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Monday, March 22, 2010

Client Disclosure on Twitter – When do you do it? How do you do it?

My colleague, Jennifer Kane, and I talk a lot about how to achieve "calculated authenticity" and transparency in our firm's social media engagement.

However, we've also noticed that there's a fine line between being calculated, and being misleading (whether intentional or unintentional).

In my years of using Twitter as a public relations tool, and observing the practices of others in the trade and how these practices have evolved, I've developed an acute awareness of (and questions around) how PR professionals talk about their clients on Twitter.

I've observed a few styles of tweets within PR professionals' Twitter feeds:
  • Tweets about their job and the trade, and projects on which they are working, but don't mention client names.
  • Tweets that mention clients, but not in a promotional way: "I am working on a campaign for client name."
  • Tweets that mention clients in a promotional nature, but unless the reader is familiar with that individual's client roster, they wouldn't know that it's a client of theirs: "I am reading a fantastic article by client name." or "I think this gadget from client name is awesome!"
  • Tweets that mention clients, along with some sort of disclosure that it is a client: "Client name is having great event this weekend. (client)"
One local firm that emerged early with this practice of Twitter disclosure was Tunheim Partners (BloisOlson and DErickson). When I saw the graceful way that they navigated this issue, I immediately thought, "Duh ... why aren't more PR professionals (including me) doing this?"

Consider these questions:
  • If a PR professional (or agency) is receiving a retainer from a client, and she tweets promotional information or pitches pertaining to that client, is she then, essentially, being paid to tweet?
  • If a PR professional tweets promotional information or pitches pertaining to a client, is he using his influence as an endorsement for the client?
Why does any of this matter?

Well, at the core of all of this, we're talking about industry ethics and best practices. And, as you're probably aware, the FTC recently revised its guidelines for disclosure of connections between advertisers and endorsers, including those on personal blogs and social networking sites.

What do the FTC guidelines mean for PR professionals?

They are merely guidelines, and no legal action will be brought against those who do not comply.

However, I go back to the question that I raised previously -- if a client is paying us, and we promote that client via social networks, are we then being paid for that endorsement?

In a webinar last month with Brian Solis, principal, Future Works, Ted Murphy, principal, IZEA and Mary Engle, associate director, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission, it was stated that the FTC would like to see PR firms with policies in place that tell people when and how to disclose.

The FTC has not set any requirements for how to disclose, but some practices have emerged. Here are some suggestions:
  • Develop disclosure language, and use it. Whether it's "(client)" or "(c)" or "#client" or "#paid" -- select language that makes it clear to your audience when you're talking about a client or have received some sort of compensation for sharing that message.
  • Use your bio and Twitter wallpaper. If you're going to tweet about clients on occasion, use this space to tell your followers who your clients are and share any policies or guidelines to which you adhere.
  • Create Twitter lists. Include your firm's clients and those who tweet about your clients. Consider taking this a step further and aggregate these tweets on your firm's website.
  • Consider an agency Twitterfeed. If you want to tweet client news and pitches, an agency Twitterfeed of press releases and client news may serve this purpose well.
  • Develop a policy. Once you establish whether or not you or your firm will talk about clients in social networks, decide what the nature of those posts will be, and how you plan to disclose client relationships. Make sure that employees and sub-contractors understand this policy.
Bottom line -- there's no steadfast rule to when or how PR professionals disclose client connections in social media. It's a choice, up to you, as to how you will proceed in this very gray area.

What steps are you going to take?

Kary Delaria is vice president of PR and CLO (chief listening officer) at Kane Consulting, a social media marketing and PR firm that specializes in research, strategy and measurement/monitoring in addition to producing events and providing training in these areas.