The advent of social media is causing some serious, and sometimes funny, image problems for public figures from all walks of life. Take the case of British MI6 boss John Sawers, who was left red-faced when his 23-year-old daughter, Corinne, posted pictures of herself on her Facebook profile toting a gold plated Kalashnakov rifle given to her father as thanks for his role in unseating the less-than-popular Saddam Hussein. Seems the Sawer family celebrate Christmas in true Austin Powers style by dancing around the Christmas tree toting gold plated firepower and singing yuletide carols.
Putting questions of taste and seasonal spirit aside, what the Sawers do at home is up to them. But when Corinne decided to share the family’s peculiar traditions with a thousand or so of her closest Facebook “friends”, she took Dad’s reputation and shovelled a healthy dose of mud over it. Her new profile pic probably wouldn’t have gained much attention if her father was a gun toting Alabama redneck, or perhaps even the former United States Vice President, but when Dad’s the head of one of the world’s largest spy agencies, it’s a different story.
Interestingly, Mum’s not much smarter when it comes to Facebook. She caused a storm when husband John was first appointed to the head of MI6 by posting pics of him in very skimpy bathers on her profile. It was a cold day, so John was packing more of a P32 than a Kalashnakov, but the embarrassment was just the same.
The Sawer story poses an interesting problem for not only those in the public eye. With an increasing number of executives and sales people using social media as a business tool, the need for protecting your image is growing rapidly. It’s one thing to make sure your own profile is clean of embarrassing pics and comments, it’s another thing altogether to ensure your friends and family do the same.
Part of what we do at MediaByz Digital is help executives and public figures to clean up their social media image, and increasingly we come across cases such as John Sawer and his family. Put simply, it’s almost impossible to control your image completely, but here’s a few tips on how to try:
- Don’t become friends on social media sites such as Facebook with workmates, clients, or potential clients. These people are best left to viewing your professional Linkedin profile.
- Don’t link your personal social media profiles to your professional profiles. Keep these very separate.
- Adjust your private profile security settings to ensure only those you want can see your images, videos and wall posts.
- Do not Tweet in anger, even if it’s a personal Tweet. Twitter is the place most people ruin their reputations with spur of the moment replies or posts. If someone is getting on your goat, simply disengage the dialogue.
- Don’t post unflattering pics of yourself, and ask friends and family not to do so too. Drunken, semi naked and sexually suggestive pics have a nasty habit of turning up in the most public of places. And while your privacy settings might be at maximum, your friends and family’s may not be.
- Don’t join social “groups” of any kind. Numerous cases exist in which you join a sporting or political group, only for it to be hijacked by radicals. Wall posts on such groups can reflect badly on you as a member.
So what can you do when it has already gone publicly, and horribly, wrong? You can create an even bigger problem for yourself by how you react. Take the case of Nestle, the chocolate company who went about deleting en-masse any negative posts resulting from a guerilla campaign run by animal activists, who used Nestle’s logo to showcase Nestle’s use of palm oil from rainforest which were the habitat of endangered orangutans. The deleting of public comment became a bigger issue than the use of palm oil. So much so that Nestle’s response garnered worldwide discussion, and its Easter chocolate sales were the worst on record.
You’re far better off admitting an embarrassment and apologising, than trying to remove all trace of it. The drunken Christmas party picture will exist somewhere forever. So too will your public acknowledgement and apology for it. Deal with it quickly, and humbly, and you’ll gain understanding by a usually sympathetic public who’ve probably found themselves in similar situations. Do a cover-up and it will reflect badly.
In the case of pics or posts by family and friends, ask them to delete them before they circulate to far. If you do have a public profile already, maybe have a chat with your friends and family explaining the damage which could be caused by embarrassing pics circulating. This goes not only for pics of you, but pics of them too, as in the case of the hapless Corinne Sawer.
All in all, you’ll never be able to control your public or private profiles completely. How you react to any situation that does arise is completely yours to control, so take the time to consider your response wisely before taking any action.
Jay Pring is Head of Strategy for social media marketing agency MediaByz Digital, working with clients such as Dell, Downer EDI, SAP, and others. Jay has more than 20 years experience working in digital media. He is a published author and advisor to the Australian Federal Government on new media.
See complete profile