Screen shot from Canal Bar & Grill ad with Worcester Department of Public Works and Parks Commisioner Robert Moylan Jr.
Is it OK for a public official to lend his or her image to the advertising campaign for a local business? It depends, but it certainly is a perambulation into dicey territory.
When watching an advertisement for the Canal Bar & Grill on telegram.com the other day, I noticed what looked like a familiar face among the bar’s supporters. Is that Worcester Commissioner for Public Works and Parks Robert Moylan Jr.? Yes it is.
Moylan has a few seconds in the ad, in which he lifts a glass of beer and says “It’s a great place for intimate meetings.” It doesn’t say his name or his position. Is there anything wrong with doing this? I can’t say there is, but it left me feeling a bit uncomfortable.
Moylan’s a smart guy. I doubt he took any pay for being in the ad and I don’t know if he’s getting free drinks from it or if the streets are plowed a little better on that stretch or not. I doubt it. But it’s the fact that those questions even come to mind that make a public official’s involvement in a business’s ad campaign a little … awkward.
I "like" a lot of political figures.
The Associated Press released a revised version of its Social Media Guidelines for its employees this month. There’s a lot of really good, sensible stuff in there (recognition of journalist’s personal brands, encouraging engagement with readers, etc.).
One area of note, however, is not a new subject of debate among journalists on social media: Does following someone on Twitter or “liking” a page or friending a political candidate or cause on Facebook translate into an endorsement? AP recognizes that this isn’t necessarily so, but is concerned about the perceptions of what it calls “people unfamiliar with the protocol of social networks.” So, AP discourages the practice. It’s an issue I think legacy media companies tend to overly concern themselves with.
Now, I must point out that this doesn’t seem to be a concrete rule for AP — the guidelines say employees should “avoid” these interactions. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting point of discussion for any journalist out there in the social media playing field.
From the journalist’s perspective, making these connections in social media is about building a personal community of sources. Social media is, at its best, interactive. Although beginners sometimes mistake it as simply a new way to broadcast — publishing links to stories with no interaction. They’re missing out on the best part of social media, which is plugging in to a large community of people of various political persuasions. Input from this community is as valuable as output to it. Should you follow the mayor on Twitter? Absolutely. Should you follow his opponent in the upcoming election? Naturally. Follow your friends. Follow the competition. Follow and like anything that makes you a better informed journalist. Yes, you can create lists in Twitter and there are ways to get around a direct connection. But is it really necessary? Will people confuse your motives? Not if they’re genuinely balanced.
What would be some potential ways to screw this up?
- Friend, like or follow only people of a particular party or persuasion.
- Engage with people on these platforms in a way that shows a strong bias or reflects badly on the company you work for.
Can professional journalists avoid doing that? Yes. Those misuses aside, it seems that we journalists on social media shouldn’t overly concern ourselves with the perceptions of those who aren’t on social media.