After convincing a class-mate over lunch in the university cafe to ‘follow’ me on twitter I triumphantly tilted my head southwards to check the latest boost to my ‘followers’ statistics only to be blocked with an abrupt exclamation, “Was that my real account or my professional one?”, evidently she wanted to know if she had used her original twitter account, or her alternative, more formal PR ‘professional only access’ account. Of course, this was not the first time I had heard of dual accounts; one for weekend associates and an alternative account strictly for co-workers, employers or indeed, potential employers. However, it did get me thinking.
As Public Relations practitioners and ambassadors of the corporations we represent should we not be more willing to show a better level of transparency. Transparency after all seems to be the main thing publics want from the corporations they buy from or rely upon. Shouldn’t we be defending the media image of PR. Parsons (2004:15), like many propagates PR’s ostensible powerlessness to communicate its own identity in a positive way? “Like it or not the notion of failing to tell the truth, or spinning the facts, is part of the public’s image of public relations. And who can blame them when this is the media image that is cultivated?” PR isn’t very good at doing its own PR!
Part of the CIPR’s vision is for practitioners to “(make) an important contribution to society through our ability to build dialogue and trust” and the first of the Institutes values is trust. As a society and a professional body, do we not strive for an atmosphere of transparency and trust?
Yes, what about trust? Are we sending out a subconscious, or indeed an overt message that we are doing something that we should not be when were not networking with our industrialized kindred? Are we sending out invitations for suspicious thoughts and the creations of cynical narratives of what we might be ‘really’ like?
If potential employees can trust that they know what we do on a Saturday night (if indeed they care?) are they able to trust us more, or perhaps even find a little common ground? Can’t we all agree to accept that we are all normal people who have a career and a social life?
The Reichstag, the parliament building in Berlin has a glass roof, which functions more as a metaphor than an actual opportunity or request for Berliners to spy or check up on their politicians. The message is simple: this is what we do, all of the time, not just when we have arranged appropriate times for you to watch us. Needless to say (I hope), that I am not claiming that a strictly confidential personal twitter account in an uncontrollable phenomenon where our Id will shatter the defenses of the Super-Ego; we are all obviously conscious that we are blogging (or micro-blogging, to be precise) on an unrestricted open and public platform.
Okay, so I am not going to write on my CV that I love the Smiths, but it doesn’t mean I won’t talk to my boss or a colleague about their poetic prowess. I’m sure my boss would be very offended if I orchestrated a refusal to disclose any shared hobbies or passions we may have.
I may wish to discuss the effects of government spending cuts on the quality of journalism on Wednesday afternoon, but then complain my football team’s new £10million striker should have let my Granny take that penalty for him on Saturday evening. Is social media a reflection of society? Is our society segmented and fragmented dependent upon the specific publics we communicate with? Yes. But do the other publics need to be restricted from knowing our other communications?
If you chat with someone on twitter, and my @tag is not included, am I eavesdropping if I read it? If I use twitter to promulgate ideas and splutter confessions during the small hour when my inhibitions elude, me to no-one in particular, am I not shouting out of the metaphoric window to unwilling passers-by? If someone is interested in your day to day happenings that you happily and frequently blog, cant that help another person form their opinion of you (if they even choose to take notice in the first place), or should people only get to see you at your most competently sharp? You may even show someone a more favourable side to yourself, someone with multiple interests, some one who is human, just like you.
The public want to see transparency in the companies and businesses they spend their money on or trust for advice and guidance. As PR people, with the most listened to public voice, and the embodiment of what the public perceive as the corporative world, I feel we have a responsibility to show a transparent and trustful outlook and that these values should be reflected in our actions. The media has done a great job of making PR look bad, why can’t we now use the media to start to put the record straight?
In any case, why can’t we just have all of our specialist extra-curricular tribulations on Facebook?