This is a guest post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.
I found this post by Arik Hanson on whether PR folks should share their political viewpoints on Facebook fascinating for two reasons. First, Arik questions whether a lack of discretion, i.e. not keeping your political views to yourself, could be bad for business. Secondly, he makes the question specific to the PR profession.
To Arik’s first point, about whether a lack of discretion can hurt business, some folks will say, “if people don’t like who I am or what I believe in, then they don’t have to work with me” and stress the importance of being true to yourself. They have a point. And it can be fun to work with people who have strong identities. You certainly always know where things stand.
As for those of us who have opinions but try not to come across as overly opinionated, though, I also agree with Arik’s point that if he “doesn’t do it face-to-face (i.e. argue about politics), then why would I do it on social media.” In other words, being professional and showing discretion about discussing controversial topics are important qualities at all times, perhaps even more so when our personal and professional lives intersect on social media like Facebook.
In Arik’s blog post, he makes the case specific to working in PR because of the service nature of the business. Whether you work as an independent consultant, part of an agency team or in a corporate department, you serve a client who is entrusting their reputation and brand to your professional expertise.
As Arik says, “I think working in a service-based industry has everything to do with it. Especially for me, as a solo. When people work with me, I think they’re buying “me” as much as they’re buying my skills/abilities. So, if I were to share my political views online (and they could see that), that might factor in. Sure, that information might help, in some cases, but I tend to think it would hurt me more than it would help. And, generally, I don’t want to give people more reasons NOT to hire me–I want to give them more reasons TO hire me. So, maybe I’m in a unique position–could be–but that’s my stance.”
I’d go even further and say that the nature of working in PR requires discretion.
Our work is all about selecting which stories to tell and which notes to hit with precisely which audiences. We filter through confidential information and groom spokespeople. We study viewer habits and Google Analytics to understand our audience’s preferences so we can give them what they want.
Think about the celebrity publicists who balance their clients’ desire for exposure with their need to control the image that’s being promoted. Sometimes the challenge in balancing this work becomes apparent once the publicist’s discretion slips and they reveal unflattering information about their former clients.
To get back to Arik Hanson’s point, social media gaffes can crack the discussion wide open by demonstrating what happens when PR professionals forgets their allegiances online.
Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on LindsayOlson.com. You can find her at www.kprcommunications.com. Learn more about Alison Kenney.