Dear diary – can I please take back that last remark?

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We take our digital world for granted. Recently, a (much) younger colleague listened opened mouthed as I explained how in ‘the old days’ we used to navigate ourselves around the country without the benefit of a smartphone, using maps, town street maps and – heaven’s above! – actually asking people for directions.

Of course, it didn’t always work. Years ago, looking for the Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts factory in Sheffield, I helpfully told one passer-by that it was near the Sheffield Wednesday Hillsborough stadium. He was clearly an avid Sheffield United supporter as he gave me fantastically accurate directions to the Bramall Lane ground on the other side of the city! As a result, although I had arrived on the outskirts of Sheffield some 40 minutes before my appointment, I ended up being an hour late.

A social media?

But I digress. As many commentators have pointed out, social media is in many ways a misnomer as it often discourages face-to-face interactions – just look at all those people staring at their phones when out for a meal (guilty as charged!).

More to the point, social media can be anything but social once people react or take offence to a particular comment or action. And what we write can sometimes be misinterpreted without the benefit of hearing the emphasis on a certain word or seeing a person’s face when he or she is speaking.

I think of the tweets of Phil Neville which came back to haunt him when he was appointed head coach of the England Women’s football team. Jokey comments that might work as part of face-to-face banter – and no doubt if he’d said this to his team they would have given back as good as they got – have no place on a public platform such as Twitter.

Avoiding the pitfalls

The pitfalls of social media have particular implications for PR practitioners. While we have always had to react quickly to situations, particularly when we are being asked for comment, the advice has quite rightly been to think before you speak and to choose your words carefully.

This has become much more challenging in today’s instantaneous digital world; and while an ill-thought comment looks bad on the page, the old cliché of today’s newspaper becoming tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapper is still fairly accurate, whereas online the same negative comment can – and often will – hang around forever.

Think before you click

For any social media post, both professional or personal, and for any request for a quote or reaction, the advice has to be to consider what you want to say and how it might be interpreted before putting finger to smartphone or keyboard; and especially on a personal level, sometimes thoughts and opinions are best kept to yourself.

I remember a teacher of mine encouraging everyone in the class to keep a diary – and then to read it back a few years later, when he guaranteed that we would cringe at much of what we had written. I think that suggestion is even more pertinent today.

For advice and support on making the most of your social media and communications, why not give us a call? Or pop in for a chat and a coffee to find out more.

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