Few would argue that, at its core, the public relations role is about engagement. It’s about conversations and building relationships with stakeholders, both identified and unknown. In the social media sphere some proclaim that there are new rules for engagement…but I don’t actually think that much has changed. Ideally, debates and behaviours should be egalitarian and communal, and be based on facts or a body of knowledge and analysis, rather than opinions or conventional wisdom (unless conventional wisdom is clearly identified as such).
And when one is communing in a public space (such as a blog or twitter or an organized conference), there is even less excuse for bravado or overt (or covert) alliances and bad behaviour. This is because forums are shared ones and must serve the best interests of the many, rather than a select few. That’s not to say every thought or opinion must be sanitized and serve to maintain the status quo. Rather, forums must remain open to new voices and ideas, creativity and vision—from females and males, old and young—plus a cornucopia of backgrounds, both in terms of ethnicity and areas of expertise and functions. No one person (or clique) possesses all of the answers.
Backgrounder to Rules from the vault
Recently in de-cluttering mode (mainly print information accumulated over time), I came across a small piece of paper I picked up roughly 10 years ago in that great treasure trove of creative output and documentation, The Hermitage. Although social media hadn’t really been birthed in the late 1990s (and certainly not during the time of Catherine the Great), it struck me how apt remains the majority of the empress’ (old) rules for engagement. Such as her in junctures against rank, parochialism and gnawing at things..! I particularly liked her desire that visitors remain open and enjoy (”be merry”) their civilized exchanges.
For posterity and for sharing purposes, I decided to post the 10 rules here. (But believe I’ll also hang on to the physical proof, too.) I hope you also appreciate their timelessness.
After reading, I’m wondering if anyone will feel (“moderately”) creative enough to suggest modifications and/or provide some 21st century additions to the list?
Rules for the Hermitage as determined by Catherine the Great
For the Behaviour of All Those Entering These Doors
(About 1770-1780; St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum)
1. All ranks shall be left behind at the doors, as well as swords and hats.
2. Parochialism and ambitions shall also be left behind at the doors.
(Discovered an alternate 2 from another source: Orders of precedence and haughtiness, and anything of such like which might result from them, shall be left at the doors.)
3. Be merry, but neither spoil nor break anything, nor indeed gnaw at anything.
4. Be seated, stand or walk as it best pleases you, regardless of others.
5. Speak with moderation and not too loudly, so that others present do not get an earache or headache.
6. One shall not argue angrily or passionately.
7. Do not sigh or yawn, neither bore nor fatigue others.
8. Agree to partake of any innocent entertainment suggested by others.
9. Eat well of good things, but drink with moderation so that each should be able always to find his legs on leaving these doors.
10. All disputes must stay behind closed doors; and what goes in one ear should go out the other before departing through the doors.
If any infringe the above, on the evidence of two witnesses, for any crime each guilty party shall drink a glass of cold water, ladies not excepted, and read a page from the *“Telemachida” out loud.
Who infringes three points on one evening, shall be sentenced to learn three lines from the *“Telemachida” by heart.
If any shall infringe the tenth point, he shall no longer be permitted entry.
[*The “Telemachida” was a contemporary Russian poem about the adventures of Telemachus, son of Odysseus, which most contemporaries found tedious and long-winded.]
Although the introductory paragraphs and the posting of the rules is my own creation, I have been inspired by some earlier readings, which I’ll list here:
– From the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s website vault: Rules of engagement for the social media set, Ira Basen
– From Vermont Public Radio’s vault: Catherine’s Rules, Allen Gilbert
– From the Naked PR blog’s vault: Why I Won’t Join Your PR Blog Party, Jennifer Mattern
Finally, a recommendation to check out a recent blog posting by Mark Schaefer on his Business Grow blog: The Social Media Country Club. Note the “engagement” and/or civility (or lack thereof) in the comments section.