Ask any celebrity, CEO, or social media influencer. Building a good reputation isn’t easy. It often takes years of nonstop work and discipline to build a reputation you can be proud of.
That said, we live in the age of social media, meaning even a single misstep on your part could rally mobs of angry consumers – many who may have previously been madly in love with your brand – against you. That’s when the shaming, and the subsequent loss of reputation, begins.
It happens all of the time, and sadly, the internet has a long memory. As long as someone is willing to remember your mistake, your reputation will never truly recover. Let’s take a look at two cases of internet shaming that hold valuable lessons in online reputation management.
Brooke Houts is a YouTuber with 300,000+ subscribers who thought it would be funny to prank her Doberman puppy, Sphinx. The joke was harmless enough – Brooke would tie clear plastic wrap around the doorways in her apartment, so Sphinx would run into an “invisible barrier” whenever he attempted to enter a room.
Unfortunately for Brooke, she accidentally uploaded unedited footage of her hitting, shoving, and even spitting on her puppy when he wouldn’t settle down during the outro of the video. The mistake was quickly identified and taken down, but the damage had already been done.
Brooke was immediately bombarded with tens of thousands of mean-spirited comments and threats, and she was reported to the authorities for animal abuse. Brooke immediately went silent on all social channels, including her highly active YouTube channel.
When it seemed the worst of the shaming had come and gone, Brooke attempted to make a comeback by posting new videos to her YouTube channel as if nothing had happened. The mob rallied against her with renewed strength, however, to the point where it was self-evident that she had been effectively “canceled.”
Though the situation is ongoing as of the time of this writing, Brooke Houts’ situation serves as a prime example of how quickly your followers can turn on you. As a result, her reputation may never recover.
Lindsey Stone was a non-profit employee in Massachusetts who was on a trip with several of her co-workers to Washington, D.C. The group visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where Lindsey thought it would be funny to snap a photo while she was flipping the bird at a sign that read “Silence and Respect.”
Immediately after posting the picture to Facebook to share with a friend, the post went viral. Lindsey was immediately bombarded with tens of thousands of hateful comments by angry veterans and military supporters. A petition even went up, calling for Lindsey to be fired by her non-profit employer for “disrespecting the nation while on company time.”
She was eventually fired – lest the mob crucify the organization she worked for – and her reputation has never fully recovered since the incident.
Lessons to be learned
Warren Buffet said it best: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
Brooke and Lindsey’s situations are no laughing matter, but it shows that slipups, no matter how small, can have catastrophic repercussions on your organization’s reputation. Mob mentality is real, making it more important than ever to respect the power of social media.
You can minimize your risk by having clear guidelines on employee conduct online, especially when they’re on company time. And of course, understand that every action you take, no matter how seemingly innocent or good-natured, can turn back and bite you in the rear.
If Brooke and Lindsey have taught us anything, it’s that the internet does not forget. Your organization’s reputation is fragile. Safeguard it by employing commonsense, especially before posting online.