We have all seen the spate of negative headlines that include individuals, companies, political representatives, celebrities and sports figures. Here are a few to refresh your memory.• “Paula Deen’s empire continues to crumble in wake of racial slurs” • “Chick-Fil-A’s brand approval rating plummets after anti-gay controversy” • “Abercrombie & Fitch issues apology for its CEO’s plus-size comments” • “Mitt Romney disses half of American voters” • “Congress approval ratings hit all-time low in Gallup Poll” • “Alec Baldwin’s Twitter meltdown: Launches rant against journalist” • “Lance Armstrong’s lifetime ban and fan fallout” • “Dwight Howard’s reputation takes hits after Dwightmare with Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers” • “Lindsay Lohan cycle: Bad behavior, apology, repeat”
The sad part is I could easily have listed another 10 to15 sensational headlines without much effort. This leads me to ask the question, “Why aren’t people more concerned about their reputations?”
Here’s a definition of the word reputation: the estimation in which a person or thing is held, especially by the community or the public generally.
It seems to me that there is a lot to be concerned about when it comes to professional and personal accountability, especially in the age of social media. Twitter alone seems to be the vehicle of choice for the most recent globally warming meltdowns.
Anything that we communicate through words or actions can be today’s headline. It used to be tomorrow’s headline, but it can now happen in an instant and go worldwide in seconds thanks to social media platforms and in all languages. Today’s news coverage is in real time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Trying to “undo” these headlines and stories once they are out there and shared again and again is no easy task, even for the best public relations practitioners and crisis managers. At best, the negative impact can be diminished.
The rules are the same for individuals and companies. Think before you communicate. Choose your words carefully. Be purposeful. Imagine that what you are communicating is the next headline news. Even if you communicate in what you think is a safe environment among friends or supporters it can still go public. Can you live with that? Are you proud of it? Can you defend or explain it? Will your reputation or that of your company be harmed?
Business leaders can have personal opinions about anything and that’s okay. However they need to realize that once they share these opinions publicly their ideas may be interpreted as the company’s opinion too. And if these opinions carry religious or political messages or single out a specific group of people, there is enormous risk of alienating your customer base or target audience.
It always amazes me that companies and individual brands will gladly take any customer’s money and then a leader or employee turns around and makes negative or offensive comments about a group of people who spend their hard-earned money on the company’s products.
You simply can’t have it both ways.
Politicians and elected officials can lose votes or be removed from office over such matters. Celebrities and sports figures put at risk their personal and team brands, future industry projects, endorsements and sponsorship opportunities, not to mention eroding their fan base.
These issues don’t just apply to public figures. They can happen to any of us on a daily basis. Job recruiters and current employers scope search engines and social media sites to monitor potential and existing employees.
People often make common mistakes on social media sites including posting information about interviews or job offers, criticizing their place of work or coworkers, posting insensitive or negative remarks, picking fights with others and posting inappropriate pictures and jokes.
Here at Sara Brady Public Relations, Inc. our focus is on the range of issues and fallout associated with the art, failure and overall thoughtlessness of communications. Managing such issues also requires the knowledge and experience necessary to navigate all media channels to defuse the crisis. It’s what we do.