Public relations ethics: remember to disclose client relationships on Twitter

Most public relations agencies and professionals I observe on Twitter are conscientious about disclosing client relationships when tweeting.  It’s easy to do: all you have to really do is add the hashtag #client to the tweet. Like this:

However, one prominent D.C. agency’s employees have been really missing the boat on this.  They keep tweeting about their clients, without disclosure, e.g.:

They do this a LOT.

So what’s the big deal?

The deal is: public relations professionals are obliged to disclose client relationships in Twitter updates that relate to those clients.

It’s a serious issue.  No one will go to jail over it, but it does make an agency and its employees look unprofessional at best, and unethical — or even deceptive — at worst.  The FCC strongly suggests that these types of relationships be transparent in online communications.  The PRSA Code of Ethics for all members requires that disclosure be observed.  Here’s what they have to say about it.

DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION

Core Principle Open communication fosters informed decision making in a democratic society.

Intent:

To build trust with the public by revealing all information needed for responsible decision making.

Guidelines:

A member shall:

  • Be honest and accurate in all communications.
  • Act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the member is responsible.
  • Investigate the truthfulness and accuracy of information released on behalf of those represented.
  • Reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented.
  • Disclose financial interest (such as stock ownership) in a client’s organization.
  • Avoid deceptive practices.

Deceptive Online Practices and Misrepresentation of Organizations and Visuals

  • ISSUE: Misrepresentation by organizations and individuals using blogs, viral marketing, and anonymous Internet postings with undisclosed sponsorships and/or deceptive or misleading identities or descriptions of goals, causes, tactics, sponsors or participants. (Note: The term “Flog” has been coined to describe a “fake blog,” where an organization or its representative creates an online forum that appears to be from a private citizen expressing personal opinion or experiences, when, in fact, it is being maintained for hire with an undisclosed agenda.)
  • BACKGROUND: A number of websites and deceptive social networking postings have surfaced on behalf of issues, candidates running for public office, and products blindly sponsored by individuals, industries and organizations. PRSA members are reminded that open communication is essential for informed decision-making in a democratic society.

Keep it clean on Twitter, public relations professionals!  Be transparent about those client relationships in your online communications.

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About Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a public relations and marketing consultant, and owns Fletcher Prince (www.FletcherPrince.com). Follow Mary on Twitter @FletcherPrince.

Posted on April 27, 2012, in Public Relations Tips, Twitter Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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