A PR Director's PR Disaster: A Lesson For Competent and Professional Social Media Usage
Monday, January 6, 2014 at 6:22PM
Richard G. Jones, Jr., Ph.D. in Communication Tips, Current Events, Getting Competent, Getting Plugged In, Internet, Justine Sacco, New Media, Public Relations, Social Media, Twitter, communication competence

A PR Director's PR Disaster: A Lesson For Competent and Professional Social Media Usage

A PR director with InterActiveCorp, Justine Sacco, tweeted the following before taking off to South Africa: 

Obviously, such a comment draws on stereotypes of Africa and AIDS, and adding the "I'm white" part at the end brings up outdated tropes that position white, especially white heterosexuals, as immune to AIDS. Shouldn't a public relations professional know that what she says online can go viral in seconds? As a professional at a company that represents clients like OKCupid and UrbanSpoon know how to use competently her own social media? As a communication professional myself, I think the obvious answer to these questions is: yes!

Reliable Sources did a great segment on this called, "Trial By Social Media," in which they discuss how the internet exploded with reaction to Sacco's tweet, while she was presumably enjoying her long flight to Africa. By the time she landed, reporters had already gathered to question her about the tweet. Subsequently, she issued a public apology and lost her job. 

In my book, Communication in the Real World, I outline some guidlines for competent social media usage in my chapter titled, "New Media and Communication." What follows is an excerpt with advice that might have helped Ms. Sacco and may help us all. 

Competent Communication on Social Media

We all have a growing log of personal information stored on the Internet, and some of it is under our control and some of it isn’t. We also have increasingly diverse social networks that require us to be cognizant of the information we make available and how we present ourselves. While we can’t control all the information about ourselves online or the impressions people form, we can more competently engage with social media so that we are getting the most out of it in both personal and professional contexts.

A quick search on Google for “social media dos and don’ts” will yield around 100,000 results, which shows that there’s no shortage of advice about how to competently use social media.

One key piece of advice, relevant to the case of Justine Sacco is: Think before you post.

Think Before You Post

Software that enable people to take “screen shots” or download videos and tools that archive web pages can be used without our knowledge to create records of what you post. While it is still a good idea to go through your online content and “clean up” materials that may form unfavorable impressions, it is even a better idea to not put that information out there in the first place. Posting something about how you hate school or your job or a specific person may be done in the heat of the moment and forgotten, but a potential employer might find that information and form a negative impression even if it’s months or years old.

Article originally appeared on Richard G. Jones, Jr., Ph.D. (http://www.richardgjonesjr.com/).
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