Why the Kareem Hunt Story is Important to All of Us
Last Friday, a story broke around noon there was a video being made public of Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt physically assaulting a woman. A few hours later Hunt was suspended, and by that evening he had been released by the Chiefs. He was a star that morning, but just a few hours later he didn't have a job and couldn't play for any other team.
It was extremely similar to the case of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who never played in the NFL again after hitting his finance and knocking her out in an elevator.
While the media has treated this as a sports story, which it is, it should serve as a lesson for politicians, business and community leaders and many others.
We Live in Dangerous Times
I do a keynote presentation called Surviving a Social Media Meltdown. After the Kareem Hunt incident, I thought about renaming it Surviving a Social Media, Caught on Video, and/or Embarrassing Photos Meltdown.
It’s not the first time I’ve thought just having social media in the presentation title wasn’t enough.
We live in a time that we’ve never seen before. Cameras are everywhere these days – streets, stores, hotels, casinos, universities, arenas and many other places. Basically, if it’s a public area, chances are there’s a camera following everyone’s movements.
Then there’s YouTube and other video platforms that people can post embarrassing videos on. YouTubers know there’s a powerful formula. The bigger the celebrity’s name multiplied by the embarrassment level of the video will equal the number of views.
Throw in social media and outlets like TMZ, sprinkle in almost everyone carrying a phone that can shoot video these days, add a dash of embarrassing photos and you have a terrific recipe for personal and corporate brands being dealt such a severe blow it’ll take years to recover.
Here's Why It Could Happen to You
Public relations and brand messes like the one Kareem Hunt finds himself in the middle of also happen in the corporate world, although we don’t hear about them as often and they don’t make the biggest headlines. They do happen though.
Remember the woman who went on the racist rant in a Denny’s in Lethbridge? Turns out she was the Controller for a Dodge dealership in Cranbrook, BC. She was outed on social media and fired by the car dealer, only to be reinstated a few weeks later. When I checked in August, she was no longer there, but her boss wouldn’t tell me why.
Remember the young man in Toronto who told a female reporter on camera that he thought it was hilarious for other men to shout a certain offending phrase when she was doing a live broadcast? He was identified as working for Ontario Hydro. He was fired after the former CEO of the company recorded a video talking about why the guy was canned. He eventually also got his job back.
Who would have thought a bean counter for a car dealership in Cranbrook would damage the company’s brand, or an Ontario Hydro employee in Toronto, who apparently doesn’t even see people from outside the organization would do the same?
My point is, these meltdowns occur on a regular basis and companies need to prepare for them. Firing somebody and then being forced to hire them back isn’t the issue here because the damage to the company’s reputation has already been done.
Here's What to Do
I’ve long been an advocate for companies to take a more active role to lessen the chances of having something bad happening to them, or one of their employees and it ending up on YouTube.
A social media policy is a good start. It basically spells out three things – 1. Rules for people to follow who do social media on behalf of an organization, 2. What employees can say on social media about the company they work for and 3. What employees can do and say on social media and in public on their own time.
Points 2 and especially 3 get a little dicey because people will say they have a right to do what they want on their own time. Unfortunately, social media accounts connect them to their workplace and the media will often call the head of the organization and ask a simple but tough question “What are you going to do about it?”
What will save companies from a lot of embarrassment isn’t just something in writing that people follow, although it helps. Talking to employees – that’s right just talking to their employees, about their social media behaviour can also make a huge difference.
Some employees think if their Twitter profile says something along the lines of “Tweets are my own and have nothing to do with my employer” simply don’t work in reality. If a person messes up, the news media still will make that phone call to the person’s boss and ask that difficult question to answer.
We’ve seen cases where a politician simply sharing a social media post, or liking it can be seen as an endorsement.
If companies don’t have a social media policy in place, I urge them to make it a goal for the first quarter of 2019. Start by talking to your employees. Tell them why the company’s brand is important and the role each employee plays in it.
Wouldn’t you prefer them to be brand ambassadors instead of brand killers?
Coming Next Week
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