Recall, if you will, when Facebook made its website open to everyone–this place of social networking was no longer limited to those with an e-mail address ending in “.edu.”
Today, according to Facebook’s own “Press Room,” the statistics show that the site is now home to over 500 million users who “spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook.”
With that many users and that amount of use, it is a public relations professional’s dream and it is also be a great temptation.
The question is: if you’re able to reach out to so many people in one place, are you going to remain ethical throughout your stay?
I had the pleasure of reading a post out of the Journalistics blog from earlier this year about the use of Facebook for public relations. Here, it’s solidified that Facebook is a great means of developing media relations and getting one’s own personal or organizational brand out to the public.
Also, Facebook has helped public relations professionals in the building of “brand affinity.” Facebook becomes the bridge between the public and your brand, if used correctly. Facebook can also become the burning bridge between the public and your brand, if used improperly.
I’m reminded of the “Nestlé incident” that happened via Facebook in March. After an uproar by environmental activists against Nestle’s use of palm oil in their candy bars, social media sites (YouTube, Facebook and Twitter) were plagued with negative attention against the brand. The company was successful in removing negative videos that were posted on YouTube but couldn’t really cease the “protestor fan base” that had accumulated on Facebook.
The ethical issue here is simply: should social media be used to bash a company and its product? I believe there a difference between stating your negative opinion on a social networking site and waging a full war against a company. There’s a line drawn with public relations professionals and be careful not to cross it.
There are many ways we can utilize Facebook for public relations. Here are a couple that I could think of for professionals to ethically use the social networking site.
Firstly, develop your “friend-to-friend” relationship (or, “business-to-consumer” communication). How you develop your personal (or corporate) profile on the Internet is how the public is going to perceive you. After all– perception is reality. For example, when I finalize a blog post, I usually will post a “status update” on my Facebook, letting my friends know what I’ve recently developed. Simultaneously, I will “tweet” my new blog post to my followers on Twitter. As a result, my friends and followers will see this information and (hopefully) become engaged.
Another way for public relations professionals to ethically engage in Facebook is to develop groups on the website. These groups allow solid discussion about a certain subject. In our case, it could be a new product’s launch). Not only can you lead the discussion for public relations via your “group,” but you can also learn a few things from other businesses and their use of groups.
Overall, the public receives almost too much information from the media. The public has many outlets by which they are reached. As a public relations professional, it’s best to reach them through a medium that you believe the public is more easily accessible. In today’s world that medium is Facebook.