What Does The Web Say About Your Clients?

A good friend of mine once complained that women – particularly American women – are “schizophrenic” in terms of the many roles they are meant to play in society. Personally, I think that is a load of bunk as I see men playing the same number of roles. But, he does have a point in that who we are in one aspect of our lives (i.e. work) may differ greatly from who we are in another (i.e. with friends).

How does this relate to PR, marketing and social media you ask? Well, our online personas are increasingly impacting our overall images – and that of our clients. Reconciling these different roles in this era of “putting it all out there” can be rather daunting, especially when your gig is image. Do you know what photos your clients have on Facebook? How about on dating sites? What does that Super Poke they just got or that “Which Sex & The City Character Are You” quiz say about them? And, as their professional image-makers, is it any of our business?

The New York Times calls it, “impression management” and it is fast-becoming a hot topic as social media grows more prevalent in our daily lives. We’ve all heard the stories of college students losing job opportunities and even scholarships because of some illicit images on their MySpace page or an unfortunate video on YouTube. I’m sure many of you remember the kid who told his boss he had a family emergency, only to get busted when a photo of him at a Halloween party appeared on Facebook.

And, really this is nothing new. I remember when I was just a junior exec at Ogilvy, I was tasked with selecting applicants for our internship program. During one call, I got an outgoing answering machine message that was clearly recorded when the kid was very drunk with his friends. I did not ask him to come in for the interview. Now, I know college kids party, and as a junior exec, my own rambunctious college days were not far behind me then. But, considering the job was a PR position, I felt if this kid didn’t have enough sense to manage his own image, how could we trust him to manage our clients?

Michael Agger of Slate.com addressed this topic recently in terms of what your online photos say about you. (A fascinating read). As someone who does not want his photo made public, he opted for a manga-tranformation image of himself using the University of St. Andrews’ super cool transformer program. Agger asks the question: which version of yourself do you put out there? The “you” your frat brothers know? Or, the version that your boss sees? In other words, which aspect of your schizophrenia, as my pal calls it, should you make available online?

As PR pros, we painstakingly manage our clients’ images right down to every detail of a photo shoot. Does a suit-and-tie make him look old-fashioned? Should she sit or stand? What story does each picture tell? Whether that photo is going on the company’s web site or in a magazine, it is our duty to help them put forth the best image for themselves and the overall brand. But, how much of that can be undone within one dating site or Facebook survey? And, where is the line in terms of what we can and can’t advise our clients to do?

These days, a reporter can easily pull client photos and quotes from every corner of the web. So, with that in mind, it would behoove us to take a careful look at what content they are putting out there and then diplomatically demonstrate how it could be taken in the wrong context. These won’t be easy conversations to have. That line between personal life and professional image is an important one to be sure. But, I would rather risk offending my client in a way that demonstrates my thorough concern for their image, than have to play damage control later.

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