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What PR Professionals Can Take Away from the AP’s New Social Media Guidelines

by Alan Danzis

When starting at a new company, it’s becoming increasingly common practice for employees to agree to and sign a set of social media guidelines—especially at PR firms and media companies. Social media remains a critical communications tool for both groups, but as the line between professional and personal continues to blur, these guidelines must continue to be refreshed.

The Associated Press revised their social media guidelines today. Below are some of the more interesting parts of their guidelines and how that policy, if implemented similarly at PR firms could and would impact employees’ social media lives.

“We recommend having one account per network that you use both personally and professionally.”

While it’s not a policy I personally follow, it’s one I respect. If PR professionals choose to not go this route, they must make sure they use the hashtag #client whenever talking about a client—and they should try to avoid only talking about clients, unless they’ve got that separate professional Twitter account.

A retweet with no comment of your own can easily be seen as a sign of approval of what you’re relaying. However, we can judiciously retweet opinionated material if we make clear we’re simply reporting it, much as we would quote in a story.”

“It is acceptable to extend and accept Facebook friend requests from sources, politicians and newsmakers if necessary for reporting purposes and to follow them on Twitter. However, friending and “liking” political candidates or causes  may created perception among people unfamiliar with the protocol of social networks that AP staffers are advocates. Therefore, staffers should try to make this kind of contact with figures on both sides of controversial issues.”

This is something PR professionals have to contend with on a regular basis. In competitive monitoring for our clients, it’s extraordinarily important we see what they’re doing on social media. On Facebook, for instance, we have to like the page of our competitors in order to get the regular updates. But isn’t a like an automatic implied acknowledge of our feelings towards that brand to all our friends? While it’s unlikely that most would care, a reporter who I’m Facebook friends with could leave a snarky comment when he sees, for example, I liked Panasonic, even though I work on Samsung. Where possible, it’s probably best to hide/delete those kinds of updates where possible from our timeline and avoid calling attention to them.

“AP managers should not issue friend requests to subordinates. It’s fine if employees want to initiate the friend process with their bosses or other managers.”

This is a sticky issue to be sure. I’ve both friended my bosses in the past and had them do it vice versa. I’ve never truly had an issue with it, but have encountered many colleagues that do. This is a smart policy for the AP, and similarly should be recommended for PR professionals and reporters. While I’m Facebook friends with a number of reporters, I for the most part did not initiate the process—they did. This does not need to apply to Twitter, however, since that’s an important tool for monitoring what reporters cover on a regular basis and it’s something they expect.

“Be mindful of competitive and corporate issues as you post links; we compete vigorously with other news organizations…”

Also good policy for PR professionals. Don’t comment on competitors in public—either positively or negatively.

“You must never simply lift quotes, photos or video from social networking sites and attribute them to the name on the profile or feed where you found the material. Most social media sites offer a way to send a message to a user; use this to establish direct contact, over email or by phone, so you can get more detailed information about the source … Twitter’s verification process has been fooled, meaning we should still do our own checking with the newsmaker. The same goes for verified Google Plus pages…”

Good to know that the AP is instituting this policy, as it relates to company spokespeople. Still a good idea to make sure all spokespeople know to watch what they say on social media, since not every media outlet will have the same policy.

“If you believe a tweet should be deleted, contact a Nerve Center manager to discuss the situation.”

Smart move since even after you delete a tweet, you can’t stop all the RTs. Just as important as the deletion is the apology, and that’s something companies don’t often think through in the rush to delete something offensive or troubling, as was seen with this Aurora related-tweet on Friday.

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