In the age of social media, transparency is inevitable

Tell one person, tell the whole world. That's the old saying about how any old rumor or secret returns inevitably to the person being talked about. It could also apply to PR campaign proposals of all sorts, but particularly of those that seek to counter criticism or take on an opposition group.

Tell one person, tell the whole world. That's the old saying about how any old rumor or secret returns inevitably to the person being talked about. It could also apply to PR campaign proposals of all sorts, but particularly of those that seek to counter criticism or take on an opposition group.

Both the Cruise Lines International Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association recently found that PR plans prepared in confidence by their PR agencies inadvertently became public knowledge - and ammunition for advocacy groups who claimed the plans as evidence of intended deceit by the trade groups.

PR pros should remember - and subsequently plan accordingly - that critics might well figure out all the details of their campaigns sooner or later, particularly given the ease at which e-mails can go awry and the speed at which information gets exchanged these days. Both of the organizations' plans were posted on the Web sites of congressmen sympathetic to the groups' opponents.

Although criticism by the trade groups' "opponents" might be unfair in some cases, it shouldn't be surprising. The days when advertising or media relations brawn could push ideas to the public through a once limited number of media outlets are quickly fading, and in fact run counter to what social media-savvy PR pros believe is the future of communications - direct engagement with critics through various media. Instead, ideas might be thought of as open source software development, where contributors build a solution or a consensus through collaboration.

Just as everyone should write e-mails with the thought that the whole world might one day read them, PR pros creating communications plans should remember that transparency is not just a virtue, it's often inevitable.

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