The other day Gini Dietrich was wondering if more harm than good is done when writers regurgitate someone’s latest failings in the realm of public relations in general and social media public relations specifically.

I’m going to come down very much in the “harm” column on this topic. There are lessons to be learned by looking at someone’s failures (mostly by the person that failed assuming they’re not a massively un-self-aware sociopath) but more often than not the posts, columns and other diatribes that result from a public misstep aren’t so much about those lessons and more about one or more of three other topics:

  1. How someone as wise as the writer would never do such a thing. Because the assumption always is that the writer believes they hold the keys to true wisdom and would never in a thousand years be guilty of accidentally CCing a press list on an internal email, of advising the client to create a commercial that is blatantly offensive to motherhood or managing a Facebook page in such a closed manner. These assumptions are, of course, naive since we all make mistakes, have lapses in judgement or otherwise slip up.
  2. How if only the company had read their book/blog post from 2009 this never would have happened. There’s more than a little hubris behind this particular focus and, again, is designed mainly to make the writer appear to be all-knowing and someone who can lead the injured company back to the arms of a public that feels scorned.
  3. How the failure represents a failure to “listen.” I’m fairly certain that in what’s now 2012 very few companies – particularly not those of any size – actually need to be convinced to have a conversation monitoring program in place. So I’d hazard a guess that “listening” isn’t the problem. It’s the next step of acting on what has been heard that sometimes trips companies up. Even then it’s not tone deafness that’s usually behind the fact that a company isn’t immediately rushing to fix the relationship, it’s that there likely other, more pressing reasons for *not* doing exactly what the angry mob wants done. But that doesn’t make for such emotional headlines and feelings of self-righteousness.

I will admit to writing some blog posts that are based on some sort of failing in the social media or PR worlds. But I hope that those posts come across as taking a broader view and offering more universal and constructive advice as opposed to just gleefully pouring salt on an open wound. I’d rather stay silent on an issue than come across as simply mean, largely because should I be the one behind the next foul-up I don’t want people edging their way toward the front with stones in hand, ready to strike. But that’s just me.

I’m all for open minds and discussions of the issues around what happened. We all learn from our own mistakes as well as those of others. But too often these conversations devolve into “well they made a mistake because they’re not as smart as I am” territory and the overall topic is not well served when things veer into that territory.

1 Comment

  1. Yep – we agree. The echo chamber around laughing at the missteps of others is terrible. It has always happened, but it’s amplified on the social networks. But…I guess we can’t change human nature, can we?

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