Social media is one of the most convenient ways ever conceived to communicate with the largest number of people. The potential for PR, and for profit, is nearly endless. But there are some pitfalls. A lesson one young professional learned the hard way in a recent – and very public – firing. Her offense? Being incredibly stupid on Twitter. While on her way overseas on a business junket, the woman tweeted out something both incredibly unfunny, and incredibly racist.
Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5W Public Relations in NY, said, while most people assume a PR professional would know not to make this mistake, this woman’s real mistake was not the tweet. It was in not understanding how to carry herself professionally.
“There is simply no place in the professional public forum for adolescent behavior like this. Ever. Yes, it’s okay to get out, cut loose, and have a good time. But, the business sector is not the place to live out a Katy Perry video. Even for a split second. Once you hit ‘send’ there’s no taking it back.”
Ronn’s point is that, while saying stupid things is part of the human condition, those things tend to have a short shelf life. Social media extends that shelf life indefinitely. Something that sounds funny for a quick minute in your mind, at that moment, and in that context, probably won’t be remotely humorous a week later when the net gets ahold of it.
Of course, in this situation, it didn’t take nearly that long. By the time the woman’s plane landed, her tweet was viral, and her company had already released a statement condemning her comments, and telegraphing her pink slip.
This is the point where some people usually jump up and condemn social media. It’s too easy, they argue, to do and say dumb stuff online. There’s the easy access, the momentary impulse, and the false sense of privacy all enticing you to slip. All that may be true, Torossian argues, but social media is not a devil on your shoulder, it’s a mirror revealing your understanding of social convention and what it means to carry yourself as a professional.
“Social media is in no way inherently provocative. The medium should never be blamed, even in part, for how some people choose to use it. The level of foolishness displayed by this person is not about falling victim to the convenience, and false privacy of social media. It’s about an inability to understand the potential consequences of one’s actions.”
That is not the sort of person you want running your public relations campaigns. Social media pros must be obsessively focused on both the message and the medium. It is their job to protect their companies, or customers, from this sort of publicity. Not to create it.