The days when communications pros could call a reporter to walk back a top executive's quote, or put it into more context before a story was filed, are gone, thanks to all those platforms moving at the speed of electrons, and the flying fingers of multitasking journalists.
That was one of the messages from a panel of PR professionals at the 2013 Association of Cable Communicators Forum in Washington Thursday. Misty Skedgell, SVP of corporate communications for TBS, said that in the old days, when she worked for the (always outspoken) Ted Turner, there was still a chance to call and try to better frame a comment before a story went out. "Those days are gone," she said, "and our employees need to understand that."
But it is not just the tweeting and blogging of journalists that PR folks have to keep abreast of. Another challenge is their own employees' use of social media.
D'Arcy Rudnay, Comcast's chief communications officer, said that not a lot of the top execs there were tweeting. "We don't have any Rupert's in our midst, yet," she said, referring toNews Corp's Ruper Murdoch, who is a regular Tweeter.
Rudnay said those execs did follow a lot of people. Personally, she said, she is "very, very careful," about tweeting, and "probably too careful."
Skedgell pointed out that personal reputation is an extension of the brand.
Monica Talan, EVP of corporate communications and public relations at Univision, provided a lesson on the value of a Twitter conversation. She said that when she started tweeting, she got tweets back from one user giving her advice about writing her bio, then would direct mail to Talan whenever she did something wrong. Finally, Talan checked out her bio and found out she worked in PR for The New York Times. "So we hired her."
Skedgell said that it was not necessarily her job to know all the new technologies inside and out. "My job is to question whether that is the appropriate tool for what we are trying to do" and "whether that technology will actually help us."
Susan Leepson, group VP, communications strategy at Time Warner Cable, said social media needs to be built into communications strategies. "We all have to be familiar enough with [the technology] to think about what is appropriate for what platform."
Leepson pointed out the importance of letting employees know what the social media policy is. Since an online "screw-up," if it is big enough, could cost them their jobs, she said, "you can't hold people accountable to a policy they don't know about."
Skedgell said people should be made aware that they are "brand ambassadors" and that the company's policy is not meant to police their social media activity, but to protect messaging strategy. For example, she said, tweeting that someone has been added to the cast of Children's Hospital "is not OK because there was a strategy around how we were going to break that news."
Talan said everyone should understand that it is their own brand they are putting out there, whether on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram.
Skedgell agreed: "It is not just their friends and their little circle. It's everyone, and you can't get it back."