How to handle social media during your socially responsible events.
Transparency is one of the commandments of social responsibility, enhancing other socially responsible actions such as stakeholder engagement. Social media is an agent of transparency, a global information highway. Event professionals have embraced social media with passion and purpose. Social media would seem to be a perfect match for socially responsible events and the event professionals who plan and execute them.
Transparency, however, isn’t the only criterion event professionals should consider about socially responsible event communication. Social responsibility implies responsibility toward our community and the environment as well as the ability to operate in an economically prosperous way, or what many people recognize as the triple bottom line of people, planet and prosperity. Arguably, we owe those stakeholders more than unfettered access to information. We also must consider what information we share about our stakeholders, and the potential consequences of doing so on the community and our organizational prosperity.
What other criteria, besides transparency, should socially responsible event professionals take into consideration? I looked at the social media policies for several different types of organizations, including corporations (IBM, Coca Cola, Hill+Knowlton and Microsoft), government (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Government of Canada Human Resources and Skills Development), educational institutions (Harvard) and associations (American Psychological Association, American Medical Association). While they all identified transparency and stakeholder engagement as worthy goals, I also spotted four common themes that moderate the sense of openness that we’ve come to expect from social media.
- Intellectual property
In any organization, transparency of information only goes so far before it is limited by the legal obligation to protect individual privacy and to protect information that may be confidential for both individuals and corporations. Intellectual property must also be protected. This can be difficult if you’re trying to give both attribution and information within 140-character limit of a tweet. Transparency of affiliation is also an important factor: you must declare on whose behalf you’re speaking, and identify your affiliation with any groups you’re speaking about. At least two of the organizations I surveyed prohibit speaking on behalf of a client without their permission.
This is an area where event professionals need to be more wary. We tend to think of socially responsible events as “green meetings” and stakeholder engagement as a license to share information. Here are some things to consider if we tweet or blog about an event, or invite a team of bloggers or “Twitterati” on site.
- Do we have our client’s or employer’s permission to share information about them? Social media can affect the community in which we, and our clients, do business, and our actions could easily violate someone’s privacy.
- What about secondary postings, like retweets or “shares?” Do we know that the original poster has the intellectual property rights to the content? What about an inadvertent product or service endorsement?
- Both IBM and Hill+Knowlton have rules about posting culturally appropriate information, also very important in a socially responsible context. The Hill+Knowlton Social Media Principles (Version 3.0 - January 2012) state, “Make sure you understand the culture and rules—explicit and implicit—of the communities with whom you seek to engage, and respect privacy preferences.” Multinational companies, governments and international associations should be very aware of possible repercussions of content that is considered inappropriate by some of their stakeholders.
Transparency is an important goal, but not at the expense of other responsibilities. We also need to consider privacy, confidentiality of proprietary information, intellectual property, culture and client/employer permission. Doing so helps build reputational capital and our organization’s social license to operate, and protects it from possible legal and economic consequences. Socially responsible meetings and events, far from being just a “green meeting,” consider all aspects of the triple bottom line of people, planet and prosperity. One+
One+ November 2012,