Don't Believe Everyone You Read

Everyone's got an angle, as Bing Crosby famously once said. And on social media, where increasing numbers of influential public debates are taking place on major issues, that makes for a lively time.

Anyone joining in property-related discussions on Twitter and Facebook, or any of the various property chatrooms and blog forums, will know what I mean.

Growing numbers debate everything from house price indices to the performance of Grant Shapps, from housing market snapshots to the latest sustainability trends in construction; the people who take part range from the interested observers to high-profile industry professionals.

What makes these debates useful is that we know peoples' angles. Much of the criticism of Grant Shapps in recent weeks, for example, has come from professionals keen to see a 'booming' housing market - estate agents, mortgage lenders and the like. We know who they are on social media as they identify themselves, thus allowing the rest of us to judge: 'they know what they're talking about' or 'they would say that, wouldn't they?' That is what makes the social media debate so useful.

However, I am indebted to property PR firm Luchford for this. It is a piece from PR Week reporting how the Office of Fair Trading has criticised a firm for not saying its social media blogs and posts were sponsored.

There are a very few property PRs who use Twitter and Facebook this way, trying to surreptitiously influence debates and polls, claiming to be neutral 'individuals' but actually working for firms whose products they subtly plug through their comments. Over the Christmas, one tried to 'debate' with me - until I discovered she was a PR subtly plugging her firm's activities.

This contrasts with the very professional PR firms like Foundation PR and Edelman, which ensure references to their clients are often accompanied by (client) or some similar way of identifying their background. It is easy for them to do, and it allows us to judge what weight to give to the comments.

I have spotted this problem only twice on Twitter, but the PR Week article suggests this trend may grow. Wouldn’t it be a good idea if everyone using social media to debate major housing and property issues was similarly upfront and straightforward? They could still have their angle but the rest of us would know those views were honestly held, and not put forward just because someone was paying them to plug an opinion or a product.

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