In this society it is so easy to make a post without even thinking about it. The problem is, especially in the PR world, if you're not thinking about what you are posting and what the consequences can be, a disaster is bound to hit.
Last year, Digital Trends journalist Marc Schenker put together the most embarrassing corporate social media fails, and it's not pretty. From celebrating Fourth of July with the Challenger explosion, to using a domestic violence hashtag as a self-promotional tool, all could have been easily prevented with some ethical thinking.
This thinking starts with asking ourselves as journalists (reporters or PR agents) some ethical questions before we hit the shiny blue "post" or "tweet" button.
Poynter, a globally recognized leader in teaching journalism, published in 2002 a list titled "Ask These 10 Questions to Make Good Ethical Decisions." All 10 questions are relevant to today's journalism, for example, the tenth question is, "Can I clearly and fully justify my thinking and my decision?" is applicable for everything from interviewing to writing an article and posting to social media. To illustrate this, I am going to look at two of the fails used in the Digital Trends mentioned above.
The first is DiGiorno Pizza's mistake in 2014, when the company used the domestic violence hashtag, #WhyIStayed. The post read, "#WhyIStayed You had pizza" and within minutes there was backlash, according to ADWEEK. The post was taken down and the apologies began, starting with, "A million apologies. I did not read what the hashtag was about before posting." From there, DiGiorno went and apologized to each person hurt by the post, individually. In light of the copious number of apologies, publications, such as ADWEEK, ran articles that read something like, "DiGiorno Is Really, Really Sorry About Its Tweet Accidentally Making Light of Domestic Violence."
Aside from the humiliation that DiGiorno faced from news journalists, their apologetic excuse was nothing more than lame. If the person tweeting had fully thought through the action, they would have looked up the hashtag and maybe thought twice before using it. That is where our ethical question comes into play.
If the tweeter had thought through the justification of using a specific hashtag, it may have occurred to them to research what the hashtag's meaning or purpose was. It goes to show that companies are putting people on tasks that may seem simple, but have the largest consequences.
The second example is the American Apparel Tumblr post, which featured a picture of the 1986 Challenger explosion with the tags #smoke and #clouds. The post was supposed to celebrate Fourth of July. Schenker put it best: "It's hard to imagine how anyone could mistake the image as one of fireworks."
|Photo Credit: Kennedy Space Center|
If Poynter's list of 10 questions was not enough, PRSA also published a list of questions that "you can use to assess appropriate ethical behavior." Like Poynter's tenth question, PRSA had a few questions that stood out to me as applicable to posting on social media.
One that hit me was, "What are the relevant facts of the situation?" This question applies both to the reading and to the apology.
Is it relevant to have a picture of smoke to celebrate the Fourth of July from a clothing store? Smoke isn't really relevant to the Fourth of July, nor is it at all relevant to clothing. I also don't see how pointing out that the employee was born before the explosion was relevant, especially if it was already pointed out that the employee was international.
As for DiGiorno's mishap, it's more of a question of whether they really felt the need to use that hashtag to self-promote. I think it was relevant to explain why they used it, even if the reason wasn't anything acceptable. But did they need to use that hashtag? Was that hashtag really so big in the moment, that the employee felt the need to use it? After discovering what the hashtag meant, it was clear that the hashtag is not relevant to pizza.
At the end of the day, my point is the same: before making a post, ask yourself why and how relevant that particular hashtag or photo is to what you are trying to do.