CIPR launches Social Media Guidelines 'to educate and lead'

Francis Ingham discusses the industry body's new guidelines, unveiled today after three months' consultation.

Assistant D-G of the Chart­ered Institute of Public Relations Francis Ingham: ‘Today's launch (Thursday, 22 February) of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations' Social Media Guidelines has been driven by the needs of both our members and the wider PR community.

‘Social media continue to grow rapidly in importance and in volume. As a result, questions of ethical behaviour and of best practice inevitably become more frequent and more pressing.

‘The CIPR's new guidelines serve two functions: to educate, and to lead. The guidelines aim to educate by demystifying social media for those who are not regular users. The reality is that social media are shaping the way in which we all communicate, so all comms professionals need to understand it.

‘The guidelines demonstrate leadership by answering the call from PR professionals for practical and ethical advice on how to use new media to best ­effect.

‘Like other, more traditional forms of communication, social media are open to abuse, as has been demonstrated by the number of high-profile cases where people and organisations have got it terribly wrong.

Three principles
‘Owing to the fluidity of social media, the guidelines will sit separately from the CIPR's Code of Conduct, so that they can easily be updated to take into account new and emerging issues.

‘However, the same three principles that run through the code - confidentiality, competence and integrity - are at the heart of the guidelines.

‘The guidelines explain how these principles of ethical ­behaviour apply in particular ­circumstances - for example, in relation to a member posting comments on a blog; to astroturfing (faking grassroots support); right through to contributing to a wiki.

‘The guidelines go further still, by giving a clear indication of the disciplinary consequences for CIPR members found guilty of unethical behaviour in this area. If and when a CIPR member is called to account for their behaviour, the onus will be on them to explain why they have ignored the guidelines.

‘This is important because it sends out a clear message that the new guidelines must be adhered to.

Serious sanctions
‘If guidelines are ignored, the CIPR stands ready to take ­action against those who would call our profession into disrepute.

‘As was outlined in the CIPR's most recent Code of Conduct (PRWeek, 9 November 2006), sanctions for unethical behaviour could include naming and shaming, and the expulsion of members.'

Click here for the full guide.

Social media: the CIPR’s tips

01. It is advisable to state that you work in PR when commenting on, or running, a blog.

02. When contributing to a blog that recommends a service supplier, you should declare any financial interest that you or your clients may have with regards to that supplier.

03. Where a blog is run without oversight by the supposed author, serious questions of integrity arise.

04. Astroturfing campaigns are self-evidently likely to contradict the CIPR Code of Conduct.

05. ‘Off the record’ does not really apply in social media –conversations or emails with a blogger may be considered to be in the public domain and could be posted online without your permission.

06. You should be careful not to reveal sensitive corporate information – such as financial figures and new clients – before it is formally released.

07. Great care should be taken with the laws of defamation, such as repeating possible slander or libel that has been posted elsewhere.

08. Employers should provide their staff with detailed guidance on the company’s social-media policy.

09. Contributions to wikis should comply with the guidelines of individual wikis.

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