PR’s Ever-Expanding Role Protecting Brand Reputation


Privacy as a 20th century relic?  It’s starting to look that way. Managing social media guidelines and online communications is shaping up to be one of the biggest challenges facing PR pros.

Nick Bilton, who covers technology for The New York Times, provides communicators with a chilly reminder about the porousness of the Internet and social media channels.

In a column titled “Internet’s Sad Legacy: No More Secrets,” Bilton writes Monday that many new online services that claim to offer privacy—such as Snapchat, a disappearing message service, and Whisper, which is designed to let people share secrets anonymously—don’t deliver.

“Snapchat’s privacy page explains that private images are stored on someone’s phone [and] Whisper’s privacy pages says the company owns the intellectual property, both images and text, that people post,” Bilton writes.

He adds that even if messaging apps aren’t tracking your chats, the N.S.A (National Security Agency) “and other government agencies are. They’re everywhere.”

The debate regarding online privacy is sure to evolve. But PR pros can’t afford to sit on their hands.

As the digitization of society fundamentally changes the notion of privacy, PR pros will have an ever-expanding role to play when it comes to employee communications and brand reputation.

They’re going to have to be the company’s eyes and ears, reminding C-suite execs and the rank-and-file alike that while some apps claim to offer a respite from online transparency, the reality is a different animal.

Call it playing Cassandra, but with good reason.

PR pros need to constantly communicate to employees that whatever they write or post online (whether it’s commenting on a blog post or posting a few pictures on Facebook) lives there for eternity. They also need to make sure that employees are well aware that what they write could have a detrimental effect on their career or the brand.

It's a digital spin on how PR pros often tell senior executives who have just finished speaking at an industry event or participated in a Webinar that the “mic is always hot.”

However, finding some less-than-flattering audio is one thing.

The repercussions stemming from posting something on social networks—something that you thought was meant to be private and could end up embarrassing you and the company you work for—can cause much more damage.

Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1