Monday, April 20, 2015

Social slipups might sink ships

World War II wasn't just won on the battlefield or the high seas. It was won through the incredible manufacturing capability of the allied nations. It was won through incredible scientific advances. It was won through daring and determined leadership.

And, it was won wearing a veil of secrecy. 

Reminders for service members and civilians to not divulge critical military intelligence were everywhere. In newsreels. In newspapers. And, in posters plastered in easy sight, driving the point home.

Keep yer trap shut
One of the most famous was the admonition that loose lips sink ships, reminding people that speaking carelessly could cost many lives in a convoy of ships crossing the dangerous North Atlantic. People were advised to keep gossip and chatter to an absolute minimum to prevent this kind of loss.

If we were to play that advice forward to 2015, it might be loose lips sink careers. We saw this recently in the story of Britt McHenry, the ESPN reporter who had a few choice words for the towing company clerk she was dealing with. Each of those words was caught on surveillance tape, which was later released through social media.

Ms. McHenry from the surveillance video
The outcry was brutal and immediate. In the court of public opinion, Ms. McHenry should have been strung up by her heels and berated for her boorish behavior in the town square. ESPN took the step of suspending her for a week for her caught-on-tape tantrum, and people even went so far as to call for her job.

But, for one minute, think about life before social media and the ever-present video camera. Have you ever had your car towed? Have you ever gotten bad service someplace? 

And, have you ever let your emotions get the better of you?

Come on, let's be honest. It has happened to all of us at least once in our lives. The anger, insult or alcohol gets the best of us  and we have unloaded on someone who maybe didn't deserve it.

Even media savvy former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg had his moments
Now, let's think of our roles as media spokespeople for the agencies we represent. Or maybe the reputations of our bosses. What would happen if our actions - or the actions of our bosses - ended up on social media? Does your social media response plan have anything in it for handling such a potentially damaging event?

McHenry's Twitter apology

in Ms. McHenry's defense, she did come out immediately and apologize for her actions on social media, and ESPN - while they did suspend her for a week - did also apologize for her actions and made it clear that much better is expected from their employees. 

Even the towing company that employed the lady Ms. McHenry berated didn't want to see her fired, and accepted her apology. 

What's the lesson? Well, in the court of public opinion, it's critical for us and our organizations to understand is that social media presents some outstanding opportunities to promote our missions, but when things go wrong, it can certainly leave you with a sinking feeling.

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

No comments:

Post a Comment