Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Blurred Lines

As one of the most popular forms of social media in today’s day and age, Twitter has rapidly become a staple in both personal life and the business world.  Personal twitter accounts are everywhere, from your sister to your favorite comedian and pictures of the cutest animals.  Then there’s the professional side of twitter.  There are news channels, reporters, CEO’s, banks, eating establishments and more.  There is truly a twitter account for everyone and everything.  There has been a lot of backlash recently with people tweeting inappropriately while representing a company.  However, this is the United States; doesn’t everyone have the freedom of speech?  How can one be criticized for publishing their personal thoughts just like you and I do?  So where do we draw the between personal accounts and professional accounts?  I’ll tell you.

On personal twitter accounts, you can tweet whatever you want without getting permission first.  This is the ultimate form of the freedom of speech.  Personal twitter accounts are for you and the people you know to read and are not meant for the whole word to see, the rest of the world doesn’t really care what you have to say.  Many people with personal twitter accounts will have their accounts marked “private”.  This allows you, the tweeter, to decide who follows you and only those lucky people get to see your fabulous tweets.  Personal twitter accounts are often seen as unnecessary but entertaining.  They are more of a want than a need.

Professional twitter accounts are for companies and public figures.  On these accounts, you must be very careful as to what you post.  When representing a company, such as news reporters or CEO’s, your personal twitter account is no longer personal.  Such people become known for their jobs and anything they tweet will reflect on the company.  You can cause a lot of controversy in less than 140 characters.  This is where the line gets blurry.  For example, in May 2009 Welsh politician John Dixon tweeted “I didn't know the Scientologists had a church on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off.”  Nixon received a lot of criticism saying he offended members of Scientology.  John Nixon was not able to freely express himself because he is a public figure.  In this instance, I believe John Nixon has the right to post whatever he wants because he represents himself, not a company specifically.  If he does not agree with Scientology that is his opinion.  

Twitter is meant for you to state your thoughts, a quick little blurb of how you’re feeling right now.  Whether it’s Paris Hilton, President Obama or your best friend, we are all entitled to our own opinions and can tweet whatever we want through our personal accounts.  The only advice I have is be careful.  The world is watching.

Check out the 100 most controversial tweets here: http://www.complex.com/tech/2010/11/the-100-most-controversial-tweets/

Monday, November 11, 2013

Honest PR = Effective PR

It seems like a widely accepted idea among strategic communications professionals that good PR does not draw attention to itself or its biased messaging,.  I’m skeptical of that idea.

I think it’s worth exploring the idea that PR is so pervasive in society that it’s often noticeable. Think about it! How often do we watch politicians shamelessly stump for themselves on national television and think nothing of their self-promotional PR? How often do we see businesses publicly sponsoring a charity event and draw the conclusion that they are sponsoring the event primarily to further their brand reputation? Do we in the field of public relations really think that the public fails to recognize strategic messaging when they see it?

I’ll take my skepticism one step further and suggest that strategic communications can be effective even when it is conspicuous.  My background is in political communications, so I’ll elaborate with a political example.

President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, like all electoral campaigns, were essentially strategic public relations campaigns. President Obama’s campaign used messaging strategies of change and continued hope to achieve the obvious objective of winning the election. The campaign rallies, fundraising and press appearances were clearly efforts to persuade the public to help him achieve his electoral goals. People were still influenced by President Obama’s political PR despite its inherently conspicuous persuasive nature. Politicians don’t generally frame their campaigns as mere PR efforts, but I think people often understand when they are being persuaded and let themselves be persuaded nonetheless.

I used a political strategic communications as an example, but I think public relations campaigns that are open about being PR can also be effective across throughout society and between sectors. For example, a business that donates a certain percent of its profit doesn’t have to pretend like it’s donating merely out of good will. I think most people would appreciate the charitable donation regardless of if business donors were open in their motivations of being seen as an important community partner. The money would be helping either way!

This all comes down to the idea that communications professionals seem to feel the need to downplay or hide the strategic motivations behind their PR campaigns. I think that this exacerbates public relations’ bad public image. The more open and honest public relations professionals are about their persuasive work, the more audiences will be willing to ENGAGE with the message, as they won’t feel like they’re being subtly manipulated. This might even result in more effective PR in general, but there might be caveats depending on the exact situation.

What do YOU think?  If you don’t work in PR, do you think that strategic campaigns that are open about being campaigns are easier to engage with? Or, if you are a public relations professional, what is your perspective on being open with your publics about your persuasive goals?

Marc Patnode
University of Minnesota
Jour 3279
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