Paint Brushes

PR: Not Just Name

Wikipedia has just publicly named a Texas-based “public relations” firm, Wiki-PR, for whitewashing a number of entries on their webpage. Specifically, Wikipedia accused the organization for “sock puppetry” or creating false user identifies to “praise, defend, or support a person or organization.” (Wikipedia). This story is receiving significant attention from several media outlets (i.e., Verge, Los Angles Times, Wikipedia), but some of the news coverage is framing the company as a public relations firm, not a Wikipedia consulting firm.

This story raises an excellent question, what should a company look for in a public relations or social media consulting firm?

PR Defined

The best place to start is to review a commonly accepted definition of public relations. PR is not simply the distribution of a news release or the creation of a social media pages; instead it is a “Strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” (PRSA). In the Wiki-PR case, Wikipedia is a public that can be both influenced by outside sources (i.e., your company) and influence your stakeholders (i.e., potential customers). Engaging in “sock puppetry” does not build a mutually beneficial relationship between your company and Wikipedia, the firm representing you, and other publics.

A public relations firm should have an “about us” page or other relevant information that demonstrates they understand the role of public relations in creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. For example, Edelman, one of the top public relations firms in the world, has an extensive “about us” page that presents its values and understanding of public relations. When searching for a PR consulting firm, make sure that you can review the firm’s values and approach to public relations.

PR Ethics

A public relations firm becomes an ethical advocate for a company or organization. In turn, ethical practices are critical in fairly representing your company to the public. A PR firm should have a statement or clear description of ethical values. PR practitioners are often members of the Public Relation Society of America (PRSA). The PRSA is the largest public relations organization in the world and places significant emphasis on educating its members about ethical standards. Over the years, PRSA has established a Code of Ethics that helps practitioners and firms navigate ethical dilemmas. Compare a firm’s values to the PRSA Code of Ethics. This comparison should give you a good idea of whether a firm places enough emphasis on ethics.

Another sign of a reputable PR firm are employees who hold Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credentials. APR is an industry recognized standard established by the PRSA in 1964 and evaluates a practitioner’s understanding of a number of important aspects of public relations, including ethical practices. A quick Google search or inquiry to a firm can confirm if an individual holds an APR.

Just a Name

Would you judge a book by its cover? When looking for public relations firm you must be very selective. You are not simply selecting someone to write a media release, but someone who will be publically advocating for your company. A little bit of research goes a long way to preventing a crisis situation, (think Wiki-PR and Wikipedia). Go beyond the aesthetics of a website and review a firm’s concept of public relations and ethical values. A great PR firm will be more than willing to share with you their strategies and tactics for achieving your campaign goals

Green Turf

Undercover Bust Reveals SEO’s Dark Side: Is Your SEO Legit?

USA Today reported that an undercover operation dubbed “Clean Turf” uncovered 19 SEO firms who were creating fake online profiles and employing foreign freelance writers to post positive reviews.

The firms were positing positive reviews on popular websites such as Bing and Google. Attorney General, Eric Schniderman, revealed in a press conference today that the firms agreed to pay over $350,000 in fines and to cease posting fake reviews.

Clients often hire PR firms to help increase a brand’s presence or awareness among a specific audience. To achieve these objectives many PR professional engage in SEO tactics such as identifying relevant keywords, including backlinks, and securing guest posts. However, if your firm does not have extensive experience in SEO or is interested in outsourcing this service you will want to check on the following.

Black, White, or Gray Hat?

You need to ask your SEO firm about tactics. Black hat tactics, such as the creation of fake profiles and reviews, keyword stuffing, invisible text, and doorway pages are high risk and unethical. In contrast, white hat tactics such as improving title tags, meta tags, restructuring URLs, site navigation improvement, and the creation of site maps are all considered ethical. Its good practice to ask your firm about its practices and make informed choices.

Beware of Secrets

One of the core provisions of the PRSA Code of Ethics is the disclosure of information. SEO companies who insist on “secret” practices for page ranking and will not disclose the specifics should raise red flags. Good SEO providers take pride in full transparency and will be more than happy to discuss their strategy and techniques.

The Guarantee of #1

Everyone wants to be #1, but in the world of SEO, it is a long hard battle. Avoid any SEO firm who guarantees #1 rankings for popular search engines. Search engines such as Google and Bing keep their search algorithms private   and are constantly changing them to provide a better user experience. No one knows the secret trick to achieve #1 ranking.

Keep in mind that not all SEO providers are ethical, and unethical SEO practices can result in reputation damage as well as legal problems. In considering an SEO firm, ask the right questions, demand transparency, and follow the PRSA Code of Ethics.


Court Ruling on Facebook “Like” Creates New Policy Issues

On Wednesday the Forth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Facebook “Likes” were protected as free speech under the First Amendment. This ruling creates new policy issues for social media managers and public relations practitioners.

The court reversed a ruling by a Federal District Judge, Raymond A. Jackson, who dismissed a lawsuit in 2012 on the grounds that a Facebook “like” was insufficient speech to be protected by the constitution.

In the ruling the Court stated “In sum, liking a political candidate’s campaign page communicates the user’s approval of the candidate and supports the campaign by associating the user with it. In this way, it is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech”.

This decision follows a growing trend to protect the rights of employee’s engaging in social media. Several organizations including the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have issued several decisions regarding social media policy and have created helpful guidelines for employers. Generally speaking, social media policy cannot freeze an employee’s right to organize, bargain collectively, and improve their working conditions.

Communication Policy

This ruling breaks new ground in determining what constitutions free speech in an online environment. In the past the Courts have declared that written Facebook posts were protected by the First Amendment, but this is the first ruling regarding simple “Like” button is a different and abbreviated form of expression.

Considering that public relations professionals are often involved in the creation of social media policy, it is important to stay informed about court rulings regarding social media when reviewing and developing your social media policy.

Undoubtedly more cases will be brought before the courts in the future and the definition of free speech in an online environment will change. PR practitioners need to work closely with legal advisers and take into consideration court decisions and the NLRB guidelines when developing social media policy.

The new ruling and decisions by the NLRB does not mean that you should avoid creating social media policies. Specific and well-crafted social media polices protect both the employee’s right to free speech and the employer.

Disclaimer: This information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice.