For public relations people looking to stick your toes in the ocean of consumer-generated media: remember that participating in the blogosphere requires full disclosure.
An active chatboard, blog or Twitter discussion centered around your product or company, or at least your industry, might benefit from the perspective of someone knowledgeable. Chances are good you have something meaningful to add to the conversation. But tread lightly, introducing yourself candidly as a spokesperson for your company. Don't get argumentative and certainly don't belittle those who you don't agree with.
In other words, don't follow the example of Raymond Ridder, PR Director for the Golden State Warriors, who anonymously posted pro-management comments on a chatboard that had gone negative on those running the Warriors.
Ridder follows in the disgraced footsteps on Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and the "Wal-Marting Across America" floggers. Being outed as an insider posing as an outsider leads to instant vilification -- as identity transparency is a crucial expectation of ethical behavior in an on-line community.
Ridder threw ethics out the window when he noticed Warriors fan site WarriorWorld.net going starkly negative after a management conference call. So he logged onto the site as "FlunksterDude" and tried to steer things to the positive. Check out this story on CNET to understand why that didn't work.
Ridder is taking full responsibility for his actions. But he doesn't yet understand that he did anything wrong. This well-stated excerpt from fansite SportsRubbish makes clear what was wrong -- and what the implications are for the PR community:
There unfortunately are plenty of P.R. “professionals” who think it is perfectly acceptable to pose as a regular fan to get their message out. Keep this in mind any time you read, well, anything online. If something is too positive or too negative, it quite possibly could either be that company or a rival making that post.
There is nothing wrong with team executives interacting with fans and taking the pulse of fan sentiment. If they do want to post on a team message board like Warriors World, they should just be up front about it, rather then attempting to hide behind anonymity.
- Jon Harmon