Monday, November 10, 2014

Arthur Page--Thoughts on Social Media from a Time Before TV

Several years ago I received a pleasant surprise in the campus mail. It was a copy of the book "Words from a Page in History," which is a collection of speeches given by public relations pioneer Arthur Page from the 1920s into the 1950s. The book was sent for free to faculty in public relations around the country by the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication at Penn State University. The center is dedicated to research in the area ethics and responsibility in corporate communication and other areas of public communication.

I finally got around to reading it, and is often the case with history, I marveled at how prescient some of his comments were and how much they speak to the field of public relations still today.

But first, a little background. Page was a journalist who became a public relations professional and by 1927 had the title of Vice President of Public Relations at the largest company of the time--AT&T. The "Page Principles" are themes gleaned from his many public speeches and documents and are heralded by professors and practitioners as solid guidelines for PR practiced as ethical counsel to management of organizations. You can learn more about Page via the Arthur W. Page Society, on the Arthur Page "exhibit" at the online PR History Museum, or by reading the excellent biography of Arthur W. Page by Noel L. Griese.

So, as I was reading through Page's speeches, I got to thinking about the famous Page Principles that summarize the man's philosophy of public relations practice and how they might apply today to social media. Here's my quick application of each principle from before the TV era to the social space today:

  1. Tell the truth--always be genuine on social platforms, from your profile to your posts, and what links and other content you share.
  2. Prove it with action--don't automate and aggregate content. Don't present an image on social media but fail to live up to it by replying, sharing, and responding to comments. Be sure your offline presence is consistent with your online and social projection. Do what you say and say what you do.
  3. Listen to the customer--don't blast tweets and updates without first listening to conversations in the social space. And if people respond, reply back in kind, not just with your own agenda but to satisfy the questions and issues of those who reply to your social messages.
  4. Manage for tomorrow--social media is in the moment, but it's still wise to think long term. Analytics are great, but daily, weekly or monthly numbers of engagement should not be the sole driver or reward of social media management for a brand. Consider how social media is an extension of bigger objectives and a piece of a larger media mix that may not yield results for a year or more.
  5. Conduct public relations as if the whole company depends on it--Consider that all publics may follow social accounts, on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest and others. Do not see social media as merely a marketing megaphone, but an effort consistent with broader organizational goals and open to the views of many. 
  6. Realize that a company's true character is expressed by its people--many organizations only allow public relations or marketing teams to represent the company on social media. Consider engaging in a "distributed PR" model in which every job function is allowed to tweet and post as part of their job. People engage with multiple publics in many ways. This requires a healthy culture, but in the social space this especially makes sense to allow the organization to be visible in a positive way. As Page said, every employee, active or retired, is involved in public relations.
  7. Remain calm, patient and good humored--this is especially true in social media. Be careful what you say, and don't resort to anger and incivility. Allow comments, respond to them, engage in other social accounts to represent your organization transparently and honestly.
Clearly Arthur Page never had to handle social media. As I noted, the bulk of his career was completed before TV was ubiquitous in American households. But his principles of PR practice are timeless and a good reminder again to contemporary practitioners. Even the social media and digital communication are new, the concepts of integrity, honesty, ethics in PR practice are timeless and transportable across any medium or platform.

2 comments:

Michael D. Yoder said...

Sounds like good advice for a social media crisis plan, especially the last point.

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