part-diplomat, and part-community relations peeps – communicating a positive message about our organization, responding to negative attacks, but most importantly collaborating with people.  Talking back and forth with them, listening to what they have to say and responding like human beings, instead of regurgitating prescreened talking points.

(that’s not to say talking points don’t have their place in social media, but don’t spit them out at people, explain it to them.  Why are these “talking points” important?  Are they actually “talking points” or are they now “conversation starters?”)

If Farrauto doesn’t want reporters to write about what he says on Twitter, he should either make all of his comments private, or take the advice all of our mothers have given us in the past and think about what he says before he says it.

I understand why Farrauto has a hard time dealing with new media, as my friend Mark Bralley pointed out here, Farrauto’s used to being the 800-lb gorilla in the room, pushing people around, as Mark explains.  But in the new media-sphere, he’s just another person – one who can no longer exert total control over the message.

15 thoughts on ““Don’t Look At Me!” – Twitter and “off the record”

    • Hey Will!

      That’s true, Google never forgets – OK it rarely forgets. And people for the most part are willing to forgive you if you say something dumb on Twitter, we’re all human. But posting “You can’t pay attention to me, now pay attention to me!” is just asking for trouble.

      Thanks for the post! 🙂

      Benson

  1. Since when is going “off the record” something the person wishing to go off the record can demand, then turn around and begin speaking–as it were–without waiting for the granting of said privilege? This sort of anonymity is never done by implied consent. It must be granted by the invidual journalists. Isn’t that something you learn in an undergraduate journalism course?

    (BTW this is off the record.)

    • What’s off the record? We never had this discussion, we were busy talking about the virtues of Three Philosophers and Lambic beers. 🙂

      Exactly, the reporter gets to decide what off the record is, and in this day of civic journalism and new media almost anyone can be a reporter and get their stories picked up by bigger blogs and news sites. The benefit is that people get to see you as human, mistakes and all. But you have to be willing to accept that mistakes will happen.

      Or you can really not get it and deal with the firestorm, like the congress peeps you mentioned previously who made big mistakes on Twitter.

  2. There is not now, nor has there ever been, any such thing as “off the record” in any sphere — Web 2.0 or otherwise. People who refuse to believe this do so at their own peril. If you say it, write it, “muse” about it, it’s out there and it’s open season.

  3. I’ll second all on social media being not fundamentally different from RL social interactions – with the exception that without body language, choosing words carefully gains a bit more importance.

    Even putting aside this business of expecting published statements to be private, I think it’s unreasonable to expect anything one says or does to be private. I mean, I wouldn’t want the government sticking hidden cameras in my bedroom, but I don’t expect my partner, friends, etc. to never repeat anything I say or do. Not that my friends are in the habit of inappropriately repeating personal information, but once I put it out there, I know there’s no certainty about where it will end up.

    So to add to mother’s advice: If you can’t take responsibility for it, don’t do it.

  4. The point about “talking points” vs. “conversation starters” is interesting, too. I suppose the thing that’s really changing under the influence of social media is a shift away from public media being dominated by one-way communication. Which comes with the problem of balancing the attention to individuals social media demands with maintaining a unified image/brand.

    • Hi Sari!

      Yeah, the old media view is that the media sat on high and gave the stories to the public, with little chance for real participation (short of letters to the editor that ran days later).

      I’m wondering if there will be some kind of merging of individual social media and brands in the near future. We kind of see it in PR already, where one person can be said to be speaking not only for themselves but possibly for the organization as an extension, especially when there’s a problem between client and PR firm (I touched on it before where one guy’s misinterpreted tweet got his firm in trouble with a big client).

      B

      P.S. what’s my deadline on that UNM Today story? I might need an extension. 😉

  5. I was one of the reporters involved in the twit-chatting, and I was totally joking around. I wouldn’t have characterized what Matt was doing as “arguing” with us. He’s not saying anything on twitter that’s going to get him in trouble. We all know enough not to do that. Well, except maybe that bit about stealing olives off the plate of the guy sitting next to him at the pizza joint. That was pretty outrageous. Maybe I’ll write a story about *that*.

    • Hi John!

      I understand that this wasn’t a real argument, but I was also carrying over what Mark B. had said on his piece. Mr. Farrauto doesn’t seem like the type to say stuff to get himself in trouble, but this does open up a discussion I’ve had before in the PR community. People still think that Twitter is a discussion between themselves and their online friends, and that has gotten a few PR peeps and firms in trouble with clients (I’ve touched on it in other posts).

      It’s really easy to forget that even though we only talk with a few people on Twitter at a time, a lot of people, especially popular people, have thousands of additional followers that these messages still go to.

      And this discussion brought up the question of who gets to dictate what is or isn’t on the record. If something is given in confidence as “Off the record” and the reporter agrees to it, then it’s cool. If a third party “overhears” the comment – which happens with all of those followers on Twitter – then there can’t be any expectation of confidence.

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