“Say What?” – The Inherent Transparency of the Social Media Age

Winston Churchill once said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” True then, but never more true than today. Public relations specialists continue to advocate strongly for transparency in communications and in business practice, and many insist that transparency is already here, an inherent component of the social media age.  Because information is created so fast, and can often be inaccurate, incomplete, or just downright wrong, us PR folks are always working overtime. People can and will say, or should I say type, anything they want with a form of keyboard courage previously unimagined.

Public relations professionals find that they must be constantly concerned about reputation management. Already in the habit of using research and fact-checking to develop complete and accurate communications elements, we must now be even more vigilant about identifying incomplete information, correcting inaccuracies, and issuing truthful information in response to fabrication and rumor, and in prevention of a potential crisis.

So, how can we work more effectively within the tide of the information stream? Here are three things we can start working on today, if we’re not already doing them. If we are, this serves as a good reminder.

1. Tell it first. Many communications problems including potential crisis situations can be avoided when we are the first to tell the story in its true, accurate and complete form. In crisis communications, the rule of thumb is to tell it first, tell it all and tell it now. We must be committed to transparency by telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth without exception.  By doing so we fulfill our ethical duty as professional communicators to be truthful, and to serve the public good.

2.   Monitor the information stream.  New and constantly developing solutions for popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and others allow us to monitor what people are saying about us, our product, company or brand. We must search out and become skilled at using these monitoring systems so we know what is being said, who is saying it and when. Information is the first line of defense for the warp-speed lie in the face of the pants-less truth.

3.  Respond as quickly as possible.  Reducing response time in the face of potentially damaging information is crucial.  This is especially true if the matter and the conversation impact the public good, which we are sworn to serve. Take, for example, the whole “Apple iPhones are tracking our every move” topic that received global attention within hours of being published on a blog site.  “Say what?”, the world responded.  It took Apple a full week to formally respond to these concerns. Do NOT be like Apple in this example.

These are just a few things we can do to continue to be more effective in our work as communications professionals. For a good meditation, I review the PRSA Code of Ethics often. It’s all in there. Think about it!

Copyright 2011, Tracy L. Teuscher, The Buzz Maker! LLC.


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