Our constitutional right to the freedom of expression is truly a double-edged sword in the public relations world. It allows us to offer the best communication possible on behalf of our clients without having to appeal for government approval. In that sense, it really is a gift that enables us to communicate openly and freely with the public.
At the same time, it also permits our organization’s publics to freely express how they feel: their behaviors, attitudes, beliefs and values — even if they are contrary to ours. As public relations practitioners, we must view this as a responsibility just as much as a right.
1. ALWAYS be aware of what is being said, especially online. Social media gives perfect access to what your publics are saying about those you represent. Take advantage of the conversations that are being held; the most negative remarks can be turned into great constructive criticism.
2. No matter how outrageous the claim may seem, LISTEN. Many times, the most extreme rant is still based in some form of truth. Sometimes you have to play detective and really look past the emotional words to find the motivation behind them. Situations can get blown out of proportion and the simplest action — like apologizing — can resolve the problem. It is our responsibility to discern why things are being said as we monitor what is being said.
3. Always remember, freedom of expression works BOTH WAYS. Now that you know what is behind the situation, use your right to communicate. People can be receptive if you take the time to reach out transparently and initiate a dialogue. Acknowledge that you’ve heard them and offer an honest response. Often, people just want to be heard and respected.
We’ve been given a great gift with the ability to communicate freely, and this gift has only been enhanced with the advancements of technology. But many times we take this most basic right for granted. As public relations practitioners, freedom of expression can be our greatest asset as long as we see it as a responsibility just as much as a right.
What communication platform do you think gives us the greatest opportunity to use freedom of expression through two-way communication?
Victoria Lewis is a public relations major at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. She is secretary of her PRSSA Chapter and is very involved in Tower Creative Consultants, her Chapter’s student-run firm. Follow her on Twitter @VKathryn94.