With our PR industry under the microscope this week surrounding Burson-Marsteller’s handling of PR for Facebook, (Read more: “Facebook acknowledges anti-Google campaign” by Hayley Tsukayama, the Washington Post) we believe this contributed article from an esteemed colleague on the east coast may be of interest for our fellow PR friends in the west.
Guest blog post from Robert Noltenmeier, Clinical Assistant Professor of Public Relations and Corporate Communications at the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies
Isn’t it ironic that social media often is antisocial? In our ever-evolving and fast-moving social-media world, perhaps it’s good to pause and look back at history. In the 1920s, Edward L. Bernays, the first public relations counselor, called for a code of ethics to govern the emerging profession similar to codes in law and medicine. Bernays believed public relations practitioners, like lawyers, have a right to represent clients. He also felt, however, that PR practitioners should refuse dishonest, fraudulent or antisocial clients.
Given the current social media Burson-Marsteller/Facebook flap, isn’t it ironic—or prescient—that he used “antisocial” back then? How far has the profession “emerged”? In fact, it’s emerged a great deal through PRSA’s and IABC’s codes of ethics and the Arthur W. Page Society’s Page Principles, among others—all voluntary standards for evaluating an individual’s, group’s or company’s behavior that, alas, don’t carry substantive penalties.
The current Burson-Marsteller and Facebook issue clearly violated normative standards. To me, normative standards in public relations amount to self-regulation in U.S. financial markets. We know what happened there. The recent successful prosecution of the Wall Street insider-trading case (pending appeal) will perhaps encourage Wall Street’s return to normative behavior. Likewise, we can hope and expect that the Burson-Marsteller and Facebook flare-up will make public relations codes of ethics enforceable through real penalties as other professions have: disbarment or practicing prohibitions. In other recent social media gaffs, those involved have been fired. Those are choices societies and professions must make to control antisocial behavior in a social-media world.
Questions for Mr. Noltenmeier can be directed to his email, email@example.com.