The four T’s: Spokespeople in the social space


Something I’m working on at the moment is how to work with spokespeople in the social space. This can sometimes be a bit of a grey area, so I thought it would be helpful to share some learnings for all of you out there who may be nervous or just plain confused.

When being socially active on behalf of a company, there are four key things to remember. I like to call this the four T’s:

  • Transparency
  • Trust
  • Training
  • Time

The key thing to consider both as a spokesperson and as a company asking someone to be your spokesperson, is transparency. It is important that as a spokesperson, whatever you say in the social space is supported with documentation of who you work for. And for this, I like to refer to our offline world. In traditional PR, any spokesperson would openly declare that they are paid by, or a consultant to, X company. This is in the interest of not wanting to mislead, and to be honest with the fact that you are representing a third party. And also, let’s not forget, in the world of healthcare it’s because the ABPI tells you to!

The purpose of this is not to undermine the authenticity of what is being said, it’s purely to maintain honesty and transparency in an industry that often faces criticism. No one likes to be deceived. So in the social space we just need to apply the same principles. Whether it’s in your twitter bio, your ‘about me’ on your blog, or even just a mention on relevant blog posts, a simple ‘consultant of the pharmaceutical industry’ is usually sufficient. But of course, whenever doing anything like this, it is vital to check internal social media policies, as these often vary by company.

The next T is trust and for me this is two-fold. Do you as a company trust a potential spokesperson, and are they as individuals trusted in their communities?

So by that I mean do you trust them to stay on message, be an advocate for your brand, know how to behave in the social space both courteously and credibly, and not to engage in negative conversations? On the other hand we have to consider their level of credibility within their audience – are they trusted? It is only if this is true that they will be able to influence opinion and shape conversations in the way that you desire.

Next we have training and I believe that this is very important. Not only do you need to educate your spokesperson on the rules and regulations, the tone and messages of your campaign, and the expectations, you also don’t want them to feel unsupported and perhaps apprehensive to actively engage in conversations. Again, we can look back to our offline lives – you would never ask activity of a spokesperson before media training them, so don’t do it in the social world!

An important part of this will be an issues management-type session, whereby you walk through a pre-approved protocol of exactly what to do in worst-case scenarios. I like to do this in a simple flow chart – ‘if this happens, I follow the flow chart and do this.’ Easy!

As an aside, it’s also important to note here that you should never ask someone to be a social spokesperson unless they are already active, comfortable and present in the social space. Nothing screams ‘I’ve been paid to do this’ more than a tweet going out from a handle that has had no activity for 3 months. It also means that the individual likely feels pretty comfortable with engaging online and understands common courtesies and expectations.

Then finally we have time. For success, you need agreement from your spokesperson that they have the time to make the commitment that social can sometimes be. We can’t let comments or questions go without response. And of course us as PR agencies can support in this by real-time monitoring of any engagement, and implementation of a process of notification and action.

The second part of this time element is to ask yourselves ‘can you as a company commit to putting the time in for monitoring, ongoing support to your spokespeople and adaptation as the campaign and objectives evolve?’ And fingers crossed the answer is yes!

There’s no denying that the social world needs different considerations and in some cases a bigger time commitment, but as with many areas of social, we can look to our traditional PR practices that we know so well and take reference. And remember, your spokespeople aren’t necessarily your biggest influencers, but they are the face of your brand: preparing them for the social world is worth the investment.

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