by Kenneth Rudich
One lesson to be learned from the events in Part 1 is that social networking grants an unprecedented power for employees to do a brand image real harm.
It doesn’t even have to be the result of a direct action, or something done with malicious intent. The only ingredient needed is for an employer to get pummeled with bad publicity because of something an employee (or employees) may have unwittingly done. And if it happens to go viral, the damage can spread with astonishing speed.
While such employee empowerment may have an unsettling ring, the good news is that there are precautionary measures an employer can take to safeguard itself against the risk it entails. Let’s use the dynamics of the incident in Part 1 to more fully explore this matter from an employer perspective.
As will soon become apparent, this story speaks to the necessity of fostering an environment in which it’s not likely to have something happen, but at the same time be prepared in the event that it does.
Setting the Stage for Undoing a Brand
Once the reports of the caustic Facebook page had gone viral, people came out of the woodwork to chime in with their own thoughts and opinions. Several comments gave evidence to suggest the culture of the establishment may be at the heart of the story. They alleged a prevailing attitude of racial prejudice, along with a tolerant atmosphere for expressing it. It’s noteworthy that a handful were written in first-person past tense, which implies they’d experienced it for themselves prior to the time of the bartender’s Facebook antics.
One respondent boldly ventured to say people are influenced by the environment they’re in and the company they keep; that the bartender’s Facebook behavior was likely an extension of both; and that all three correlate back to the nightclub’s cultural bias. Such a scenario of systemic behavior is not a good look for any business if it is true.
But with if being the operative word, it’s only fair to mention that personal comments like these do not automatically qualify as irrefutable evidence or objective reporting. In fact, some of the allegations clearly fit into the category of hearsay while others are built on conjecture. Others may have gotten their impetus from an imagined slight. And some may have indeed been made on the basis of fact. In the end, we don’t know anything for sure about any of the comments — whether it represents the full truth, a half-truth or even a lie.
In the court of public opinion, this little window of uncertainty affords the employer a big opportunity to reclaim the status of being known as a respectable brand. Assuming, of course, proper precautionary measures were taken in advance for making it so.
In this case, the club owner could have benefited from being better prepared. His response – that is, firing the bartender, publicly denouncing her behavior, and contending the work environment embraces equality for all – while somewhat commendable, also comes across as somewhat disingenuous because of the now pressing need for damage control.
The biggest problem rests with failing to erase the concerns expressed about the establishment’s culture, irrespective of the Facebook incident. This was depicted by the comments that characterized his response as “too-little-too-late” for saving the brand from being mired in doubt and suspicion.
Still another bit of fallout from the perception of “too-little-too-late” reared up in the form of others wanting to add their own two cents as the narrative increasingly took on a life of its own. As more stones got unturned, the comments section became littered with a broader array of customer grievances.
As of now it remains unclear whether the brand will suffer harsher or longer term consequences because of this incident, or whether it’ll be able to quickly and safely put it behind.
Protect Your Brand from Day One
The stunning reality for any employer is that it took scant time and effort for something like this to become so unwieldy and hazardous for the brand. Whether the bartender acted alone, or whether her actions were fueled by a commonplace behavior at the club (with a possible wink and nod from the owner?), the general public is left to believe whatever it wants because of the “too-little-too-late” perception.
Had the employer taken proper precautionary measures in advance, it might have been able to prevent this episode from ever occurring at all. Barring that, it could have been in a much better position to clearly show the employee was solely responsible for her actions, and they in no way resembled the culture of the workplace or management’s views. But instead of setting itself up with a good fallback position to lean on, the employer appears to have made the grave error of doing “too-little-too-late.”
In part 3, we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty of what an employer can do to protect from being caught in a similar bind. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn it’s relatively straightforward, easy and inexpensive to do. Come back for Part 3, won’t you?