How to keep your voice strong and your nose clean.

How carefully must a publicist, or any spokesperson for a brand for that matter, tiptoe between being a representative and an activist?  Historically, publicists have always been “the guy behind the guy”.  The evolution of social media has given us personalities of our own and public forums to tell our stories, just as much as we tell those of our clients.  We are measured by our ability to create long-lasting and productive connections with people, many of which come from us just being…us. That newly found attention, however, can get risky.

At Ring Communications, for example, we are known for our gritty, witty, and sometimes inappropriate personalities.  Our clients love us (we hope), but just like anyone in the eye of the public, we are often faced with the challenge that something we might say, may keep potential clients from aligning with us.  So, what do you do? Do you say what will make clients happy?  Or do we say what will make us happy?  We’re quickly becoming experts on where exactly the faintly-drawn, but heavily consequential line lies. Being in public relations requires you to be relevant. When controversies, major political shifts, or scandals occur, you can’t just ignore it. To do so wouldn’t be good PR. If the public isn’t paying attention to you, then the point of public relations is somewhat diminished, isn’t it?

It’s a struggle that we’ve seen public officials, members of the media, even businesses owners face.  Restaurants, for example – do well by serving everyone in the area who likes good food. Restaurants would not do well by serving everyone in the area that agrees with only a certain political stance.  Politicians probably shouldn’t run on a platform of delicious clam chowder, and restaurants shouldn’t serve with stances with their shakes. (For further proof on why these two should not cross, look no further than the Chik-Fil-A scandal: Chik-Fil-A’s brand approval rating dropped twenty-six points after president Dan McCarthy expressed anti-gay sentiments.  True story.)

So how do you stay relevant, unique, and listened-to by the public without negatively affecting your client’s business or your own? Can you keep your social charge without losing your grip on business responsibilities?

Fear not, publicists – it can be done. Here’s how:

  • Never lose your cool on social media. Engaging in respectful, non-judgmental conversations is okay (as long as it’s not ALL you do), but as soon as you get visibly angry, you lose. Your credibility online is shot, and you’ve also damaged ties with a seemingly unimportant person that could have been a potential customer.
  • Make sure to include these four little magic words in your bio: Opinions are my own. The phrase seems small and insignificant, but reminding your audience that your opinions are personal and in no way representative of your company’s or client’s opinions is necessary. Everyone is going to get personal on social media – and they should. Without personality, a user is pretty boring. But make sure to note that your personal brand isn’t your client’s.  Oh, and be aware that even these four words can’t keep you from getting fired if you piss your client off with some post.  We’ve seen it happen.
  • Make a naughty list of topics. There are certain topics that it are almost impossible to discuss while still keeping any kind of professional life. If you smoke pot recreationally, guess what? Absolutely nobody in your social media sphere needs to know that. Don’t tweet it. Don’t even hint at it. Discussing the ramifications of the legalization of medical marijuana in Massachusetts is one thing. Discussing your munchies is another.
  • If you run the social media accounts of many clients, don’t flip back and forth casually – set aside a specific time for monitoring your client’s Twitter and Facebook pages, and set aside a very separate time for monitoring yours. Turn all of your political views off when you switch over to the client’s page. It is, and should be treated as, a mini-disaster to express your own personal views through a client’s page. Your brand is not their brand.
  • Engage more than you exclaim. Rather than just using a relevant news event or scandal to yell your opinions at the world, use it as an opportunity to interact with your followers. Ask questions. Ask what people think. Let others talk. Nobody ever gets in trouble for letting somebody else talk.

We live in a socially charged world, and it’s awesome.  We are a passionate generation who wants to stand up for, fights against, and seeks change for a number of issues facing the world.  You can’t take that away from people. Just always remember to be a powerful you, while remaining a professional you.

Bonus Tip:  If you have to question if something is offensive or not, it probably is.  So, keep it off Facebook.

Written by Rebecca Ring