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Client disclosure on Twitter: What’s appropriate?

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DisclosureI posed this simple question on Twitter last week: “What’s the right amount of disclosure on Twitter when it comes to client work?”

The responses surprised me a little. They ranged from “disclose every time” to “once in a while.” It was a lively discussion with a number of folks weighing in.

Given the interest in the topic, I thought we’d kick off a more long-form discussion by getting a number of different viewpoints from a few people I respect from across the country. I’d love your take in the comments.

RichieERichie Escovedo, director of media and communications, Mansfield Independent School District

I’ve been thinking about the client disclosure question on Twitter. While I agree in principle that a client disclosure is probably a good idea, I also think you can in good conscience share via Twitter if you find things truly interesting. To me it leads to the question of intent.

Am I providing a service for a client by sharing their link/event/news with my network? Yes.
Am I being unethical if I don’t make it a point to be clear that they are a client? Yes.

For me a great set of guidelines come from the PRSA Code of Ethics that “zero in on putting value and principles into play for working professionals facing everyday tasks and challenges. Among them, professionals should: (partial list)

  • Be honest and accurate in all communications.
  • Reveal sponsors for represented causes and interests.
  • Act in the best interest of clients or employers.

I think these first three points sum it up quite nicely and answer are question for PR professionals.

But not everyone abides by the PRSA Code of Ethics. While true, this does not excuse PR professionals from ignoring smart business practice. First, do no harm: think of it this way, if there is the potential of doing harm to the business relationship, then why risk it? If you value your professional and personal network, you will want to be as open as possible with these types of relationships so as to avoid any conflicts of interest perceived or real.

JulieBonnJulie Bonn Heath, JBH Marketing & Public Relations

The key for me is how genuine I can remain.

I tell potential clients upfront that I will not use my Twitter stream to promote them (I have had some contact for services based strictly on my “reach”). And the reason I will not is because I am a very genuine person both online and off. What you see is what you get and my integrity is very important to me. That is NOT the reason for my stream.

But I won’t lie.

So if I am truly enjoying a client or their service/product, I may tweet about them a couple of times (possibly even after contract ends) for the purpose of letting my followers find out about a great product or service. If I don’t feel that my followers will benefit, I won’t tweet it.

I also sometimes tweet about potential clients to help support them-and again if I believe in the product/service/cause and if my followers might benefit.

And of course, I do keep in touch with clients on Twitter so sometimes they are in my tweets via the @ function.

GiniDGini Dietrich, CEO, Arment Dietrich, Inc.

“What is the right amount of disclosure for client work on Twitter?”

Our philosophy on social media is that people want to connect with the people INSIDE the company, not some PR firm working on building their client’s brands. So, unless you are a gigantic brand that doesn’t have a person’s face associated with you, we will not tweet for you. That being said, we will retweet what our clients tweet, we will tweet about something they’re doing from our own handles, and we will brainstorm with them for campaigns that will elicit response, drive traffic, and build brand awareness.

If we tweet about a client, we always write the tweet and then (client) at the end. If we are retweeting the client, we don’t write (client) as part of our retweet because it’s not our original thought. It’s all a balancing act because you want to be transparent, but you also want to help your clients. I say, err on the side of caution, especially if it’s a new client, and see what works with your community and what doesn’t work. If you’ve built a tribe of people who don’t care about what it is that your client does, don’t hurt the relationships you’ve built on behalf of your brand in order to help your client(s). Social media and its transparency have a way, now, of allowing us to say “no thanks” to the clients who truly don’t fit our brands.

Thank you, Richie, Julie and Gini. Very interesting–and well-thought-out–perspectives. What’s my take? To me, the whole Twitter disclosure conversation boils down to one word: over-disclose. I just don’t see any situation where it’s not relevant that you’re tweeting about, or on behalf, of a client that’s paying you money to perform marketing, PR or communications services.

Many folks asked in our discussion on Twitter why you need to disclose every time? Isn’t once enough? For me, it isn’t. Here’s why. How many of your followers are going to see that first tweet when you disclose? Probably a handful. So, the next time you mention the client, they will assume you’re just a fan of the organization. While in reality, that may be true, that client is still paying you for a service, which immediately disqualifies you as an objective third-party endorser.

I also think there’s an ethical claim at stake here. As Richie notes above, the PRSA Code of Ethics play into this for me, personally. I know not everyone’s a PRSA member like Richie and myself, but for me, that’s important.

OK, enough pontificating. What do you think? How much disclosure on Twitter is appropriate when talking about client work? Where’s the line between ethical and unethical? Is this even an ethical dilemma?

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Client disclosure on Twitter: What’s appropriate?

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