It comes as no great revelation or surprise that we have spent record amounts of time online over the last few months. In fact, according to Online Nation, an annual report published last month by UK communications services regulator Ofcom, adults are spending a quarter of their waking day online. [NB: This figure does not appear to include the impact of working from home.]
Further analysis reveals that video, social media and news platforms are where adults are spending most of that time. It is easy to adopt a slightly off-guard stance as we find our way through the pandemic, coping with the various levels of lockdown and restrictions. However, we should be mindful of the online activity and content with which we are engaging. It is easy for a digital footprint to be created, but it is a lot more difficult (and potentially expensive) to deal with if it becomes problematic and presents a reputational risk, either on a personal or organisational level.
There have been well-reported examples of this over the last few weeks: a number of high-profile adults have come unstuck very publicly online. Two weeks ago, controversial Times columnist Camilla Long had a tweet removed. Her promotion of her piece on face masks had caused a twitterstorm.
Last month, Greg Glassman, the CEO of US fitness firm CrossFit, suffered more drastic punishment following his tweet about racism in the USA. He resigned and CrossFit lost a significant sponsor in Adidas.
Both Long and Glassman had a moment of poor judgement that had a reputational and operational impact. There have been many others like them, but these two examples are a timely reminder for us all to consider the implications of what we do and say online, both for ourselves and for our organisations and clients.
Whilst we may not realise it, our inbuilt ethics and self-regulated standards of behaviour are normally activated when we look at and post on social media. It is a heuristic response. Yet we also need to be vigilant and have a conscious moment to rethink and ask ourselves why we feel compelled to curate a social media post. It’s at this point that it is important to take a moment and examine how it will impact your personal brand and what you are seeking to achieve: inform, share, engage, humour, or influence? You then need to ask yourself: “Is this really a good idea?” This is where individual and organisational online ethics must be both firmly established and exercised. If all seems to be positive, publish that post. But what should you do if you get a negative reaction?
The first response is to monitor the post. We all do this in our personal social media accounts as we look out for ‘likes’, approval and engaging comments from our social networks. For organisations with professional accounts, either a social media team or social media monitoring/listening services will do this.
The next step is to establish the nature and source of the reaction. In the heat of the moment, do not panic or rush out an immediate response. Conduct a rapid analysis within a few minutes to evaluate what is being said and by whom. The authenticity and source of the comment or reaction will allow you to judge how to take any debate offline and out of the public eye. Another factor to consider is fake news sources, or the possibility that it may be an AI-generated response. Finally, ask what are the risks from the reaction: personal/safety, financial/assets, reputation/trust, legacy/digital footprint?
With an organisational approach, where the initial assessment identifies a serious issue, this should be elevated for further relevant management. At this point, an issue may already be a crisis, so it is important to go through a process of evaluation and decision-making that leads to the best course of action. Firmly identify the consequences of the reaction and your strategy to resolving the issue. Consider the appropriate potential responses, creating content if it is decided a response is required. Even if it is subsequently decided that a response is not required, it is better to prepare, discuss, and be ready for when a decision is made.
Throughout the process, continue to monitor and analyse how the social media post responses are evolving, whether quietening down or gathering momentum. Always consider and calibrate your values and ethics, personal or organisational as appropriate, as well as any legal considerations . Wherever possible, always take any debate offline. If you do decide to issue a response, make sure it has final approval and sign-off. And lastly, at an organisational level, always ensure any legally required compliant sign-off is in place before releasing an agreed response.
In today’s uber-digitally connected world, social media is where we are spending increasing amounts of time. This is set to increase as a result of the longer-term impact of COVID-19. To re-iterate, it is always worth taking a moment to ask why you are posting, how it impacts your personal brand and what legacy you are creating, and to remember some golden rules:
- Avoid using social media to complain
- Avoid emotive language and sarcasm
- Resist the temptation to post when you're angry, upset, or intoxicated
- Avoid posting anything controversial, as this increases the likelihood of an adverse reaction
- If sharing content, ensure the information is coming from an authentic and approved source, particularly with client or work-related content
- Be wary of sharing content that appears to be shocking or unbelievable: this can be a red flag for fake news
- Regularly review privacy settings and conduct digital detox of past posts
Finally, prevention is always better than cure when social media ‘goes wrong’. It is also a lot less stressful and time-consuming. By getting into the habit of doing this basic strategic and risk analysis, online reputational risks become a lot easier to mitigate. However, it’s just as important to be prepared and know how to respond to any eventuality – both personally and within your organisation or clients.
This blog follows Sheena Thomson’s presentation on “How to Protect Your Reputation Online”, with Olga Ivanikova from Private Goodness. This was the third instalment of the Kissoon Carr Webinar Series. You can view the webinar here:
More information about Kissoon Carr, a leading legal recruitment firm:
More information about Olga and Private Goodness, a consultancy specialising in CSR and online ethics:
Ofcom report – Online Nation 2020