Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology, recently wrote a thoughtful commentary about why he believes communication consultants (public relations professionals with blogs, for instance) ought to think twice before piling on companies that make mistakes. He alludes to the idea that it turns otherwise savvy professionals into PR ambulance chasers.
There is some truth to this idea. He says there are companies that have been frightened away from social media because of the put-downs and jibes they receive from a growing world of "experts." On that point, Holtz is very right. And yet, I have mixed feelings about the conclusion.
Intent is a powerful ally in the art and science of communication.
Holtz is right in that it is rather unbecoming to create a persona of someone sitting behind a computer screen salivating for companies to get into trouble and then piling on them with links to half a dozen equally verbose colleagues, all hoping to build a mountain of evidence out of cheap shots or colorful prose or campy satire. Do it too much, and it will hurt your business.
Writing about crisis communication to serve up a collection of lessons for students takes much more than a series of fleeting sentences. Even then, there is some risk.
"Did you ever wonder..." asked one of my students at lunch. "...if what you sometimes write about scares away people who might otherwise hire your company?"
I chuckled, telling her that I used to think about it every day. However, despite having the company brand on the banner above, I had to make a decision whether this blog was about attracting business or educating students and discussing concepts and constructs with colleagues. I chose the latter, even if this blog has helped win and lose a few clients (who I never write up).
But not everyone has the same educational intent. I think that is what Holtz is alluding to. If you're thinking about a communication blog, consider the intent. Even then, never leave your readers with a story that ends on some double negative snarky beat down — you have to be thoughtful and do your homework. At some point, you have to provide solutions to the problems. A little bit of empathy doesn't hurt either.
Social media is no place for a company with unmanageable blemishes.
So, why do I have mixed feelings about Holtz's post? Simply stated, I don't have much sympathy for companies that are "afraid" to enter social media. Executives who think every glimmer will be celebrated and every blemish overlooked have unrealistic expectations not only in social media, but life in general.
I had this conversation almost four years ago. And as I roughly wrote then, if companies seek "attention" then the executives and team leaders have to appreciate that they do not get to choose what others find newsworthy or interesting. And, once you invite bloggers and members of the media to take an interest in the company, you cannot "uninvite" them.
It's one of the lessons a group publisher tells my public relations classes every year. If you invite reporters to give their opinions on "X," they might not agree with you. Equally possible, they might decide to write about "Y," especially if "Y" seems more interesting.
It's the one thing that social media has in common with traditional media. Both communication channels have an equal propensity to amplify organizational vices and virtues. It has always been this way, and always will be this way. If you want your company to be something, you have to accept the risks. Or, if you prefer someone much wiser than me, consider what Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) said more than two thousand years ago.
“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” — Aristotle