Ethics In The Age Of Social Media Communications

Posted on June 12, 2014

Protest against Wade by Gwenael Piaser Some rights reserved

Marketing practitioners at B2B and midsized business are strongly influenced by older traditional companies. In the past many looked to the practices of the Fortune 500 as a role model for how to respond to communication crisis or issues that were of deep concern to the public.

However, they tended to lawyer up and hunker down in the PR agency’s bunker until they got the all clear signal. That was then. This is now.

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In A Socially Connected And Digital Age, How Have Public Relations Ethics Changed?

When talking with social media, communications expert, and author Gini Dietrich I asked her about this. It’s one of the things that she has been passionate about for years. Because of her strong feelings on ethics she named her blog and book Spin Sucks.

I don’t know necessarily that it’s changed so much as that people are getting caught, said Gini in our interview*. You know, because it used to be that you would hire a PR person or a team or a firm and they would create your messages and then they would put you through media training. Teach you how to use those messages, during media training, and you learned how to block and bridge (change the subject and answer a question of your choosing).

Before Social, Dodging The Question Was Business As Usual

This was part of my career too. You train executives that are going to talk externally to employees, media, and customers. You teach them to state their talking point if the interviewer takes you some where else you don’t want to go. You see this with politicians during interviews.

It happens all the time where they’ll be asked a question and it’s not something they want to answer. They’ll say, “I can’t talk to you about healthcare today but what I can talk to you about is,” and then going back to their message. So, that’s called blocking the question and bridging to something that they want to talk about.

That’s how it all worked in the old days. Now, that’s completely been turned on it’s head. We are not in control of our message anymore. Our customers are.

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We Know What You Did Last Summer

 If you use a non-apology (an apology where you don’t actually say you’re sorry but you’re apologizing), spinning the truth, stretching the facts, creating whisper campaigns against your competitors, or using fake social media accounts to say negative things about your competition or positive things about you, you’re going to be caught very, very quickly. There are people with lots of time on the web who like to fact check and tell the world you are wrong or lying on social media.

 I don’t think that necessarily the ethics of people have changed. It’s just that it’s a lot easier for that stuff comes to the surface quickly. This helps people grasp that truthfulness is probably their best option.

* This is an excerpt from my interview of Gini Dietrich on PR And Communications For The New Century.

 Watch My 35 Minute Interview: PR And Communications For The New Century with Gini Dietrich



Gini Dietrich @ginidietrich
CEO Arment Dietrich
Author Spinsucks book and blog.
Co-author Marketing in the Round (with Geoff Livingston.)

About The Author
Steve Farnsworth is a Demand Generation Strategist for The @Steveology Group: A Content Marketing agency that drive sales and dominate markets for high tech B2B. You can contact Steve or connect with hum on Twitter as @Steveology.

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This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

And a special thank you for the very cool team at Racepoint Global for their outstanding work and continued support.