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Should I Tweet That? The Dangers of Social Media in PR

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With talk of twitter silences, Matt Fricker looks the problems that users and brands face with social media.

Twitter can be wonderful. As a person you can debate, meet and discover many wonderful things. As a brand you can drive engagement, create interest for your product and be right in the centre of a story when the dreaded PR storm starts to brew.

However, social media is nothing more than a conversation. As my colleague Ebun said in an earlier post, it’s P2P not B2B and with social media, you should always talk to your audience as though they are stood right in front of you.

When you post something on social media, whether it’s a tweet, a Facebook update, an Instagram image, whatever it may be, you’re recording content to be broadcast potentially worldwide.

To you, it may be a snapshot of how you’re feeling at that exact moment, or the message you feel will get you the most attention from your potential audience, but something said at the wrong time can have incredibly negative effects.

A key question I often pose when talking about social media is, would you say something offensive in a room full of people? If not, why broadcast it on social media?

Whether you intend to or not, by posting on social media you’re opening yourself and your brand up to the possibility to offend and we’re all offended by different things in this world.

The main difference with social media is the lack of context, say I were to make a ill coloured joke amongst close friends at a party, they may find said joke hilarious, or they may not. What they’ll be privy to, in the moments leading up to said joke being made, is the context of the joke, the tone of voice used when making it and the timing of the words said.

On social media, context, tone and timing are luxuries that are rarely afforded. Neither can you guarantee when posting something that everyone who sees it will understand the joke or comment that you’ve tried to state.

Recently we’ve seen an incredible uprising against some of the hideous comments that can be seen on social media, which culminated in a number of people taking part in a twitter silence on Sunday. This silence was a result of a campaign led by Journalist Caitlin Moran and Professor Mary Beard among others who had received threats of rape, death and bomb attacks via the widely used social media site.

Frustration against social media isn’t a new thing though. In 2012, comedienne Isabel Fay released the very brilliant, and rather rude song Thank You Hater, which featured a number of famous faces highlighting some of the foul things that had been said against them.

We’ve seen frustrations with postings by brands too. In May; Buzzfeed posted 19 of the worst social media fails seen in recent times, including using natural disasters, deaths and terrorist attacks to post topical promotions.

When it’s used right, social media can be one of the strongest promotion and engagement tools in a PR arsenal, but when it’s used badly, a company can lose mountains of respect and potential revenue can be hit too.

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Examples pop up all the time, and often, when it goes wrong, audiences find themselves asking, “How could that happen?”, there are even websites dedicated to such events, such as the excellent PR examples which highlights how James Blunt became the latest pop star to use twitter to try and dodge a raft of bad publicity (it didn’t work) alongside the very topical work of Yeovil Town FC – who announced their newest player signing via twitter and the help of a royal baby inspired easel.

If I said something offensive amongst a crowd of people, I could lose friends and have people think negatively about me. And the situation is no different for brands. Social media can be your best friend, but it can also be your worst enemy.

Do brands walk a tightrope when they post on social media and do you have any examples of good or bad use of Twitter by brands? We’d love to hear your thoughts below.

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Written by Matt

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Gorkana Group

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Gorkana Group specialises in media intelligence & insight for PRs, Marketers & Journalists. Visit www.gorkana.com for more information.

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