Bloggers Beware: Reporters May be Reading Your Posts
[This entry was originally posted on October 5, 2011]
It may be highly ironic — if not downright hypocritical — to post a blog about the dangers of blogging, but here goes….
Don’t blog anything you don’t want the whole world to read. While we reach out to the media often, it’s important to remember that the media, unknown to us, may be already reaching out to us. With little effort, reporters can scan blogs for news. So it’s incumbent on bloggers to understand their narrow-cast audience can grow virally if something they post gets thrust into the media mill. These days that mill is always casting about for fresh grist.
Here’s a case in point with several layers of obfuscation added to protect identities of individuals and organizations:
An individual innocently posted on his personal blog some information about a new development at his place of work. The blogger in question was authoritative in his field, so among the readers of his posts was at least one journalist. In this case, it only took one.
The journalist read the blog and then wrote a story based on it. The problem was the story as blogged — and then reported on — was incomplete. The blogger’s employer was preparing a formal release with more information in it. There were two lapses here: the blogger’s release of information not yet ready for public consumption and the journalist’s failure to follow up the blog with confirming phone calls or emails.
When the blogger’s employer did issue a press release with the complete story, the media treated it as old news and largely ignored it. The blogger had scooped his own organization.
Today, with so many people blogging, tweeting and posting to Facebook and other social networking sites, there is a constant danger of premature and/or incomplete information reaching the media. That sort of release can distort or misinform and, in some cases, do damage to a company or organization. News casually disseminated via blogging, social media and even via email often lacks the necessary vetting by public relations, public affairs and executive personnel. And, unhappily, with journalists today under pressure to be more “productive” (i.e., do more stories in less time with fewer resources), there is a danger that news stories based on these cyberspace offerings will get to the public without any fact-checking.
It has never been harder to control information than it is today. Everyone is connected via email and many are active on Twitter, Facebook and other networking sites. Here are some thoughts on blogging, tweeting, social networking and emailing:
Many people write personal or professional blogs. If you are part of a large organization, check with your public relations representatives before posting new information. If you are part of a small organization, confer with colleagues before going public on your blog. You want to avoid disseminating to a small audience (your blog readers) information that might be compelling to a huge audience (the public at large) unless there is an organizational consensus that the information should be released. As was the case in the incident I cited, a blog post can undermine a well-planned media campaign by stealing its thunder.
As someone who takes 140 characters to say, “hello,” I’ve always been dubious about sending out any substantive information via tweet. Twitter’s compression factor forces you to leave out necessary details. There’s nothing wrong, however, with calling attention to a fully vetted on-line news offering via Twitter. I recommend coordinating with your public relations professionals or colleagues before you take to the keyboard. (And please check your spelling. If you are tweeting on a smart phone, it is very easy to misspell words and sometimes misspellings can change meanings.)
As with Twitter, there are limits on how much you can post on Facebook and other social media sites, although their allotment of characters is far greater than Twitter’s.
It’s best to use social media to direct attention of your friends and followers to a web site where an official news release can be read. The Facebook page Marketing for Scientists affords a good example of how to effectively use Facebook for directing attention to valuable online articles. In addition to a personal Facebook page, I have one called Experience Media Consulting which I use exclusively to direct attention to articles and posts with lessons-to-be-learned for clients and friends.
As virtually everyone knows — to his or her grief — it is entirely too easy for an email recipient to forward a message to another couple of people, each of whom forward it to several more and what began as a private communication is now spread virally. Emailing something marked “confidential,” or “eyes only,” is like standing under a billboard with an arrow sign reading, “Please don’t read the billboard.” When dealing with company or organization news, I like to use email the same way I use social media — directing attention to the website with the full media release on it. That way if your email goes viral only the official, approved version of events or developments is available to the media and public.
The bottom line: when you’re dealing with organization or company news, think long and hard before hitting “send,” “post” or “publish.”
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