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Social Media and Ethics: Sound Advice for PR
By: Gerard E. Mayers
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In a recent blog (Social Media Ethics: Why You Should Have a Policy) on Social Media Today, Steve James argued a strong case for businesses (and PR by extension) to have a social media policy. As we all know, social media is rapidly becoming one of the linchpins of today’s PR and marketing tool kits. Just recently, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) commented that the three hottest social media sites right now are Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. James noted in his blog the need for an ethics policy in social media and offers the following ways social media has transformed communications:
  • People have now become both the producer and consumer of information.
  • News can be shared instantly online before it even reaches the television.
  • The judgment of communication is both positively and negatively affected.
    • It is up to the reader to decide whether or not the information is true and credible. The reader must look at the context, channel, and author of the information.
  • Because more people communicate online, the value of face-to-face communication is lost. This has multiple effects on the way a message is received and interpreted.
  • People have the ability to filter out and choose the types of messages they want to receive and those they want nothing to do with.
He then asked why ethical principles need to be applied to social media and noted: “Within a business, it is their responsibility to build a positive identity for their brand. If policies are not put into place, employees could be free to share anything to anyone. The business needs to find the audience with whom they want to share information.” James continued and offered some suggested guidelines for businesses to follow when communicating online:
  • Share information that will give your brand a positive image.
    • People want credible information, so give them that. This will build trust for your business, which can help increase leads and customers.
  • When sharing, be aware of others’ perspectives and opinions. Be open to what others have to say.
    • When you respond, be fair in what you say to create a social wellbeing for your business and customer relationships.
  • Be aware of who can see your information, what is being shared, and what is being said and shared about your business.
    • If something negative is being shared, analyze it for credibility. If it is credible, respond to it in a positive fashion to show that you care about what is said concerning your business, and that some type of action is being taken to improve.
  • Overall, a business should create a positive, credible online presence for both their own benefit and for the benefit of their customers. Think about the business brand and identity that you want to share and build upon.
James finally noted what should be included in a social media policy:

“The action of an employee’s online presence reflects on the business. When creating a policy, the behavior expectation of the employees needs to be addressed. What is expected of a business online, and even offline, should be mentioned to create an identity. Here are some other elements to include in a social media policy:
  • The purpose for social media in the business;
  • Provide evidence of responsibility with sharing;
  • Provide some business information for credibility and authenticity;
  • Understand the audience with whom you are communicating;
  • Provide credit to the right people or businesses;
  • Protect confidentiality of the business;
  • Provide value for the consumers and the business;
  • Find a balance between social media and other work.”
What James said goes hand in hand with something I commented on in one of my earlier blogs about reputational intelligence. Own the responsibility for accurately sharing the information your business needs to communicate, and also accept responsibility for online behaviors, both positive and negative. Social media, as James notes, should just be one more tool in the tool kit for building your brand and communicating your message.

And what James says about social media should also apply to all other aspects of PR as well.

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About the Author
Gerard E. "Gerry" Mayers writes about PR and other relevant topics for PR professionals. A former PR manager for Sensor Products, Inc. (currently based in Madison, NJ), he lives in Milford, NJ.
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