Today’s guest post is written by Tyler Orchard

The popularization of social media has created two very different environments.

On one hand, social media has produced a world of vast connectivity. Consumers and professionals are linked without boundary. Barriers that once limited engagement are overcome with new ways to network.

Social media has offered people unconfined opportunities to tap into conversations that were once hidden.

On the other hand, the technology simultaneously provides others with a shrouded veil behind which they can hide. Social media has offered more power in the form of selection, engagement, and response.

It is possible to seamlessly transition between both of these worlds at our convenience. We can operate in two elements that contrast one another so vigorously it almost seems impossible they were borne from the same revolutionary technology.

Social media promotes transparency, authenticity, and openness. However, these fundamentals have, and continue to be, questioned.

There are two types of practitioners who use social media to achieve a certain objective.

The following represent the two ends of the spectrum:

Dark Operators

  • They maintain a one-way conversation.
  • Content is meticulously filtered: Negative posts are ignored or deleted.
  • The level of engagement is zero.
  • Communication is in the form of talking points with limited authenticity.
  • They create and manage a buffer between themselves and their audience (consumers/media).

Clear Operators

  • They thrive on two-way conversation.
  • Their actions are based on transparency, truth, and authenticity.
  • All content is free, open, and welcomed.
  • The level of engagement is constantly pushed forward.
  • They connect with their audience on any issues or topic.

These two types of operators are readily identified and there is no confusion between their characteristics and actions. But transition between these two corporate “personalities” is alive and well.

We have witnessed social media being leveraged in a way that serves the user’s own personal interests. At times they step behind the “buffer” that has been created. Whether it is only selecting positive topics on which to engage people, dodging inquiries from the media, or clouding transparency to shirk responsibility, social media is continually used to shape and reshape engagement conditions on individual terms.

Redefining PR Transparency

It is imperative the power over content and engagement social media can offer does not lure us with its temptation of ease and simplicity. These shrouded actions have the ability to destabilize the strongest corporate reputations.

Transparency and open engagement on negative or positive issues defines who you are. These characteristics aren’t always followed, but need to be stated and rigorously implemented by PR professionals.

Six Reasons to Practice Social Media Authenticity and Openness

  1. Authenticity shapes a corporate reputation built on personable outreach.
  2. Content filtration undermines consumer engagement and won’t go unnoticed.
  3. Ignoring inquiries does not make an issue go away and at times can ignite a revolt.
  4. Transparency strengthens consumer loyalty and breeds media respect.
  5. Unconditional engagement builds networks that can be leveraged when needed.
  6. Transitioning between Dark and Clear for personal gain represents a business decision that is perceived as self-serving and isolated.

True and unconditional transparency in the business world scares us. The allure of control over content and engagement should be vehemently resisted.

As practitioners, we should embrace authentic transparency and openness. It only serves to benefit us in the long-term. Surrendering certain ethical characteristics in exchange for a short-term (perceived) benefit is misleading.

Is true social media transparency something that is actually needed? Or should clients/brands reserve the right to exercise control over their social media presence and engagement?

Maybe absolute transparency is just a coveted ideal.

Tyler Orchard is a Toronto-based director of communications and PR in the political world. He holds a masters degree from the University of Guelph and is a life-long student of social media and PR. His views are strictly his own. Follow him on Twitter @tylerorchard or find him on LinkedIn. He blogs at Talking Points.