I’m pretty sure it’s career suicide to take on one of the PR industry’s top media outlets, but you’ve never known me to back down from a fight, have you?

Jeremy Probert, a guest columnist with Ragan , yesterday wrote an article titled, “Why letting staff remark publicly is an idiotic idea.” When I read that title, two thoughts flashed through my brain: 1) Surely this title is sensationalism and I’m going to buy into it by reading the story and 2) The wise words of my friend Amber Naslund, “Why would you let your staff answer your phone, but not let them use social media?”

And then I read the story.

You simply do not allow employees free rein. You don’t; that’s accepted.

Then along come the social media strategists. “It’s all about content, it’s all about dialogue, it’s all about the quality of the      conversation”—free spirits in the digital age. Not for them the rules of the old guard—no, the rise of the Internet and Facebook and Twitter has changed the world, and we must move on or wither and die.

It appears that their lobbying—and the continuing spread of Shiny Object Syndrome—has convinced even the most conservative of organizations (Coke, anyone?) that they should be allowed to let employees post directly to the social media sites, without passing the sense/health check that is the PR department.

On first blush, it’s quite intriguing that a “20 year communication veteran” is so adamant against anyone not messaged or well briefed working with the media. That Coke and Ford would actually ALLOW someone not in the internal communication department to be brand ambassadors is insane.

And then I realized the poor man is old school.

He thinks people aren’t already talking about their company, their bosses, their peers, the products or services they provide and that those that do, publicly, have been messaged and briefed. And he thinks the social media strategists (some of whom ARE communication professionals) are advocating staff talking publicly because social media is the next new thing.

Here are the facts: Employees complain about their managers. Managers thinks executives line their pockets with what should be their bonuses. Customer service listens to customer complaints all day, every day. Some staff drink the kool-aid and believe strongly in the vision and the culture. Some don’t. But what all of these people have in common is they are brand ambassadors, the good and the bad, no matter if you give them “free rein” or let only those who are messaged and briefed speak.

They are telling their friends. They are telling their family. They are telling potential customers. They are telling potential colleagues. They are talking about the good and the bad. But now you have the ability to SEE and HEAR what they are saying.

Probert points to the Domino’s video incident from a few months ago as an example of what goes wrong when you let staff talk publicly. Those employees were not given free rein to speak publicly to the media. Their manager was not in the store. They created the video. It went viral. They got fired. Without social media and an easy way to upload video from a phone, this would have happened, but the only people who would have known about it were their friends. They would still have jobs and they would still be sneezing and spitting on your food.

I’m sorry Mr. Probert, we do not read your column and think you are “miffed that you’ve been edged out of the frame and that stuff is going on without you.”

Coke and Ford are two great, big corporations who know these kinds of things are already going on. Now they have the opportunity to decide what to do with the detractors (fire them?) and how to reward the brand ambassadors.  I think NOT allowing staff to speak publicly is idiotic.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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