Digital strategist, Burson-Marsteller
Works across practices at Burson and sister agency Proof Integrated Communications
There are two types of opinions in the world: good ones that offer thoughtful, educated, or tactfully comical points of view on a topic of interest to a broader group.
And then there are bad opinions - ones that make you cringe when they pop up in your newsfeed. Those are the offensive, bigoted, thoughtless, or irresponsible opinions that the Internet loves to provoke, swallow up, and spit out - 140 characters at a time.
PR pros should share good opinions online and should do so knowing their personal views reflect - either directly or indirectly - on their employers, clients, colleagues, and even their followers. And, they should do so knowing that what they say will become part of a permanent public record.
A PR pro should also adhere to their employer's social media policy, which usually encourages participation in public debate, but there are a few rules to follow: disclose client relationships, don't provoke or engage in raging arguments, and avoid controversial or polarizing topics such as religion or politics.
There's also the question of whether the potential client risk associated with an expressed opinion outweighs the potential benefits. No thought leader made their mark by regurgitating fact after fact without offering a point of view of their own.
Clients do not want robots. Our opinions and experiences are key to our profession. These qualities give PR pros permission to provide strategic counsel in client meetings and the same should translate online.
It is bad opinions that cause things to go awry. Social media adds a confronting layer to traditional social discourse - that is, instant and diverse reactions to our thoughts that are often far removed from our usual points of social reference. It can be a shock for those whose bad opinions have been largely tolerated offline.
To claim that PR practitioners should not state any opinions on Twitter would be to say that an industry of professionals specifically trained in relating to the public are unable to self-moderate and provide meaningful contributions to public dialogue online.No
Media relations specialist, Goldman McCormick PR
A decade of comms experience and a former journalist and producer for CBS
Under no circumstances should a PR pro tweet their personal opinions.
These thoughts can put the reputations of both your clients and your firm at risk. Prevalent in today's America is the hyper-sensitive lynch mob that viciously tears, shames, and attacks its prey for using words depicted as racist, jokes seen as repugnant, or views perceived as offensive or radically different to those of the masses.
To pacify this frothing mob, employers, clients, and advertisers often offer a sacrificial lamb - the unsuspecting offender - and stand idly by as the bones of that person's career and reputation are ground into dust.
Times may change and people may change, too, but at this moment it's dangerous for the career of a PR practitioner, or anyone for that matter, to offer a personal opinion.
Also, when it comes to tweeting personal opinions, some PR pros forget that their clients are the star and most deserving of both personal and media accolades. Those who are willing to risk everything for an ego trip are reckless and selfishly put the needs of themselves before their clients and co-workers.
French writer Marguerite Duras once said, "Every journalist is a moralist," and I believe the same principal applies to communications professionals.
That being said, PR practitioners can indirectly get their personal insights to the masses by serving clients with a similar moral core. Hate Republicans? Then represent a Democrat. Passionate about animal rights? Give your time to PETA.
When it comes to reputation and crisis management, image rebuilding, and branding, PR pros should take to Twitter and let their brilliance permeate. Current clients or potential ones who see practitioners offering consistent, intelligent comments and solutions to complex problems similar to their own should be thrilled to have, or potentially have, you in their inner circle.
Years in PR have taught me that personal assessments, or the number of Twitter followers a person has, are irrelevant to how well someone can serve their clients and be an honest broker between them and the media.
Of course PR professionals should use Twitter, but common sense and good judgment must be golden rules number one and two. It only takes one stupid or ill-conceived tweet to draw the ire of a client or a supervisor.