Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Block and Twitter: E-tactics that don't work in media relations

Don't get caught, indeed: I'd been mulling a post on shifts in how communicators handle media relations in social networks. I didn't need to look too far, because there have been some visible media-relations missteps in electronic media, from Twitter to good old email. And this morning's examples involve government officials, a nonprofit, and ironically, a social-media company. Herewith, some out-in-the-open examples that may have some yearning for the days of "no comment" and other, more opaque options:
Are these just pesky missteps? Perhaps, but as a former Deputy Associate Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in charge of communications, education and public affairs, I take the government officials' actions more seriously than that. CJR notes that this may just be a case of inopportune action and rightly points out that journos don't like it when their tactics are turned upon them. But this press aide also may have been in violation of the federal ethics regulations that forbid "the improper use of nonpublic information to further his own private interest or that of another, whether through advice or recommendation, or by knowing unauthorized disclosure."  (Not to mention betraying scores of relationships with other reporters.)

Likewise, a public affairs official, of all people, should be identified in her public capacity when she's commenting on public matters, on a social network or elsewhere. You, too, should identify your work connections, even when you're not tweeting on your employer's behalf. Tell us who you really are, please, and where you are really located. The governor's and Twitter's block-and-unfollow tactics were widely decried on Twitter itself, the most open of networks; while these moves may not violate a regulation or law, they're not as smart as they may have seemed at the time. No sunshine out there in Texas or at Twitter? In social media as previously, when your policies become the story, something's wrong...even when you handle it as gracefully as did the Red Cross.

Congratulating yourself that this will never happen to you, smart communicator? Go make sure of it. Have this discussion with your team, build your assumptions into a policy and make it available and public. Check how you and your communications colleagues are identified, especially if you comment on official matters from time to time. Take the time to think through the channels you use to communicate with reporters publicly and behind the scenes. And work through how you'll handle relationships and follows with your team. All these missteps are worth it if you'll build a smarter social media policy as a result.

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