Teresa Horscroft's blog

Teresa Horscroft is a PR consultant who helps companies in the information technology and marketing sectors to raise awareness of their products and services and increase sales.

23 December 2010

Are conversations ever really off the record?

My answer to this question is invariably always “no with a few caveats”. Vince Cable’s comments this week on Murdoch’s intended acquisition of BSkyB and the challenges of working in a coalition Government is a stark reminder that anything we say can be ‘published’. Cable will probably assert at some point that he wasn’t aware he was speaking to ‘the press’. These days however that distinction isn’t important. Perhaps it never was. Word of mouth is, after all, not a new phenomena.

Social media does of course accelerate the ability of word of mouth to travel, providing anyone and everyone with an opinion the ability to comment, willingly and often, on all manner of topics that impact or interest them. Their individual comments invariably join with others to create an enormous groundswell of comment, often from millions of individual voices, that is capable of becoming or influencing global news.

Even if Cable’s comments had fallen on the ears of two regular constituents instead of ‘undercover’ journalists, it is highly likely that his words would have still have found a way to be heard.

The Web is one giant mixing bowl, making distinct lines of communication to specific audiences a strategy of the past and meaning that people like Cable should be careful about what they say anywhere, not just in the press conference or briefing environment.

Exceptions to my ‘no off the record’ mantra, like the Chatham House rule on non-attributable briefings, may exist but they rely on agreement and understanding and are planned in advance. They do not help people who make unguarded, critical comments to anyone who will listen. The web really does makes every conversation ‘on the record’.