Personal Vs. Private in PR & Social Media: Understanding the Difference

socialmedia_provpersonalNovember 3rd, 2016 –This piece was contributed by Courtney Lukitsch, founder and principal at Gotham PR in New York and London, with clients in 25 cities globally.

It represents Gotham Public Relations ongoing published series of articles focused on Client and Agency-side challenges and evolving solutions inside the global workplace.

Read the full article published by Bulldog Reporter and Cision.


As the current Presidential election demonstrates—along with daily breaking news in the world of entertainment—the “personal versus private” debate rages on.

As the lines between an individual’s personal and private life continue to blur and we move forward in a world where the fusion of these two seems inevitable, it is crucial that an understanding of the difference be made.

We certainly do not conduct ourselves in the same way at home on our own time as we would at the office or in a business meeting, so it should come as no surprise that we must distinguish between the two via social media as well. Opening a discussion on this topic will allow a little light to be shed on both sides of the matter.

With the reveal of highly sensitive and supposedly ‘private’ email, twitter, direct instant messages via Facebook and Gmail, not to mention Instagram images and hashtags, reputations are made and lost. A quick tweet or Facebook post can reach far beyond the allotted 140 characters, creating the need for user discretion on the posting of sensitive topics.

There is a massive difference in private and personal matters even down to the audience you would direct these thoughts towards. The point being, as TechCrunch asserts, use another platform to convey information if there is a concern that it reach an unintended audience. As private is defined as an item confined or intended only for the persons immediately concerned; confidential in other words, we as a society have twisted, skewed and transformed this seemingly defined term. As the article also insists, “digital etiquette” is imperative to adopt.

In applying this critical thought process to PR, as professionals we are trained to be mindful of the consequences of unintended recipients of critical information, and anticipate in advance for our clients not to engage in the worn out ‘off the record’ argument. In sum: if you do not wish to see it published in the press, do not say it. That’s media training 101.

According to the Digital Media Law Project publishing information about a person, company or entity minus prior consent basically constitutes legal liability – despite its accuracy. This is where the complexity of the PR universe in terms of fact checking and due diligence comes into play. Factors that include publication of private facts or using the name or likeness of another online become mission critical.

Now more than ever, it is essential PR teams be equipped with appropriate facts backed with research on such matters. As the age-old adage advises, hope for the best, expect the worst. Certainly while it is probable that no issues will surface, there is always the unexpected and as we know, chance favors the prepared.

With the free for all atmosphere of the Internet and encouragement for professionals to blur their social media and professional pursuits creates an interesting dynamic if not dilemma moving into 2017 and beyond.

We believe that one of the major draws of social media would lie in the instant gratification one feels when blasting off a post. Being able to share your thoughts quickly and easily with your network can be a beautiful thing as you are able to broadcast freely to the world. However, on the flip side think about the intricate process that a business article undergoes pre-publication. Multiple rounds of fact checking and confirmation of all details must occur in order to publish a reputable piece. In other words, your online visibility is much more accessible via social media.

The recent theft of Kardashian jewels in a Paris hotel is directly attributable to a millennial tendency to not only broadcast exact whereabouts through surveillance technology—Instagram and snapchat when geo-tagged—but to make oneself a target and tarnish reputation for very poor judgement. A novel issue in the world we live in today as even 5 ears ago, this incident would have been deemed highly unlikely.

According to Fox Business News millennials on social media fall into this practice the most. The routine updates we provide for our followers (wanted or not) can be a source of instant gratification but also a source of vulnerability.

This group will comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025. While there are reputation management tools currently available to wipe clean former online photos, links and mentions, behavior modification might be the most advisable route to pursue. Not to mention, no matter if it has been wiped, deleted or hidden, a person only has to see something one time for a lasting impression to be made.

PR executives the world over will daily experience the joys of seeing their clients in business news, only after careful advance planning, strategy and scrutiny as to its desired outcome and utility. The flip side is also a recurring theme where a client does not follow PR instructions, says too much, and then suffers the consequences in print. Fortunately in the era of digital, sometimes editors are willing to correct but not retract information or attributions. Again, proceed with caution.

As the New York Times alludes, the new wave of Internet attacks come from everyday devices, proving that we are more exposed than we think. As the awareness of this topic increases due to recent occurrences, this is a highly sensitive and important discussion to have. Just last Friday, the Eastern Coast of the US was faced with an attack on the infrastructure of the Internet, proving that nothing is 100% private anymore.

States PR Moment, those working in Marketing PR and advertising are most likely to let their online and real time lives merge, while maintain a perspective that positions and portrays both favorably—but responsibly. Why is this? When you work within an industry where live sharing is encouraged and has become about as routine as your morning coffee, overlap is bound to occur. This piece goes on even further to say that one in three people search for interviewees beforehand on social media. If you can honestly say that you have never performed a quick Facebook or Instagram search for a new co-worker or potential hire, it would seem that you were among the minority.

The sharing of ideas, images, contacts, networking opportunities and accomplishments can burnish rather than tarnish a reputation. It also adds value from a brand extension perspective that employees are taking their respective work seriously enough to extend pride in practice and demonstrate leadership. If you are proud of something happening in your professional life and chose to share that with your personal followers that would seemingly speak to the quality of your work.

At Gotham PR, we’ve created such a network over the past 12 years with interns to junior and SAE team members that there is a perpetual referral system to help each other reach new opportunities and contacts, a far underutilized tool.

It also factors into a professional mentoring book being written on this topic by the agency’s founder, who realized over a decade ago that employees want a coach not a boss, and to learn at a very advanced level at a young age. Published articles on this topic may be found here: The Importance of a PR Internship (Plus: How to Cultivate a Mentor) and How to fix the misrepresentation of PR Pro’s in the Media.

As we move into the new year, launching new campaigns and cultivating new talent both agency and client-side, let’s be mindful as an industry to practice what we preach. As Harvard Business Review validates, 60% of hiring managers utilize social media and professional industry references to advance-screen when hiring. When prospects – including clients do it right, social media can be a tremendous asset to leverage for global awareness. Using this as an advantageous tool can propel business forward leaps and bounds.

Moving forward, as we proceed to navigate the waters of personal and private matters via social media it is clear we must do so with a delicate hand. Discretion and attention must be paid to where and when we share information with our networks. Think twice about the content you project into cyberspace, curate and define which items are appropriate for your personal versus private life and lastly, stay mindful of your audience always.

Courtney Lukitsch is founder and principal at Gotham PR.

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