Social media has been around for years now, but it’s still amazing how many people find themselves in hot water after their ill-judged comments and poorly defined strategies play out.
It’s safe to assume that a significant majority of the adult population is familiar with the most established platforms, and millions are active daily users, sharing their thoughts, opinions and recommendations with friends and strangers alike.
Social media, then, is not an unknown quantity. So why mess it up?
This question was prompted after a recent instance that highlighted the pitfalls of not thinking through your commentary and positioning, and suffering reputational damage as a consequence.
The story begins in January when Sydney café Love Crepe went on Instagram promoting its view that the NSW Government’s compulsory mask rules represented ‘a crime against humanity’, but specifying that as an outdoor venue, mask-wearing among its staff was not mandatory.
In retrospect, this did not seem the wisest course of action the business could have taken to highlight its concerns around mask wearing rules, or even to identify grey areas in the rules that were potentially open to interpretation.
In fact, at a time when COVID is having a crushing impact on people’s lives around the world, to describe what most would agree to be reasonable government policy as a crime against humanity both blew its own standpoint completely out of proportion, and degraded the actual meaning of the term.
Let’s not forget, the International Criminal Court has defined a crime against humanity as a widespread or systematic attack against ay civilian population, with acts involving murder, extermination, enslavement, imprisonment, torture and so on – you get the idea.
One may rightly ask what possessed the café to use this kind of terminology when referring to government policy specifically designed to stop people from becoming sick – almost the opposite of a crime against humanity, and one that would certainly not land the Premier in front of a court in The Hague.
The backlash against Love Crepe was, of course, immediate. Social media users blasted the business for its seeming lack of responsibility, which was quickly picked up by mainstream media. Highly damaging coverage appeared in outlets such as 7 News, the Daily Mail and HuffPost, forcing the café owner into a confusing apology for using his staff’s images online, but standing by his original views. The café also closed for a short while – what a mess!
Now, we live in a democracy and people are perfectly free to express their views, as long as they fall within the rule of law, but from a reputational point of view this was a self-inflicted body blow that was completely unnecessary.
Mistakes are often made when the pressure is on, whether that’s economic, financial or personal, but this can easily be mitigated. It would have been advisable for the café to think through the business implications for its operations before going out with this messaging, and presumably not fire it off in the heat of the moment.
It would also have been good to check the language, reviewing what they were about to say in the cold light of day, and asking if it really made sense?
And while a small café is not going to have its own PR company, it would again been advisable if the owner had checked with an outsider, a friend or family member who does not work in the business, to give the draft messaging the once over. Sometimes that second pair of eyes is all you need to identify a potential risk and urge caution – especially when an issue has got your back up.
There’s a lesson here for all businesses in particular small ones in the age of social media where matters can escalate immediately and the commercial blowback can be consequential. Take your time, think about what you’re going to say, get it checked by an outsider – and, crucially, think how it’s going to look to the outside world…