Ethics and etiquette in social media are very important, especially in PR. Knowing how to use social media while working for clients can help avoid common failures that occur. In chapter 6 of “Share This: The Social Media Handbook for Professionals”, Cipr discusses the four categories of failure that can occur on social media. They are offensive content, hijacking the serious news agenda (Twitter hashtag hijacking, for example), misrepresenting a brand or person (either deliberately or accidentally) and taking social content out of context (scraping one network and representing content on another without permission, editing comments, deleting community activity) (Cipr, 2012, p.53). Legal constraints generally exist in the professional world to help maintain order but ethics can still be questioned. PR professionals have no control over the message that is responded to them through social media (Prinz.org).
Often times, communicators can manipulate the public through deception on social media (Prinz.org). To avoid any unethical and potentially deceptive information on social media, Cipr provides a 6-step thought process. The first step is to make sure the designer of the campaign is understood and that any paid parties are declared. Secondly, test the nature of the content and make sure it is suitable for the audience. The third step is to make sure the campaign is not aggressive. Fourth, use the content responsibly and honestly. The fifth is to be honest because you are representing yourself. Lastly, make sure the content represents the author’s beliefs and makes sense (Cipr, 2012, p. 54). The Canadian Public Relations Society provides a code of ethics for its members that represent confidentiality and privacy, conflict of interest and a policy statement for communications in social media (Spegel, 2012).
A new PR etiquette exists as a guide for campaign planning. It encourages people to remain truthful and to stay professional. Making friends should also be monitored closely because the people you follow can have a positive or negative reflection on you (Cipr, 2012, p.55). One ethical concern is tensions between a practitioner’s personal and organizational social media site (Spegel, 2012). Sharing of content can influence how professional people view you (Prinz.org). One bad retweet or post can affect your credibility and disrupt your campaign. Cipr recommends becoming transparent and letting people know when you are representing a client (Cipr, 2012, p. 56). Mistakes are going to happen. It is important to prepare for them, admit to them and correct them (Cipr, 2012, p.57).
Professional trainings on social media ethics can be utilized for organizations. Initiating employee training programs in social media will allow for PR professionals to act as “the ethical conscience of the organization” (Prinz.org). Some tentative suggestions for social media ethics would be to remain holistic minded, remember to reflect on the values and codes, be aware of potential ethical dilemmas and make ethical decisions (Spegel, 2012). Cipr suggests remembering to use common sense and to keep the golden rule in mind; “treat others the way you want to be treated.” Honesty and understanding the audience will allow you to generate a great campaign (Cipr, 2012, p.57).
Anonymous. (2008). Social media and ethics- implications for pr practitioners. Retrieved from http://www.prinz.org.nz/Site/Current/Industry_News/Social_media_and_ethics__implications_for_PR_prac.aspx
Cipr. (2012). Share this: The social media handbook for pr professionals. West Sussex, United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Spegel, H. (2012, Sept. 19). PR & social media ethics. Retrieved from http://www.hannaspegel.com/pr-social-media-ethics/