It’s not a revelation to observe that public relations people often have an adversarial relationship with the legal department of any large organization. By nature, the two fields are set in opposition: public relations pushing to disclose, and legal pushing to conceal.
Too often, unfortunately, the legal department wins out when disputes arise as the legal profession tends to be respected as far more credible than PR. That doesn’t mean legal is right all (or even most) of the time.
Recently a local paper featured a live chat with an employment law professional and a staffer of a state legislator who proposed barring employers from accessing employee social networking profile data. As is the case with most ham-fisted attempts by lawyers/legislators to insert themselves into the social media landscape, both the law (House Bill 5523: Social Network Account Privacy Act) and the legal advice for employers are wrong.
While part of House Bill 5523 is reasonable (protecting userid/password information from employers) – it’s superfluous political posturing because the act of an employer demanding access to an employee’s Facebook account is already illegal: it’s identity theft (and it’s also prohibited by Facebook’s policies).
What I disagreed with most was the legal advice for employers, which was essentially to avoid using the Internet and social media to search for information on prospective employees. The rationale given for this was the possibility that one could uncover information about a prospect (such as a pending pregnancy, age or disability) that one would have to prove they didn’t use this information in a decision not to hire.
There are two problems with that advice:
1) Not hiring someone due to pregnancy, age, or a medical condition happens regardless of the use of social media to find that information out. When you interview someone in person, those things become readily-apparent whether or not you used social media to weed people out.
Abstaining from social media searches wouldn’t insulate anyone from allegations of bias.
2) There’s actually a very good case to be made that investigating employees via social media actually PROTECTS employers from allegations of discriminatory hiring. For starters, it allows an employer to get a sense of someone’s fluency with technology (essential in the workplace today).
Depending how active people are online, it can also provide insight into their critical thinking process, how active they are in the community, and what their communication skills are … all things that are perfectly reasonable to use in not hiring someone.
If you need an excuse not to interview or hire someone, odds are the Internet can provide ample legal justification.
Sometimes considering an alternate perspective to the legal one provides valuable insight. I wish more corporate leadership would try it.
Earlier today, Sam Laird of Mashable wrote an article asking “Does Every Employee Need Social Media Training?”
Absolutely. All employees are brand ambassadors whether they want to be or not. There’s no way to stop information from flowing in or out of an organization. Social media policies are, by their very nature, reactive so by the time they come into play the damage is already done.
The only way to get ahead of (and hopefully avoid) the negative consequences of a radically-transparent world is to make sure employees are aware of the dynamics of the new world we live in where Internet connectivity is ubiquitous and everyone has a multimedia studio in their phone.
Focusing myopically on the negative possibilities in social media is like focusing only on the villains in comic books. They’re only part of the equation (and often easily vanquished).
The flip side of the worry over employees and social media is that most organizations are missing out on POSITIVE opportunities (which are far more numerous than the negatives). Properly-focused and empowered, employees can wield the power of social media for an organization’s benefit (improving workflow, engaging customers, and sharing the stories that build a brand).
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel: there are loads of infographics, charts, checklists, fliers, videos and other resources a simple Google search away and the training can be as simple as an informal jam session that starts with you asking what employees’ questions are and building the conversation from there.
Perhaps summer isn’t the best time to schedule a learning opportunity for education professionals. Unfortunately the Paperclip Webinar on Community Colleges and the Impact of Social Media has been canceled and will be rescheduled for a later date.
As soon as we have a new date, I’ll post it here.
Community colleges across the country are finding ways to teach, market and communicate using various forms of social media. In this rapidly changing environment it is challenging for professionals to stay up to date on the latest trends and functions of a social media landscape.
In many cases, higher education has led in the adoption of these new tools and technologies. Much more can be done, however, both inside the classroom and outside the college engaging publics.
Join me for an interactive webinar where you will learn how to develop a greater awareness of hot trends in social media as they relate to community colleges and begin the process of creating an effective social media marketing plan.
Online nothing goes away, and anything can come to light if enough time and pressure are applied.
George Zimmerman is about to find that out because the Miami Herald found his MySpace page. I’m kind of surprised this didn’t come to light sooner. In a bit of dark humor, he was just awarded the “In the Spotlight” badge because people are flocking to pore over his updates for clues.
We can’t undo the advances into the era of Radical Transparency, we can only adjust to it. That isn’t a bad thing.
Just as social media can have a negative impact on someone’s life, it can also have a positive impact. It depends on how much of a person is positive or negative.
Social media is only a tool – it has no inherent qualities. It can only reflect those who use it. The same social media platforms that are providing fodder to back up the allegation that the shooting of Trayvon Martin was a hate crime motivated by mistrust of a race are ALSO raising funds for Zimmerman’s defense fund and spreading the message of his fervent right-leaning defenders. Con artists on both sides of the case have faked content to support their side – and virtually all have been caught and debunked.
Right now the big headlines are the racist missives against Hispanics that the MySpace profile contains, as well as some allusions to criminal behavior.
That won’t be the only headline, and a fuller picture of Zimmerman is already being illustrated in the news media as we all endeavor to learn more about him and his motivations. The Herald noted that he has a racially-diverse group of friends (as depicted by his photos). Likely there are other positive features of Zimmerman which will come to light.
I tend to think anything that helps make us more aware that the world is a complex, gray place with few (if any) absolutes is a benefit to us all.
One of the first places people go (from Google, that is) for quick answers and information is Wikipedia. The size of the audience it commands, and its ability to become a critical resource for developing the narrative from current events mean that it’s of critical importance to any public relations professional.
Unfortunately the PR community is largely ignorant of how to interact with Wikipedia.
According to a new study done by Dr. Marcia W. DiStaso of Penn State University,
- 25 percent of public relations pros were completely unaware of the state of Wikipedia entries about their organization.
- Worse – only 21 percent were familiar with the rule that PR pros should not edit articles on behalf of a client or organization they represent.
This is unacceptable. A healthy understanding of Wikipedia and the dynamics of the collaborative space online (which eschews back-room deals and undemocratic influence) is critical for every PR pro (and journalist) to understand. This is the stuff of textbooks.
The study was prompted after a very thorough and productive discussion that has been happening on a Facebook group called CREWE (Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement) created by Phil Gomes of Edelman. The group has brought together Wikipedians (including founder Jimmy Wales) to promote broader awareness of the relationship between PR pros and Wikipedia editors:
- On the one hand, Wikipedians want to ensure that all information on the site is accurate and free of bias.
- On the other hand, PR pros have a legitimate complaint in that following the established process for contributing or editing content (to post suggestions to the “Talk” page in the hope that it will be evaluated by a Wikipedian with no connection to the story and ultimately considered for application to the Wikipedia entry) is often ineffective as it can be difficult to get the attention or consideration of editors.
The study done by Dr. DiStaso also contains a very helpful infographic pulling out some of the important points from the study. You can find everything here:
Measuring Public Relations Wikipedia Engagement: How Bright is the Rule?
Public Relations Journal — Vol. 6, No. 2 | Author: Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D.
Abstract: The study by Dr. DiStaso explores the views, experiences and beliefs of public relations/communications professionals about editing Wikipedia for their company or client. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has what he believes to be a “bright line” rule whereby public relations/communications professionals are not to directly edit the Wikipedia articles about their companies or clients. Through a survey with 1284 responses, this study found that the “bright line” rule is not working. This is because, among other reasons, 60% of the Wikipedia articles for respondents who were familiar with their company or recent client’s article contained factual errors. When the talk pages were used to request edits, it was found to typically take days for a response and 24% never received one. Plus, most of the public relations/communication professionals in this study were unaware of the rule and almost half of those who were familiar with it did not understand what it meant to them.. [Download Article]
A disturbing trend has ramped up over the past couple of years: employers demanding the login credentials for the Facebook accounts of their employees. Another example of this cretinism reared its ugly head here in Cassopolis, Michigan at Lewis Cass Intermediate School District where teacher’s aide Kimberly Hester was fired for refusing to cough up her password to administrators after posting a nondescript and safe-for-work photo of a co-worker’s pants around her ankles.
What makes this case doubly-stupid is that was completely unnecessary: if the school needed documentation of the alleged transgression, it could have taken a screen capture from the account of the local parent who raised the issue with the administration in the first place.
Demanding the Facebook credentials of an employee is just as outlandishly-inappropriate as demanding the login credentials for an employee’s online banking account. Employers should consider such a request with exactly the same level of caution (because they could open themselves up for liability).
Here’s why: Read more…
As a follow up to my contributing post to the Public Relations Society of America’s PRSay blog for their #PRin2012 series (“Brand Journalism Brings New Ethical Perils”), I had the opportunity to interview Jon Leiberman of Howard 100 News (which I mentioned as one of the examples of Brand Journalism success).
I’m a big Howard Stern fan (hey now!). Allow me for a moment to justify the intellectual merit of my fanboy-ism by noting that well-heeled and respected intellectuals like NPR’s Terry Gross and Author Jeff Jarvis are also fans of the Stern Show.
Even if you detest him, you can’t deny that he has been a trailblazing pioneer throughout his career. He’s conquered virtually every form of mass media (save, I would argue, the Internet – though he does well for himself on Twitter when he can manage to tune out the haters). He virtually single-handedly legitimized satellite radio.
When Stern moved to Sirius, one of the best moves he made was to create his own Brand Journalism arm in the form of Howard 100 News. The outfit has been staffed with award-winning reporters since Stern moved to Sirius back in 2005 and has produced a wide-ranging array of stories – many of which have been picked up by the national news media as well as various trade news media.
About Jon Leiberman
In this tradition of excellence most wouldn’t expect from a figure like Stern, Leiberman has an impressive pedigree in investigative journalism. He’s been a reporter for WBFF and WIYY in Baltimore, KOAT in Albuquerque, contributed to the Pew Center on the States, and held news posts across the US including Washington DC (as the Sinclair Broadcast Group Bureau Chief).
Had Sinclair Broadcasting heeded Leiberman’s advice, their stock might not have lost half its value (and incurred threats of lawsuits from investors) when they made the ill-fated decision to run the documentary “swiftboating” John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election.
As if that weren’t enough, he’s also been a regular guest on CNN HLN, Fox News, MSNBC, the Today Show, Nancy Grace, The Maury Povich Show and Shepard Smith’s Fox Report. He is perhaps best known as producer and investigative reporter for the long-running “America’s Most Wanted.”
Near and dear to my heart as an educator is his extensive curriculum vitae: he’s taught at the Iowa School of Journalism, the University of Maryland, and McDaniel College. He also teaches courses at MediaBistro.
Making the Transition From Traditional Journalist to Brand Journalist
All of Leiberman’s previous roles have been essential to his success with Howard 100 News. He cites his broad experience in a variety of roles, markets and formats as one of the major things that helped him move into his job on SiriusXM radio. In his own words:
“there’s no more ‘old school journalist than me – I went to Northwestern, got a traditional journalism education. I have a background in traditional investigative news, went to America’s Most Wanted and got into more advocacy/entertainment journalism as a correspondent. I wasn’t necessarily an objective news reporter (we were focused on tracking down fugitives), and I started the transition then.”
In the online classes Leiberman teaches for Media Bistro, he counsels his students that they have to diversify. It’s critical to get the basics of reporting down, but you need to seek a broad range of experience so you don’t end up pigeonholing yourself.
One of the other challenges Leiberman has overcome is negotiating the line between personal and professional relationships in the studio.
“The difficulty is that as a journalist you’re now covering people that you see everyday, versus covering issues and people who are a few steps removed from you. The biggest hurdle is becoming comfortable with asking tough questions that you have to see everyday and who are your colleagues.”
Creating a Brand Journalism News Bureau
It can be a complicated affair to create a news bureau to cover one’s organization. Balancing the privacy of employees, timing the release of information (particularly for publicly-traded companies), and responding to crises are important challenges to prepare for. Journalists seeking to make the transition to working for an organization will need to consider the social ramifications of such a role, as Leiberman did when he joined the Stern Show.
Describing the environment, he noted this specifically as one of the hurdles he faced:
“As a journalist is that now you’re covering people that you see everyday, versus covering issues and people who are a few steps removed from you. The biggest hurdle is becoming comfortable with asking tough questions that you have to see everyday and who are your colleagues.
They do have a newsroom at Howard 100 News, but police scanners aren’t blaring, and the AP wire isn’t dinging every second with breaking news. Another difference is that it’s more of a controlled environment (not editorially, but controlled in terms of set number of news casts). On a weekend.”
Leiberman notes that his transition was made easier by the fact that Howard 100 News had been up and running for a few years, so standards for conduct between reporters and staff were better-established.
Previous reporters have been occasionally challenged by the reality that they occasionally become part of the story thanks to the …let’s say ‘eccentric’ nature of the staff and personas that surround the show. (Traditional journalists usually aren’t subjected to dozens of musical prank calls, nor do they frequently have their anatomy featured in the jingle that precedes their updates – both of which happened to Steve Langford, Leiberman’s predecessor.)
As an example of the journalistic standards the team adheres to, recently News Director Brad Driver recently made the call to remove one of its reporters from a story because comments made on the air reached one of the subjects of the story which created a conflict, so Leiberman was reassigned to cover that topic.
By no means, however, does that mean that Leiberman isn’t expected to apply all of his investigative skills to his daily work.
For reporters at Howard 100 News, there are very few restrictions (and they’re frequently handled on a case-by-case basis in consultation with Stern). Right now, for example, show writer and personality Benjy Bronk is in a relationship with musician Elisa Jordana. That sort of development is grounds for coverage by Howard 100 News (and by extension, other news outlets), but Leiberman has been treading carefully to ensure Bronk retains a semblance of a personal life.
As Leiberman puts it: “We’re not out to ruin lives. At the end of the day the Howard Stern show is an entertainment show – so to the extent that the stories that can entertain people, those are the stories that will be told most often.”
Fortunately Leiberman says the ethical dilemmas are few and far between.
A Journalist’s Existential Crisis
Joining Howard 100 News was not a decision that Leiberman took lightly given the credibility he worked hard to earn throughout his years as a traditional journalist.
“‘Can I stay true to who I am as a journalist’ – that was a big concern. Once I got there and saw how everything worked – I found that that I’d be using every journalistic principle I learned – but on a different subject matter. I’m still an investigative reporter doing sometimes funny news and sometimes serious news – but always as myself.”
Leiberman analogized his multifaceted role to Stern’s recent move to become one of the judges on “America’s Got Talent,” replacing Piers Morgan. As Leiberman puts it: “Howard Stern can do AMT and do one side of himself (with no profanity) – and can be on his radio show and be another side of himself.”
A thorough understanding of the mission of an organization is also key to success in Brand Journalism. Leiberman explained his interpretation of his role saying “at the end of the day the Howard Stern Show is an entertainment show – so to the extent that the stories that can entertain people, those are the stories that will be told most often.”
Perhaps the best advantage Brand Journalism offers an organization like the Howard Stern Show is that it creates the possibility of breaking “real” or “hard” journalism. Howard 100 News has broken a number of news stories that have been picked up by the traditional news media, including the case of a hit-and-run driver who struck the vehicle of Stern’s partner on the show, Robin Quivers. They also reported on the drunk driving arrest of a former staffer and broke the news of adult film star Raven Alexis had stage four metastatic cancer that had spread to her brain, which was carried by the trade news of the adult entertainment industry.
One of the things that has helped assure Leiberman that he’s still got his journalistic street cred is a call he received from a former colleague from his days with America’s Most Wanted who remarked that his reporting style had remained completely intact from his AMW days.
The Benefits of Brand Journalism
The Howard Stern Show has found numerous benefits from its journalistic wing, the most important of which Leiberman sees as keeping everything current and relevant:
“Howard is on the air a certain number of hours a week – all of those other hours, [Howard 100 News] is a vehicle to keep everything fresh – we have dozens of stories airing every day when the show isn’t live. The fans are now engaged, they know what is going on – it’s a ‘Headline News’ for the Stern Show when the show isn’t on. It does nothing but enhance the brand because it keeps people tuned in during hours when they might otherwise go to somewhere else.”
Leiberman sees Brand Journalism as a tonic for the over-saturation of information people are presented with every day: “in this day and age when people are so inundated with information and press releases – I can’t think of a better way to enhance one’s brand.” He added “any press is good press; even the negative stories because we’re still covering the brand, and they’re contributing to the conversation.”
For Leiberman, a personal benefit of his role is the exposure he’s gained from being on the Howard Stern show:
“It’s unique to Howard; he has such passionate fans – you would be amazed at the number. We treat the fans as sources and take them seriously and respectfully. Certainly some of them are crazy, but some of those types of fans provide the best tips. Being at Howard 100 News for five months I’ve had more exposure than at 15 years in all other places.”
Hopefully more organizations begin to experiment with brand journalism. Even though it comes with its own set of barriers and risks, no medium of communication can boast of being free of those downsides. The reality is that the influence and paradigms of the traditional news media are changing as a result of social media and the democratization of information. This gives organizations vastly more opportunity to have unfiltered access to their publics – without the worry over loss of message control/clarity that dogs traditional public relations efforts.
Baba Booey to you all!
A sad note that marred an otherwise unseasonably-warm and dry week in Grand Rapids was the death of a blogger’s dog after a careless right turn by a man driving a truck who then left the scene (even though he later admitted to being aware that the distraught owner was trying to flag him down; I also refuse to believe he didn’t know he’d hit something).
The dog’s owner wrote a moving essay about the experience that has touched all of us. He also provided an example of forgiveness and compassion that I’ll think long and hard about for the rest of my life.
There were witnesses to the tragic accident and the reaction of the driver of the truck. As is increasingly the case, those witnesses had access to smartphones and tweeted what they had witnessed. One witness, who I’m proud to call a friend, took action and captured information about the truck and its driver. The truck was a work vehicle, so it was emblazoned with the name of the business – and the witness also managed to get (and tweet) the license plate. Read more…
Muskegon Public Schools New Social Media Policy an Unenforceable Slap in the Face to Employees and Students
The Muskegon Chronicle (“Personal drinking photos could get teachers fired in Muskegon”) and Michigan Education Report (“More districts eye social media policies”) have reported that the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District has adopted an extraordinarily-restrictive new social media policy (available here courtesy of the Muskegon Chronicle).
The policy implies consequences (ie firing) if any content appears online that shows “use of alcohol, drugs or anything students are prohibited from doing” (students are prohibited from using profanity – so apparently if you tweet the F-bomb that can get you canned). The policy was crafted and adopted at the advice of at the advice of the MAISD legal counsel (which should be the first sign that the policy is problematic; lawyers and social media don’t mix).
Here are some specific problems with the policy (which is very reminiscent of the ban on contact that the Missouri Legislature just repealed):
1. We Don’t Control What is Posted Online Read more…
"...and you shall have no pie."As my parents tell it, when I was an infant my first word wasn't a word - it was an entire sentence. Very little has changed.
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