The communications tsunami happened with no warning. When it was done, two people had lost their jobs, the tech world can't figure out why the catastrophe took place, and those of us in communications are groping for what is the new decorum in professional rhetoric and conduct.
As BUSINESS INSIDER reports, at the PyCon Conference, where developers for open source PyCon programming gathered, a sex-laced joke was made in a "private conversation" by two male attendees. The woman sitting in front of them turned around, smiled, took their photo, and ranted in a tweet. Of course, that kind of material is bound to go viral and it sure did.
The snitch Adria Richards lost her job at SendGrid (yeah, nothing changes in that the snitch still winds up in the ditch) and the joker lost his at PlayHaven. One thing is clear: There must be a consensus, just as there had been in 20th century professional life, about what are the rules in public discourse and what are the channels of approval.
In Corporate America, where I had started out, there was no ambiguity. "In the legal sector," observes Chief Executive Officer of Laws.com Boris Kreiman, "at one time what was acceptable as well as effective in marketing or 'commercial speech' was practically codified. Now, both as a result of social media and accelerated competition, lawyers have to differentiate themselves. Our recommendation at Laws.com to lawyers is to 'test market' approaches as calculated small bets."
Post-PyCon, the tech world recognizes that it is not exempt from the prevailing mores in professional communications. Those keep changing but for right now, here's what is:
- Be cautious about humor. These are not only politically sensitive times but any offense will be outed via digital networks in real time.
- No conversation is private, even if conducted in private. It's too easy and tempting to record it.
- Public conversations are just that: public. That means they're subject to the taboos of any society and profession.
- Employees cannot go public with an opinion without prior approval by the employer. Employees represent the organizational brand, not themselves.
- Snitching for the sake of attention or a good story will likely bite the tattle-tale in the rear.
Daily, we who are actually employed in communications struggle with both the appropriate and effective tone, organization, and word choice for client messaging. We can't assume anything and more tries are rejected than accepted. Even the brandnames in public relations find themselves hitting the wall.
Full Disclosure: I assist Laws.com with communications