In the world of public relations, a spokesperson can sometimes seem like the most important element of any campaign. Though I don't quite understand some of my colleagues necessity to always propose a celebrity in this spokesperson role, I do understand the very real need to establish credibility and a spokesperson can be a great way to do that. One interesting situation that the rise of social media is bringing up, however, is the increasingly common phenomenon of the accidental spokesperson. These are the individuals that are working for an organization and blogging, but are not considered official spokespersons. Most of the time, they don't have any media training and that combination is a situation PR teams at most corporations spend a long time trying to avoid. Having "regular" employees thrust into the role of spokespersons can result in everything from small mishaps to large scale missteps. Every PR pro has a ready story of horror to share if you ask about what happens when you get inexperienced and unauthorized employees speaking intentionally or unintentionally on a company's behalf.
It's no wonder many corporate PR teams view blogs with a mixture of distrust and fear. Particularly when it comes to dealing with employee bloggers. The real difficulty, however, comes when one or more of these employee bloggers starts developing a following. As their audience rises, so does the importance of their unofficial role as a spokesperson. In effect, they become an accidental spokesperson. Robert Scoble is probably the highest profile example of this phenomenon during the time that he was at Microsoft. Steve Rubel during his time with Cooper Katz seemed to have a similar situation (though now at Edelman he is far more "official" as a company mouthpiece). I suspect that a survey of business bloggers in a variety of industries would turn up hundreds of bloggers that fit this category of accidental spokespersons. As more bloggers focus on building their microbrands - the question of how their professional profile merges with their personal one will continue to be a challenge for bloggers and communications teams alike. Some bloggers will likely resist their roles as accidental spokespersons for the organizations they work for, while others will embrace it. Either way, it seems a phenomenon that will only continue to happen more frequently, and most corporate PR teams would be wise to develop a strategy for embracing and leveraging bloggers in this role. This is an opportunity to build on, not something to be afraid of.
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