Brands and popular individuals have done a great job of mucking up their reputation via Social Media.
It's something that is not going to end anytime soon, either (sadly). Whether it's a Weinergate or Kenneth Cole choosing a bad time to promote a new line of clothing, this has less to do with people and their unfamiliarity with Social Media as it does with understanding media in its entirety. The traditional process of formulating a message for the world to see used to involve layers of involvement from different divisions within an organization and then a conversation with the gatekeepers (traditional media) to get that message published for the world to see. Sadly, 2012 won't see any fewer mishaps, blunders and public embarrassments because human beings are emotional and irrational (when they're acting emotionally) and now anyone with a basic smartphone or Internet connectivity can publish their impulses live and in real-time.
There are not enough NDAs and Social Media guidelines to stop this.
In the pre-Social Media world - one controlled by a handful of media outlets - it would have been harder to have these kind of foibles and mishaps. We have to remember that media has become a lot more like conversational talking than in the past, when media was mostly a pre-recorded platform (or - at the very least - one with a ten second delay). If you have ever spoken publicly, think about those moments when something pops into your brain and you know you should not say it aloud, but it still comes out and all you're trying to do is reach out into the air to grab those words and shove them right back down your own throat from whence they came. It's easy to delete a tweet or a Blog post, but sometimes (and thanks to Google cache), it only makes the matter worse.
The age of the apology.
Tom Peters (leadership expert and best-selling business book author of In Search Of Excellence, Re-Imagine!, etc...) talks about the power of apologizing in his last book, The Little Big Things. He writes about this powerful quote from Marshall Goldsmith (leadership thinker and the executive coach of executive coaches): "I regard apologizing as the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make. It is the centerpiece of my work with executives who want to do better." We live in a world where people post things on Facebook or tweet about their thoughts on Twitter and bounce back with a quick apology when they find their digital feet planted firmly in their literal mouths. The truth is that for as much publicity as these missives get, there are now so many of them that it's not only hard to keep track of, but it's hard to quantify if these mistakes actually cause any real long-term damage (politicians notwithstanding). Apologies can not only save a Social Media blunder, but they're good to repair everything from your personal relationships to your inter-office communications.
There's a mess in the mass.
For politicians, it has certainly become something that makes it harder for a comeback, but when it comes to brands, a heartfelt and sincere apology goes a long way. It's strange how something so simple (and human) often gets overlooked and how many brands get caught up in the follow-up post apology that winds up tainting the sincerity of the initial apology. It's even more fascinating to see that the majority of these mishaps could be completely avoided if they simply took a moment to let that initial impulse pass and then look back to see if it's worth publishing at all. This is what draft versions were created for. Imagine the level of credibility and integrity that Facebook, YouTube and Google+ could have if brands would create content in draft form, step away from the screen, take a breather and then come back to see if what they're about to publish is in-line with the brand narrative. It's amazing to see how all of the technological advances that foster a world where everyone of us is a media channel could best be optimized if we all acted with a little more humanity. Imagine that. Think before publishing, save it as a draft, apologize (and mean it) if you screw up. Learn from your mistakes. There's no tricks to avoiding public shame and social media blunders, you just have to remember the golden rules of life that your parents (and grandparents) tried to instill in you from a very young age. In the end, we should all strive for this basic level of good, kind and smart behavior.
If that's not a noble wish for this holiday season, I'm not sure what is.
The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post called, Media Hacker. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here: