Who has the right to criticise in public relations? This seems a pertinent question in the light of the development of PR in social media where many lessons can be learned, and success or failure is often the subject of comment and debate, normally in the immediate public forum of social media itself.
Is it only the originators of a social media PR campaign who have the right to judge its success? After all, they have defined their objectives and should have undertaken relevant evaluation to determine whether or not these have been achieved.
Or given the nature of social media in terms of transparency and agency, is everyone and anyone entitled to express their opinion? The immediacy of Twitter, blogs, comments and the myriad of social media enables us all to join the "conversation".
But, are all opinions equal? Are those involved too subjective? Can considered reflection really emerge in the clamour of instant comment?
Perhaps criticism should be reserved for those who have analysed a case using an objective methodology. Or should the views of "social media experts" be pre-eminent owing to their longevity in the territory?
A critic can be defined as someone who "forms and expresses judgement on the merits, faults, value, or truth of a matter" or "one who tends to make harsh or carping judgments; a faultfinder".
Critical thinking is generally viewed to be a higher cognitive skill involving reflection and analysis rather than simply knowing or understanding. Bloom’s taxonomy emphasises the value of being able to question and reason; taking a balanced view in presenting and assessing arguments.
Perhaps social media is simply reflecting the "sound bite" culture where your opinion, in 140 characters or fewer, may be considered to be as valid – certainly more accessible – as any in-depth, detailed debate and discussion, that is predicated on reflection and analysis.
My hypothesis is that you can find several types of PR "experts" in social media:
The professional practitioner is engaged in social media as part of the public relations strategy of an organisation, normally their employer. They are likely to be engaging in conversations and seeking to understand how new tools and techniques can support and enhance the organisation’s communications, reputation management and relationship building with key publics.
The academic/educator/learner is interested in how social media facilitates discussion and sharing of knowledge in respect of PR theory and practice. They will seek to combine "expert" understanding of academic research, theory and models, with application and reflection on practice.
The social media guru who counsels clients on engaging in social media will draw on their online record as an early blogger or pioneer in Twitter, for example. And/or, they may cite their credentials as campaigns undertaken.
The wannabe expert may be fairly new to social media, but, recognising their existing PR clients’ interest, aim to extend into this arena. Being barely one step ahead of the client isn’t an issue given that few organisations, especially at the senior level, are professional practitioners in PR social media terms.
But criticism of PR isn’t the exclusive preserve of any type of expert – journalists, members of the public, students, non-PR practitioners and academics of all disciplines are all as eager to comment on situations that are examples of public relations (even if they don’t know it).
Does any of this matter? Aren’t we all newbies in social media given the pace of development? Can anyone really claim to know it all, let alone to have been there, done it, and got the t-shirt?
And, aren’t most of us writing and commenting on the nature of PR in social media simply digital immigrants, bringing our "old planet" perspectives to this brave new world?
Personally I think – should I say, IMHO? – criticism is an inherent component of social media and should be seen as healthy (at least in its constructive guise rather than the spiteful flaming type).
Everyone is entitled to a view about the role and purpose of PR in social media – especially if they have something useful to share and are prepared to help develop understanding through conversation and debate.
But, if you want anyone to take your criticism or expertise seriously, remember "guru" status is like beauty, ie in the eye of the beholder, and carries responsibilities in exchange for the regard and authority that is bestowed by those who believe your opinion has any merit.
Feel free to criticise…
Responding to the Conversation (Mitch Joel, TwistImage)