PR and Social Media – Don’t Press the Ignorance Button when you Know it Doesn’t Work

The other day I stepped on to the elevator with several other people at the office building where I work.  We stood there for about 5 seconds waiting for the doors to close and when they didn’t, a man reached over and hit the “close door” button.  The doors remained open.  As everyone else waited patiently, this guy hit the button again and again and again for what seemed like 10 seconds until finally the doors closed.  As I watched him initially frustrated by beating the button repeatedly to no avail, I began to think, “This has applications to PR via social media.”

(FYI — There are many theories about whether the close door buttons on elevators actually work or they are merely there for psychological reasons to assuage our lickety split mentality that comes with a world built on speed and the value of time).

So what exactly does this have to do with PR and social media you say? 

I’d like to think that the mystery of hitting an ignorance button when it clearly doesn’t work can be readily demonstrated by the PR gaffes in the past year that we have seen from companies like Netflix, Alaska Airlines and Kenneth Cole.  Granted, these are three completely different scenarios surrounded by different circumstances but the theme among them remains the same.

Despite all of the articles, blog posts, podcasts, e-books, print publications, webinars, speeches and videos (and any other mode of communication you can imagine including jumping up and down on a busy street corner holding a sign saying “DON’T DO THIS”) that talk about how modern society is keenly in tune with the PR of businesses via social media, there are still companies who seem to be asleep at the wheel, ignoring PR best practices via social media channels and acting like the public’s collective conscience and sense of perception is something that doesn’t exist.

It’s the “you can write the sign but you can’t make people read it” mentality that seems to permeate these examples, revealing that sometimes even the social media world’s best efforts to teach the lessons of sensible practices (often through examples of failures to execute) fall on deaf ears.

Essentially some companies think that by pushing the ignorance button, demonstrated through ineffective using social media to communicate with their audience, eventually the doors will end up closing and life will go on.  The fact is that the contemporary digital landscape will thrust open exposure to mistakes and blatant examples of bad PR whether we like it not.

Sure, there are arguments to be made that as time passes, people will forget about these companies’ faux pas and go back to their normal lives but if there is one important lesson that the Internet and social media channels has taught PR pros over the last few years it’s that PR mistakes don’t go away and can live forever in the consumer conscience causing permanent alterations in sentiment.  After all, shouldn’t we as PR pros always have the power of word of mouth in the back of our minds guiding our steps along the path of effective strategies?

As PR professionals, we have an obligation to diligently learn and understand how social media affects the image that companies portray to the public.  We must diligently sharpen our saws on a daily basis lest we somehow miss a new piece of information or change in social media best practice that could arguably alter the PR landscape and cause us to stumble and fall in efforts to put our best foot forward.

There are many resources we can use to keep abreast of best practices, the question is…how diligent are we willing to be with our education so we can mitigate the risk of being the next PR blunder that everyone is talking about?

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