Overtransparency and the Dilemma of #Client Vs Integrity

This time last year, there was some fuss about The SarcMark, a new piece of punctuation designed to make the use of sarcasm explicit by putting a little marker at the end of each relevant sentence.*

Naturally, it was met with near universal derision and ridicule, mainly because it made explicit what anyone with a semblance of intelligence could deduct by themselves.

However, for a while I’ve been watching the way that #client disclosure hashtags are used on Twitter and for me, it kind of twigs some similar concerns.  Tweets like this by .net magazine Editor @DanOliver, and @Wadds‘ little show of hands here present one assortment of views on the matter.

I have something of a different take.

A Swift Disclaimer

Before we go on, this is a good time to highlight the importance of personal integrity in PR.

Without it, you might as well hang up your lucky pitching pants and put away your special moleskine strategy playbook- few resources will serve you better than a reputation well-pruned by being someone people are happy to work with.

Proper transparency is an indispensable element of this balance and frankly an easy win if you’ve got the substance to back it up.

But there’s always the question of that ‘Goldilocks’ balance- how much is too much?

Closure or Disclosure?

Let’s look at a typical “enter a competition!” tweet:

Win an Xbox Kinect and chance to play against Linford Christie & Mark Lewis-Francis: http://on.fb.me/hXPwL4 #KinectSportsGWF #clientTue Jan 18 10:57:39 via web

The fact it’s from a client at this point doesn’t really matter – either you think your followers will care or you don’t. More importantly, either they will or they won’t.

If you’re regularly sharing content that offers no value to your audience, you’ll pay the price in both integrity and influence in equally threatening measures. What’s more, if it’s going to fall on deaf ears then you’re hardly doing your client any favours either.

Ultimately, it can’t be less interesting than the tweets everyone succumbs to now and then about delayed trains ruining your breakfast and your favourite sports team losing (forgive the consolidation of cliches here.)

Except Accepted Exceptions?

Perhaps when it doesn’t include a link to content, there’s a stronger argument for #client tags.  For example, even if you truly love the product, it’s always going to be a bit shifty to tweet about how great it is without declaring a vested interest.

Note also that when you’re tweeting something that would be bad enough in a press release, even a hashtag won’t make you look good.

Once more, it comes down to content.

The moral of the story

You can’t lose by playing it safe and including a #client tag when in doubt. But if the campaign isn’t worth tweeting about, push back and don’t.

We should be grown up enough to explain such details to clients- there’s nothing more embarrassing a volley of tweets from several normally dormant accounts revealing that an agency email has done the rounds internally to rally the troops.

It might not be pretty but the above is at least pragmatic and sticks to the best possible rule for Twitter- if you don’t think anyone will care for your tweet, take a deep breath and hit delete.

Which side of the argument do you come down on? Give us your opinion below…

EDIT: Interesting response from Dan Oliver about this below, what do you think?

@DannyWhatmough @MaxTB Non-disclosure is fine, but it changes how you relate to a given PR. That’s just a fact.Wed Jan 19 11:22:39 via web

*The best bit of this being the fact that the SarcMark wouldn’t actually show up on the intended recipient’s computer unless they too had shelled out for it.  See http://opensarcasm.org/ for a fantastic alternative.

- Max Tatton-Brown

January 19th, 2011

  • Laura Tosney

    I think bringing actual content into this conversation is pointless, given that everyone at some point – and myself definitely included – tweets about stuff that other people could care less about. At the end of the day it’s just about whether you disclose your vested interest in something or not, and I think it’s such a tired argument now that I don’t think you’ll find many people who’ll stand up and say “absolutely never disclose that they’re your client!”

    It’

  • Laura Tosney

    I think bringing actual content into this conversation is pointless, given that everyone at some point – and myself definitely included – tweets about stuff that other people could care less about. At the end of the day it’s just about whether you disclose your vested interest in something or not, and I think it’s such a tired argument now that I don’t think you’ll find many people who’ll stand up and say “absolutely never disclose that they’re your client!”.

    It just seems to me personally that it could only reflect badly on you if someone finds out you’re connected in a paid way and that tweets that don’t disclose client relationships would seem disingenuous at best.

  • http://MaxTB.com Max Tatton-Brown

    Thanks for the comment Laura- at one point I had a sentence in here about how you don’t lose anything by playing it safe and chucking #client on. Which is fair enough in some ways.

    But it seems to introduce a kind of apologetic tone with connotations that you only published it because of your client relationship. It has its uses but I think overuse is where it can start to make you look a bit fangless.

    The tweeters I like most have a conviction and integrity which makes you understand that they wouldn’t be just chucking in bit.lys to client press releases willy nilly anyway.

    Part of the reason I wanted to bring this up is because I think there are certainly some grey areas to thrash out beneath the seemingly simple surface… Normally makes for a good conversation!

  • Laura Tosney

    It’s true but then it becomes a case of ‘you can’t please everyone all the time’ and it seems sadly cynical to assume you then *only* tweet it because it’s a beneficial thing for you.

    “The tweeters I like most have a conviction and integrity which makes you understand that they wouldn’t be just chucking in bit.lys to client press releases willy nilly anyway.” <– true, and for me it works the other way also. The tweeters I personally like most don't make a habit of tweeting client stuff…so that when they do, and the #c tag is included, it makes me think it's something they genuinely find interesting enough to tweet 🙂

    "It has its uses but I think overuse is where it can start to make you look a bit fangless." <– This is curious. What's the other option then, do you think? Just not using the hashtag at all? 🙂

  • http://MaxTB.com Max Tatton-Brown

    I guess I’m not too worried about pleasing people all the time. Instead, I aim to be as close to how I think a tweeter should be and am happy for those to follow me who that appeals to.

    I’m sure we’ll meet in person soon, let’s talk about this over a beer. Much more satisfying to go over the details that way!

  • Adam

    Where to start…hmm…

    I firmly believe PR people say sorry waaaaaaaaaay too often.

    To client: “I’m really sorry, but I have to charge your for that additional research.”
    To journo: “I’m really sorry to bother you, but I have a story I thought you might like…”
    To boss: “I’m really sorry boss, we have to cancel your meetings today so you can deal with the media…”

    That’s called doing your job.

    Can you imagine walking into any other business environment and hearing the word ‘sorry’ followed by a solution being presented?

    It is this mindset that worries / bothers me re: disclosure.

    It is, as you point out, incredibly apologetic – I get the whole ethics thing but PR will only be viewed as an equal at the table with other comms disciplines when it starts feeling better itself…and it should.

    AV

  • http://twitter.com/katiemoffat katie moffat

    Ok so following on from today’s twitter exchange…. While I sort of get your point I think that if you are being paid to represent someone, you should be making that clear. Ultimately of course if you don’t, you’ll only be hurting yourself as people will unfollow etc but I don’t care about the damage to the reputation of the person doing it, in this scenario I care about me 🙂 In that I feel cheated when I follow someone’s link or listen to what they say, only to find out that they don’t really believe it.
    If you tweet about client stuff so often that it’s peppered with the client hashtag, then clearly you need to consider adding some other content to your tweets!

  • http://MaxTB.com Max Tatton-Brown

    Hi Katie, thanks for commenting.

    I think where you talk about following someone’s link only to find out that they don’t really believe it is the key point here.

    If they’re tweeting stuff *just because* it’s from a client then you’d expect a #client hashtag but as a result, that almost identifies it as something that people won’t want to click – the recommendation is explicitly hollow. Obviously if they tweet it just because it’s a client and yet don’t reference the hashtag then that’s even worse because the audience may click through, find out for themself and rightly lose trust for the source.

    You’ve got a point that it’s important to disclose financial affiliation- interesting article from @PRGeek on the topic of how difficult that is these days here: http://j.mp/eTV8pj

    Ultimately though, I think you just have to operate in a way that doesn’t damage people’s trust in you. If I’m sharing something from a client, just like anything I share, it’ll be because it’s cool or of interesting to one area or another of my followers rather than because they pay me.

    And I think (of hope!) people get that feeling from my social persona as a whole. I guess we shall see…