What’s Your Stance on Social Media Gray Areas?

August 3, 2009 · 14 comments

Shades of GrayThere are quite a few social media tactics that are shaded gray. For people who hold a strong stance either way, said tactics may seem more black and white, but the truth is that intelligent people have differing points of view on them.

Because of that, I strongly recommend that agencies and companies develop official stances on tactics that leadership feels are important enough – or “controversial” enough – to weigh in on and guide team members.

For example, ghostwriting social media content for executives and clients continues to be a hot topic. (Here’s my take on it, for anyone who’s interested) Some people think it’s a crime. Some think it’s perfectly acceptable. Some think it varies based on how involved the client or executive is in approving the content.

If your agency has various teams across various offices executing social media strategies, chances are good that the people leading those teams may have differing views on ghostwriting. Each team’s efforts affect your overall agency’s reputation – positively, neutrally or negatively. If you have a particular view on [insert tactic here], then it would be great for the rest of the agency to know that and plan efforts with that in mind.

The same can be said for companies. Many times, marketing works with an advertising agency, while corporate communications works with a separate PR agency. Those two agencies – and all the clients involved on the company’s side – may have different stances on the acceptability of a certain tactic, but what one group does sheds light in the online world on the entire organization – whether good, bad or ugly.

Tackling these issues collaboratively and proactively can lessen the chance your agency or brand may become the buzz of the online world for all the wrong reasons, at least not without first thoughtfully deciding how you’ll approach these touchy tactics.

Have you brought this up with your colleagues? What are some of the gray areas in social media tactics that you think companies should thoughtfully pursue guidelines on for team members?

*Image by Diogo Valerio.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lauren Fernandez August 4, 2009 at 8:37 am

With social media strategy, you have to have one set in place – and reviewed – with all sectors of your organization. With mine, I work on the national level, but if a local effort is started, they try to echo what I’ve done. They put their local group twist on it, but I try to educate our members in understanding that what they say represents their local group, and the brand, as a whole. As a famous trademark, it’s something that is extremely important to us.

For grey areas – how much interaction is appropriate, are smileys professional enough, what type of content – all of this should be addressed.


2 Keith Trivitt August 4, 2009 at 8:40 am

David – You present some really interesting points, particularly about how PR teams handle social media initiatives that are spread across multiple areas of a company’s PR/SM focus. I know from my own experience that when working with a client that has offices across the world, and has people integrated in the PR plan from many of those offices, it often becomes a challenge to get everyone in line with the planned social media initiative, particularly where cultural or social norms are different.

In these instances, what I have often tried to do is to individually talk to each party to better understand their point of view regarding the initiative, and then try to develop a plan that bridges all of those norms and creates a cohesive social media strategy for the client that everyone can agree on. Of course, that is often easier said than done, but I find that by reaching out and trying to understand the needs, wants, desires, resources and norms of a client’s different team members, I am better able to create a social media strategy that tackles the touchy subjects with relative ease.

Keith Trivitt (@KeithTrivitt)


3 Andy August 4, 2009 at 8:40 am


Excellent post. I work in the public relations office of a hospital, but also help coordinate the PR for the entire health system. As we’ve grown our social media efforts, I’ve been taking on several social media accounts for different departments and offices. Many people assume that they can let me know what to post and I will do for them – a kind of internal ghost writing. But I simply do not believe that is best. So there’s a disconnect between managers and the reality.

I do believe that PR people should help companies (or departments in my case) get off the ground in social media efforts. Then we should work as educators and quality control. A great benefit of social media is relationship and ghost writers cannot substitute for genuine relationship.


4 Stuart Foster August 4, 2009 at 9:43 am

In some circumstances you need to grease the wheels on a social media program before it can be taken over by the internal corporate communications team. The reasons? Politics, uncertainty of success and an unwillingness to commit the time.

The end goal of all social media campaigns should be to hand over the reins to those people. However, in order to get programs off the ground…you might need to give them a push (with FULL disclosure).


5 David August 4, 2009 at 9:57 am

Thanks for jumping in, Stuart. Always appreciate your point of view.

To clarify, the point of the post wasn’t to critique the ghostwriting issue. It was about the fact that intelligent people have varying views on it and topics like it. In light of that, it’s important to talk through these areas and decide on your organization’s stance – whether for, against or in between – so that everyone is on the same page.


6 Jamie Bull August 4, 2009 at 10:01 am

The most recent gray area I’ve run in to is managing personal digital profiles at work, or the challenges of managing multiple personas (personal and profession) through a single channel.

Taking agency time to tweet between 9 and 5, when not all of it is PR/Marketing related is a touchy subject, especially for digital newbies who usually see it as a clear waste of time and a suck on the bottom line.

With research to back me up, and being able state my case with confidence and conviction always helps out too.


7 Narciso Tovar, Big Noise Communications August 4, 2009 at 10:27 am

I think you hit the nail ont he head when you said that teams need to work collaboratively. Unlike the scenario of ‘having too many cooks in the kitchen,’ having smart folks work together for one common goal is not only smart, it is advisable – regardless where you may stand on any particular issue.


8 Tom O'Keefe August 4, 2009 at 10:42 am

David, I agree with you and Narciso, here. Working collaboratively on social media is key if there’s multiple teams with a hand in it.

To add to that, whatever the gray areas may be, companies also need to have one, consistent voice communicating with the masses. Companies can’t have that one voice without collaboration.

Thanks, David.

Tom O’Keefe


9 Ari Adler August 4, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Too often, public relations, media relations, marketing, advertising, internal communications — they all end up in their own silos and you lose the effective offense and the protective defense that would exist if they could all collaborate. Social media has just exacerbated the situation.

I applaud you for getting this conversation started. It’s well overdue because millions of people now have the ability to pull back the curtain on organizations and find out the Wizard of Oz really is just some old snake-oil salesman from Kansas.


10 Anna Barcelos August 4, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Hi David!
(I haven’t been to your blog in a l while. Long enough to see you have a great new design, so sorry)

Discussions like these come up weekly at my company. Every case is different but always has to tie in to our overall branding/corporate strategy.

This week I’m being faced with with a “gray area” at my company. Thankfully, our CEO and other members of our team currently blog and tweet on their own. I’m a believer that one should represent themselves. HOWEVER, there are a couple of amazingly knowledgable folks here that I know will not write for our company blog. Web 2.0 is too much of a culture shock for some employees who have been with the company almost 30 years and just don’t see enough value in it to invest the time.

We have discussed among ourselves (right up to the CEO) that in the above case, perhaps a post written by us and approved by them (based on their notes) will suffice.


11 Matt Cheuvront August 5, 2009 at 6:56 am

Very interesting topic that I’ll be able to speak more on in the near future. I am starting today in the field of healthcare – developing, optimizing, and maintaining their web and social media presence from the ground up. It’s my mindset that social media is, not unlike other forms of marketing and PR, a tool – a supplemental tool that should closely coordinate with the other marketing ongoing marketing efforts. Therefore my goal is to not only approach new avenues currently not being used, but to collaborate closely with the current PR team to make sure we’re covering each others tracks from all available avenues.


12 Leo Bottary August 15, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Nice post David – as usual. Since there are gray areas in life, it stands to reason there are gray areas in social media. Behavior in the social media arena should be guided first and foremost by the same ethical principles that guide other disciplines within the organization. As for ghostwriting, here’s my take on it from a blog post I wrote in June. http://snurl.com/pypdi


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