Public Relations and the Twitter Scandal

Filed as Uncategorized on April 23, 2007 6:53 am

By now some of you might have already read about the recent scandal involving Twitter and PR blogger Steve Rubel (of Micro Persuasion fame). Here’s how it went, straight from Steve himself in an open letter to PC Magazine‘s Editor in Chief, Jim Louderback.

Last Friday, yes Friday the 13th, I put up a post on Twitter that I wish I hadn’t. I said that I don’t read the hard copy of PC Magazine and that my free subscription goes in the trash. In a guest editorial on Strumpette you weighed whether the magazine in response should blacklist all PR pitches from Edelman, my employer, on behalf of our tech clients.

I learned a valuable lesson. Post too fast without providing context and it can elicit an unintended response. While the item is true, it does not reflect my full media consumption habits. I subscribe to PC Mag RSS feeds and have linked to several of your publication’s online articles over the three years I have been writing this blog. Further, I have linked to articles from eWeek, your sister site.

(Emphases are mine.)

This is one of the dangers of Twitter, or any personal publishing platform that allows/encourages such spontaneous postings, for that matter. As Jayvee Fernandez would put it, blogging (the more traditional sense of it, if there is such a thing) lets one organize thoughts, think and re-think things before hitting the publish button. Therefore there is less likelihood to slip up. Yes, there have been blogging slip-ups, but it is definitely easier to slip up on Twitter and other similar services because there is more spontaneity.

The traditional blogging medium (I can’t believe I just called blogging “traditional”) allows you to organize yourself into one coherent thought bubble and post what you have to say, filtered of all the things that you wanted to say but didn’t.

The case may be different with Twitter, which by nature lets you send thoughts in “packets” which means that you are more spontaneous in your thoughts, and thus reduces the chance of being prudent. Twitter, undeniably takes a more laid back approach to blogging, that I have no qualms of calling it the new personal blog platform.

The bigger issue here, of course, would be how the writings of an individual reflected largely on the company he works for. Steve continues in his letter:

More importantly, my opinions and habits do not reflect the broader populace, our agency or its clients. While there is a subset of people who are reading blogs more than they do traditional media, magazines are in fact thriving. I noted this important trend on February 12 of this year. Therefore, the audiences that magazines like yours reach are important to our clients and our agency.

Had Steve simply been just any employee at Edelman, the Twitter post might not have had such weight. But Steve serves as a senior vice president for the company, and handles clients that advertise on and pitch for PC Magazine (which includes product/service reviews). So, for instance, even if Steve’s blog issues a disclaimer that all articles written are personal opinions, these would inveitably reflect back on the company that he represents.

So here’s one good reason for companies to rethink their acceptable use policies, which should perhaps include a policy (or at least guidelines) on blogging such that people working for them would have to find a balance between being an individual and a member of an organization.

At the very least, this serves as a reminder to be more prudent in what we publish, even if it’s intended to be about personal or trivial matters, and even if it’s supposed to be for a closed audience. Remember, Google’s web history and cache, the Web Archive, and even RSS feeds sure have their way of haunting us (even years after) whenever we slip up.

I’d say this especially goes for people in the PR business.

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