• Guide for PR practitioners when using social media

    Guide for PR practitioners when using social media

    The CIPR has launched a new best practice guide to social media, available free to both members and non-members of the Institute.

    It has been devised by the CIPR’s Social Media Panel – the same guys behind the excellent ‘Share This Too’ book – and is an updated version of guidelines published in 2011.

    The new guide is a timely publication, given the UK Attorney General recently highlighting some of the legal issues relating to social media usage, and the recent controversies around Wikipedia ‘sock-puppetry’.

    What’s in it?
    It focuses on the following elements (all certainly key areas that PR professionals should know about):

    1. definition of social media
    2. dos and don’ts of social media
    3. planning social media
    4. legal considerations
    5. security considerations
    6. advice for employers
    7. social media measurement.

    Code of Conduct
    The guide makes clear that CIPR members are bound by the Institute’s Code of Conduct, which is based around three core principles: Integrity, Competence and Confidentiality, and that this applies when engaging in social media as with any other public relations practice.

    Dos and don’ts
    Many of the do’s and don’ts in the guide will be common-sense to many practitioners. But there are others that some in the industry perhaps still haven’t come to terms with:

    Do – Be transparent when updating information: If a practitioner is working with a community to update company or client related information, it is important they are upfront about whom they are and their intentions. For example, if a practitioner is looking to comment in a forum on behalf of a company or a client, they should either work with the forum moderator or post sympathetically and explicitly with full disclaimers. (Note the recent Wikipedia ‘sock-puppetry’ controversies.)

    Do – Be upfront about conflicts of interest and paid for opportunities: If writing or contributing to a blog which recommends a service supplier, make extra effort to make readers aware of any conflicts of interest, such as a financial or a partnership link between the client / member and the supplier. The IAB & ISBA’s Guidelines on Paid Promotion in Social Media (2011) advise how to approach sponsored or paid for social media activity including the use of #ad hashtag for paid for tweets.

    Don’t – Be fake: Using ‘flogs’ (fake blogs created by a PR agency or organisation to promote a service or product) or ‘astroturfing’ (the practice of falsely creating the impression of independent, popular support by means of orchestrated and disguised public relations activity) is illegal. CIPR strongly advises practitioners to steer clear of these tactics.

    Don’t – Rewrite your social media history: Do not delete negative comments on social media channels unless they contravene the terms and conditions of the social platforms containing them (e.g. racial hatred comment on a Facebook Page status update). In all cases, understand your legal position, review the social media platform’s terms and conditions and apply a measured view – will deletion or allowing the comments to stand serve to escalate potential issues?

    Beware of fake followings
    The section on measurement is certainly well-worth reading. It notes that any social media measurement approach must be careful to validate the metrics being used in relation to original goals, and points out that social media metrics to date have also been prone to defaulting to easy to measure metrics such as reach and/or followers, fans.

    It strongly urges practitioners to be on guard at all times against ‘vanity metrics’. Take Twitter followers as an example. The guide says that having a link Re-tweeted by an account with a large number of followers may lead to claims that a certain number of ‘impressions’ have been achieved, “and by implication, that a certain number of people have been made ‘aware’ of the message”.

    But, it says that this is a dangerous assumption, and highlights the New York Times Twitter account, which appears to have just over 10 million followers (November 2013), as an example. According to, an estimated 44 per cent of the New York Times’s followers are fakes, and a further 40 per cent are inactive. And, of course, not all of the real followers are going to be online at the same time.

    Well done to #CIPRSM
    Well done to the CIPR Social Media Panel for producing the publication and continuing to provide invaluable resources for PR practitioners in an area that is developing. I have no doubt their good work will continue and that practitioners across the industry will be better informed as a result. In the meantime, all practitioners could do worse than to read the updated guidelines.