Any public relations professional worth their title would advise a client to never answer a reporter’s question with “No comment.” While it satisfies the impulse to shut down an uncomfortable situation, it has consequences. It leaves the reporter, representing all curious minds, guessing what happened, and the utterer looking at best uninformed and, at worst, guilty of whatever situation is being reported. “No comment” offers the illusion of control, but in reality, it creates a free radical with the potential to become cancer to an organization’s reputation. There is always a better alternative.
Lessons from this classic PR scenario can be applied to your personal life and today’s challenge of maintaining an image and personal relationships online. Several behaviors that have become common in the age of social media, messaging apps and texting can be just as destructive. According to a recent article, ghosting – digitally disappearing from someone’s life without explanation – is the most damaging for the person losing the contact. And much like “No comment,” it could have unforeseen consequences for the one doing the ghosting, as well.
So, before you give into the temptation to ghost that offensive relative, questionable friend or awful date, consider these four PR principles a consultant might suggest for your personal life:
Proactive communication is best. Always. Disappearing from someone’s life without letting that person know you are doing so is reactive and passive. Instead, take a breath and think about why you want to avoid an uncomfortable situation or no longer want this person in your life. Write down three main reasons or key points – in PR, we call them key messages – and find a way to communicate those instead. This is a planned and proactive approach, a strong personal PR strategy.
What you put out into the universe is what you will get back. The best PR pros believe in karma – or in corporate terms, responsibility. Taking ownership of your decisions, whether others deem them good or bad, and the outcomes of said decisions, whether intended or unintended, is the first step toward demonstrating you are trustworthy and building a positive reputation. It is the same in business and your personal life.
Reputation is the conglomeration of what you do every day. Reputations aren’t made by one glorious feat or grave mistake. Instead, they are built over time by consistent effort. As much as you are a sum of your parts, your reputation is the sum of your choices, words and actions. A truly comprehensive PR strategy requires patience and endurance. Brands are not built overnight. You are your own brand, and imagining that anything is anonymous or without consequence, especially in the digital age, is an illusion.
The six degrees of separation are real. It is a small world after all. In PR, we think a lot about connections and potential consequences. We know that your target audience is not always your only audience. People are watching and observing at all times – and they know each other. Word-of-mouth, made even more powerful in the digital age of posts, comments and reviews, is an incredible force. You never know where and when your ghosting is going to haunt you.
As PR pros, our goal is always to help our clients build reputations with integrity. Our advice for a business would be similar to that which we would lend to a friend navigating his or her personal life. We would advise against “No comment,” and we would advise against ghosting. Both have serious potential to lead down the path of destruction. Open, proactive communication creates trust, which is the foundation for everything that comes after.