Engaging online knows no limits

By the time you reach the end of this sentence you will know, down to the last space, what 140 characters looks like; including this period.

By the time you reach the end of this sentence you will know, down to the last space, what 140 characters looks like; including this period.

A recent Ketchum experience with Twitter reminds us that each word online – each character – counts.

A colleague of ours was traveling to the hometown of one of Ketchum's long-standing clients when he fired off a Tweet in response to a personally offensive encounter (not involving our client). Although the Tweet didn't mention a specific place, it came across to readers as critical of our client's city. The Tweet demonstrated a lack of judgment, and while unintentional, it caused offense. Our employee apologized to our client, as did Ketchum; our client accepted the apologies and considers it case closed.

With perspective, this episode is instructive in that it underscores the dramatic way social media is changing the rules of the game, provides deeper insight into this dynamic space, and reminds us why PR must fully embrace the digital world.

While Ketchum has been recognized for our client work using social media, to ensure we are even better at it, we've incorporated fresh insights such as these into employee training:

The private is becoming public. The line between personal and professional communication is disappearing, so we need to think of every blog, Tweet, and social networking page as an indelible fingerprint. Our professional work as communicators can be impacted by a personal comment – so we must appreciate the convergence of the worlds in which we live.

Context still matters
. However, the brevity of online communication, combined with the speed at which we are expected to engage, means there is little opportunity to provide context. We need to think about how words will look if they stand alone and consider if they should be offered through a different medium.

Remember there are 360 degrees of connections
. Before posting online, consider the 360 degrees of impact – not just your “friends and family,” but stakeholders, too. If we intend to have a dialogue with a specific audience, we need to consider who else is listening.

The stakes are higher than ever. Information and ideas are being exchanged at blinding speed. This raises the possibility that just one post can create a wide conversation - or even drive social action – sometimes before all the facts have been checked.

We're all accountable. The President is the nation's most famous handheld device user, and US Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) may be the first to Tweet from the Senate floor. Both have acknowledged that their online activity invites additional scrutiny and requires accountability. We, too, should treat every Tweet like it's in the public domain, because it is.

This is the world of communications today and it's the future. While Ketchum's experience created quite a "digital dialogue," it reminded us that every word online - each character - counts and that, despite the risks, the PR discipline must continue to innovate with and through social media. Failure to do so will invite irrelevancy.

Barri Rafferty is a senior partner at Ketchum

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