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Don’t Be Stupid: Social Media Can Get You Fired

It’s time to grow up and face the fact that social media, or what you say in social media channels specifically, can get you fired.  This is a message that I “try” to get across to University students and professionals that I coach on best practices for social media, PR and media relations.   Unfortunately not enough practitioners focus on this message!

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The now infamous Tweet

If there is one thing that we can take away from 2013, it is the fact that using social media can get you in trouble if not careful.  In the first quarter of the year we saw what many deemed a “shit-show-in-progress”  when Adria Richards, was attending a developer conference and not only tweeted about being offended by sexists comments made by two male attendees, but tweeted a picture of the offenders. Long story short, plus you can read the story in the link provided, the two men making the comments were fired, as was Adria.  There are many lessons to be learned from these events and some to be taken very seriously, but I will save those for another blog post.  The focus of this post is that a single Tweet can cause an avalanche that can’t be stopped.

Let’s look at the latest Tweet fiasco.  If you haven’t heard about Justine Sacco, I don’t know where you have been.  Her now infamous Tweet and her actual Twitter account have been deleted. In fact, it has been reported that she has deleted or suspended all of her social accounts.  Despite this, the now infamous Tweet lives on.  Did Sacco make a mistake?  The obvious answer is yes.  The court of public opinion has ruled on that.  Her one Tweet resulted in her being publicly called out, humiliated, fired and her social accounts taken over by people around the globe calling for action, some even threatening her. Did she deserve to be threatened?  No. She did not.  Should she have known better?  The answer is yes.  She was the Director of PR for a pretty well known company.  I am sure that this holiday season is taking on a whole new period of reflexion for her.  She has lost her job.  She had to shut down all her social accounts.  She is infamous.  She has had to publicly apologize for her error in judgement.  Despite her apology, people continue to Tweet to her and about her.  The Tweets are less than kind.

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A Tweet AFTER the apology from Sacco

When coaching clients I hope to help them understand that social media is public.  You may only have a small number of followers or friends on social, but the fact of the matter is that it is public. Sacco apparently only had a few hundred followers.  She clearly didn’t think about the worldwide impact that 12 words would have.

The key take away from these actions is quite simple:  when you share your thoughts in social media, you are “publicly” sharing information.  What you might think is funny or light-hearted or even informative could actually be offensive and perceived as insensitive and hateful.   Before hitting “send”, “share” or “Tweet”, pause and reflect.  Think about what “could” happen.

Now the questions is:  Do you feel sorry for Justine Sacco?  Why or why not?

7 Considerations To Choose the Right Corporate Spokesperson

The choice of corporate spokesperson should never be taken lightly.  Never.  Having the wrong person representing you can damage your brand in the best case scenario.  In the worse-case scenario, it could destroy your brand.

Courtesy of evercleanservices.com

Courtesy of evercleanservices.com

The person or persons chosen need to be creditable, knowledgeable, well-spoken, but above all empathetic and likeable. There have been a few tragic situations over the last few years when brands seem to have forgotten this fundamental rule.

Over the course of many years in Public Relations and Crisis Communications I have been both a corporate spokesperson and coached others.  It is not an easy task. When dealing with death, there are just no words that can make anyone feel better. That is why it is so critical that you have someone who can give information and facts and most importantly have real and genuine empathy. You can’t fake empathy. You can’t fake the terrible feeling that you have knowing that a human-being has died. At this point the spokesperson must do his or her best to share information that will help make some sense of the tragedy without inflaming victims and loves-ones who are experiencing complete and utter loss, disbelief and anger.

A few months ago I listened as one corporate spokesperson spoke on a very, very tragic situation here in Canada. I did not envy him or anyone who had attempted to coach him. This level of tragedy was unknown in our country and facing those left behind was not going to be easy. Suffice it to say, the conversation did not go well. The words chosen and even the tone used, were wrong. I listened in disbelief. Only days later I listened to a follow-up interview. My only words to describe what I heard was:  why isn’t someone saving him from himself? Again the words chosen would only inflame the victims’ families.  

Brands can mitigate this by having the right person in place.  I offer the following advice to brands to avoid having the wrong spokesperson:

1.  Know the abilities of your employees, including your executives.  Choose a spokesperson based on knowledge and the ability to be empathetic and likeable, not based on position.  While it is true that PR people will “typically” recommend that the most senior person speak out to “take responsibility” in very serious circumstances, avoid this if your most senior person does not come across as caring, patient, and likeable.  

2.  Have a regular cadence of training for your spokespersons.  Don’t wait for a tragedy.  Have mock interviews with cameras, people playing probing and tough reporters. Be sure to watch and critique the interviews with the spokespersons.  

3.  Get 3rd party impressions of the spokespersons.  Play on-camera interviews with the audio turned off.  Ask what people felt about the spokesperson.  Did they feel that he or she was telling the truth or hiding something?  Did the person look angry, sincere, or arrogant?  You need to know this before an issue emerges.  

4.  If necessary, retrain after the the feedback.  If there is no improvement, replace the spokesperson.

5.  If the unthinkable happens and the spokesperson is called into duty, respond quickly.  The longer you wait, the more inflamed people will be.   Review and assess the person’s experience.  Be honest and really critique the situation.  This is the time that you need everyone doing the right thing for the victims and their families.  

6.  Change spokespersons if necessary. Do it and do it swiftly.  

7.  This one is most important:  Be human.  You are dealing with a tragedy.  Remember that.  You are not the victim. 


Tragedies are never easy.  The role of the spokesperson is do the best job to provide the facts and not inflame people.   

(Note:  a version of this same blog appeared previously in my old blog.)

 

 

The Ostrich Effect

In my last blog posting I spoke of people, in general, having a fear of social media. The question is why?

The answer could be as simple as “it is human nature”, but that would be letting me, and you, off the hook way too easily! We need to dig a little deeper. For this posting, let’s look at the issue from the perspective of an organization or institution.

Thanks to research presented earlier this year by Nancy Bain, we know that 75% of all Canadians are now on-line, that there are some 18,620,000 Canadians on Facebook and that the time that we spend on Twitter is up 3700%.

These numbers can be daunting for businesses or institutions. These numbers are significant and it means that decisions makers have to take a hard look at actions that will involve the use of new communications’ tools, new technology and very open and public discussions. This is a frightening thought for many.

The questions that immediately come to mind are: how will we learn to use these tools effectively? Who will train us? Do we need training? What are the full ramifications if we choose to not use these tools and resources? What are the ramifications if we do? Do we need new policies? Do we need to staff 24/7? And most importantly, what if something unsavoury is said about my organization? What can I do? This last question is probably really what would keep managers awake at night. Earlier this year Eisner Amper conducted a survey of Boards of Directors asking them what they felt was the biggest threat to their respective organizations. The result was a clear and decisive statement – reputational risk!

So, we know that reputational risk is a huge concern. That being said, why exactly would so many decision makers choose to not engage in social media? The reason – is what I like to call the Ostrich Effect! If one chooses to bury his head in the sand and therefore cannot hear what is being said on social media, it doesn’t exist, right? Wrong!

The fact is that there are many communications professionals that can assist organizations and institutions navigate the social media waters and prepare a social media strategy that meets your specific organizational needs. We are just a click away! What are you waiting for? Organizations and institutions need to be proactive. Waiting for a crisis to emerge is not the answer.

In my next posting, I will look at crisis communications and how social media can work to your advantage.