By Janine Lloyd, reputation management expert and entrepreneur.
Stellenbosch University, SABC, University of Johannesburg, the Hawks…they all have something in common: they fired or suspended staff for comments made on the social universe. The impact is not only on the personal brands of those involved but also on the reputation of these institutions.
While I fully respect other’s rights to freedom of expression, as a reputation management expert it saddens me that public figures and even some companies still abandon all rationale thinking when it comes to what they say in social media.
In my 26 years in the Public Relations and Reputation Management field I have found there are 5 simple lessons that could help you:
Lesson 1: Nothing is private. The whole world is watching.
Remember the saying “nothing is off the record”, the same applies in the digital age, except you are not talking to the media you are talking to ordinary people who are not bound by the rules of journalism or integrity of their profession. The age is upon us where everyone has a voice, so they can either build you up or take you down in seconds. And believe me we live in a fickle society where consumers change their minds at the drop of hat. While our laws are slowly coming into effect with cases of defamation on Social Media being tried and won, it will take time for others to think before they speak in fear of litigation.
Stop and think before you tweet or post.
- Am I adding value with this tweet/post
- Is what I am posting aligned to my personal brand or that of my company
- Do I need to be drawn into this conversation – you always have a choice
- Does this tweet or post add or detract from the reputation of my personal brand or that of my company
- Would I say this out loud in a public platform?
Lesson 2: Know the trigger points
There are issues all over the world and in our own country that are emotionally charged. Know what these are and understand the sensitivities around them. Racist and anti-transformation comments will not go unnoticed and when the backlash happens your reputation and career will go with it. Issues around rape, abuse and sexism are also highly charged so decide if you want to enter the discussion and if you do ask yourself all the questions in Lesson 1.
Lesson 3: Know your expertise areas
If someone asks you for advice you don’t always have to answer. In Unathi’s case she isn’t a psychologist or counsellor and doesn’t understand the fragile emotional issues around someone who is in an abusive relationship. This is a complicated subject that requires sensitivity and care that only a professional who is trained can answer. Do not be afraid to own up and say “I don’t think I can help you with this, but I know a great person who is probably better able to give you advice” – and connect them with that person.
Lesson 4: Don’t lose your S…T!
Another issue in social media is the ease of communication; it is so easy to say something without really thinking. In that moment your ego rules! When emotions are high you will quickly escalate into what is known as the “non-thinking zone”. As anyone with kids knows when you hit this zone all hell breaks loose and there is nothing to be gained by arguing the issue any further. That’s when we call a time out. What does a time out give you? Stop, think and ask yourself how you want to react and how you want to resolve the issue keeping your integrity and reputation intact.
Lesson 5: It’s not too late to turn it around
Remember that people are ultimately judged by how they react to a situation. While you may think it is too late, a personal and heart-felt apology will do wonders for your reputation. That is if you really mean it. If you didn’t mean to say what people interpreted, then clarify it by framing your message in the way it was originally intended. But remember you can never take back the original message. That is why what you say in social media must be thought through before you say it. Because once you have said something you can never take it back.
Many people have made mistakes on the Twitterverse and they have learnt a valuable lesson the hard way! So take what you can from this experience and ask yourself what you can do going forward. How can you repair the damage to your reputation? What can you put in place that will help you when posting in social media? For example, the simple STOP.THINK.CHOICE approach really works.