Make or Break: Social Media (JOUR 4460)

For public relations and communications professionals, social media can make or break them. This also goes for students looking for a career in the PR field. Social media is now such an integral part of 21st century communication. But it must be used ethically because posted content is so public (meaning everyone can see mistakes) and can never really be deleted. There are many professionals who have ruined their own reputation or the reputation of their organization by misusing social media.

One of the absolute worst, disrespectful social media blunders was made by PR executive Justine Sacco in 2013. I’ll just leave her tweet here for you to decipher:

According to Forbes, this could be filed under “lacking sensitivity.” But it goes even further than that. Sacco is blatantly racist, completely insensitive to those who actually have AIDS and embarrassingly sarcastic. This ended very badly for Sacco: she lost her job and ruined her reputation.

Although she tweeted on her personal account, she was still representing the organization she worked for. That’s something that I think a lot of young professionals and PR students do not understand. No matter what you do, as a public relations specialist or any other position, you are always representing your employer. In any public setting, physically or online, you must uphold your reputation, credibility and moral character.

Social media mistakes will not always be as obvious as Sacco’s. Failing to engage or respond to customers, focusing too much on yourself or your business’s goals and misusing hashtags are all ways to earn a spot on lists like this. (Note: You do not want to end up on a list like that).

Students looking for work need to be aware that their potential employers will check out their social media pages. Therefore, students should not post anything offensive (e.g. foul language, pictures at parties with drinks).

But social media is also an awesome way to network, make new connections, find a job and learn. The best ways to avoid making any type of detrimental social media mistake is to be aware of current trends, news and social norms, think twice before you post, proofread multiple times and use common sense. And always follow the golden rule: if you wouldn’t say it in public, don’t say it online.


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