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Always on Duty

(How our responsibilities as brand ambassadors don’t stop at the end of our working day)

The world is always watching. With around 5 million CCTVs in the UK, 43 million smartphones, and an exploding market in dashboard cameras that sell for as little as £8.99, accidents, mistakes and indiscretions have never been so easy to capture. And with 2.3 billion active social media users who have an average of 5.5 social media accounts each, we are all just one mistake away from global infamy.

It can’t have escaped your notice that the press increasingly relies on this convenient relationship between easily available technology and our need to share and broadcast. A great many stories in newspapers, online and in broadcast media had their genesis in events captured by the public. We are all effectively unpaid cub reporters.

It’s a viciously violent circle. An event is captured on smartphone and published on social media where it rapidly spreads. It is then picked up and further broadcast by the professional news media which puts the story in front of those who didn’t initially notice it, and the original footage gets an additional huge boost.

For the subject of the story – the person who has had the accident, or who has made the initial indiscretion – the world can very quickly fall apart around them. Not only that, but innocent parties such as their families, friends and employer can be dragged in. Guilt by association has never been more powerful than in the age of Web 2.0.

I could go into specific examples, but there is little point. These stories are everywhere; from ParcelForce delivery drivers filmed reading newspapers at the wheel; to men in branded vans unleashing road rage; PR directors for large companies (who should know better) posting highly insulting tweets and causing global outrage; local politicians in middle America making racist statements on Facebook; or seemingly respectable middle aged women putting cats in wheely bins. These incidents can escalate very, very quickly, and the punishment for the individual is usually severe, and almost always career ending.

It’s understandable that punishment is severe. The damage to the corporate reputation can be difficult and expensive to repair. Very often the business is not aware of a problem until it explodes in their face and the business is presented with what is commonly known as ‘a PR nightmare’. When this happens there are rarely any winners.

Take the example of two Domino’s pizza employees who filmed themselves sticking cheese up their noses (and other nasty things). It probably seemed like a jolly jape at the time, but it had major repercussions for both them and the brand…

The video they uploaded to social media was widely and rapidly shared by people they don’t even know, and eventually it hit the headlines.

For Domino’s – the innocent party – the perception of quality among consumers went from positive to negative virtually overnight (according to a YouGov survey). The guilty staff were not only sacked, but Domino’s reported them to the police and they were arrested. An angry Domino’s also filed a lawsuit against them.

This story perfectly illustrates the need for companies to be quite strict with instructing employees about their obligations as brand ambassadors at all times, and also the dangers of social media.

It would be an understandable reaction for people to say “We never had these restrictions placed on us in the past. Work was work, and my own time was my own time.” But that was then, and this is now. We all UNDERSTAND that we live in a 24/7/365 society, but we also need to ACCEPT that we do.

We should always be aware that what we say and do, and even what we don’t do, rarely remains private, and consequently, we are never off duty. The reputations of our employers, and indeed our own livelihood and professional reputations must be guarded at all times. A moment of indiscretion can have life-long consequences.

There’s no alternative. That’s simply the way it is.

Are you an employer that wants to talk about this issue? Do you need to draw up social media guidelines for staff or would you like staff to be educated about the dangers of social media and their own obligations to your business? Email linda@geometrypr.co.uk for an informal discussion.

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