Public Comments, Online Comments and Public Relations

http://www.flickr.com/photos/siopaomaster/6594907587/“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” – Jacqui Rivait

As a company spokesperson, whether the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a clothing designer who makes outrageous remarks about tragedies to profit, or a person who says the wrong thing at the wrong time; saying things that aren’t nice is a recipe for disaster given that the internet is now a part of that recipe. Every person, no matter their role in the company, has the ability to affect their company’s bottom line.

Yesterday’s case in public relations mishaps: Barilla’s Chairman, Guido Barilla, sparked outrage after stating that his company would never show an ad with a homosexual family. He did follow with an apology, and it was most certainly an unabashed one. His actions led to a statement from Equality Italia that they would, in fact, boycott the brand. Followed by a trending hashtag on twitter #boicotta-barilla. It was his opinion, but was a smart move? Probably not.

Social media has given anyone the ability to be elevated for anything that they say publicly. That one thing whether a mistake or simply a case of choosing the wrong words can spread across the internet like fire would on a gasoline soaked house. A recent example I can recall is when an employee attending a conference and seated in the audience heard a joke from two people seated behind her and called the two out on Twitter without attempting to resolve the issue with the conference organizers first. The results? All three employees were let go. The consequences of all three’s actions affected both companies’ public image, the conference image, and left them without jobs.

While it doesn’t pay to be paranoid about the world always listening in, it’s a smarter course of action to be careful of what you are saying as someone responsible for the well-being of a company and its employees.

Does freedom of speech mean we should say anything that occurs to us publicly? No, it certain ensures our right to do so (at least here in the United States), but that doesn’t distinguish our responsibility to be respectful to others nor does it mean we cannot be sued for slander or libel. The nice thing may be not to say anything at all.

Chel Wolverton
Senior Marketing Analyst

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