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Transparency and Social Media Puts CEOs on the Defensive

Over the past few years we’ve seen some pretty amazing examples of the power of communication, specifically, the ability to share events in real-time on a global level. Protests like the ones in Tahrir Square in Egypt and now in Gezi Park in Turkey clearly demonstrate that the Web’s ability to share information in real-time truly empowers people in David vs. Goliath situations. Closer to home even President Obama’s call for government transparency has helped show people that transparency promotes accountability.

Don-Thompson-of-McDonaldsBut when companies implement social media strategies, are they truly ready for what might come their way? Did McDonald’s CEO really think that a question from a 9-year old during its annual shareholder’s meeting would cause such a headache?

1369333180000-hannah-with-chart-1305231917_4_3_rx404_c534x401“I don’t think it’s fair when big companies try to trick kids into eating food. It isn’t fair that so many kids my agare getting sick,” she said — blaming McDonald’s for unfairly targeting kids with advertisements for food that isn’t good for them.

Nine-year old Hannah Robertson to McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson

Or what about Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries, whose insensitive comments about the company’s target market back in 2006 in Salon Magazine recently resurfaced?

104738_story__9ba“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” Jeffries said in the article. “We go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong (in our clothes), and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Sure, most people have figured out the power of social media and the ability for any piece of news to go viral. As noted in a blog post on Forbes about A&F, “But unfortunately, with the internet, embarrassing articles do not die – they just go into hibernation until they are resuscitated.”

Of course, corporate leaders and politicians still seem to stick their collective feet in their mouth—check out Oklahoma state representative Dennis Johnson’s recent comments—by not being prepared when information is posted online or goes viral via YouTube.

Most executives we have work with understand that systems must be put in place to not only field inquiries via social media channels, but that damage control and crisis communication plans must be in place as well. The transparency of the Web has empowered people to share information on a global level. Sometimes the information is positive, sometimes it’s negative. But I’m sure that the VP of Marketing at McDonald’s or A&F have realized that following the Boy Scout’s motto, be prepared, has to be taken seriously.

So when your company dove into the social media world, did you map out a lines of communication diagram to up-level feedback to senior executives in real-time? Thinking this through ahead of time can not only save your company, but it might save your job as well.

Question-“When did Noah build the ark?”

Answer-“Before the flood.”

 

 

 

 

Rob Goodman

Author: Rob Goodman

Rob Goodman is a communications professional with more than 27 years of experience in public relations, marketing and content creation.

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