They just keep coming: Japan tsunami social media blunders

To follow up on my post of a couple of days ago, here’s a short update on two more media blunders this week in relation to the tsunami in Japan.

By now, unless you’ve had little connection to social media at all, you’ve heard about Gilbert Gottfried’s recent firing as the voice of the Aflac duck. According to the NYT:

“The Aflac incident began on Saturday, when Gilbert Gottfried, the comedian who supplies the voice for the squawking duck character in most Aflac commercials, started to post at least 10 jokes to his personal Twitter feed (@RealGilbert) about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan — a market that accounts for 75 percent of Aflac’s revenue.”

The jokes he posted are no longer there, but can be easily found with a search. They’re not funny (IMHO) and in light of all the lives lost and devastation they are callous and cruel.

Rapper 50 cent also had a lapse in judgment (assuming there was some there in the first place), posting on Twitter:

“Look this is very serious people I had to evacuate all my hoe’s from LA, Hawaii and Japan. I had to do it. Lol.”

And while not on social media, the Malaysian paper Berita Minggu apologized for posting a tasteless cartoon about a Japanese superhero running away from the tsunami.

The latter two examples are probably inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps the newspaper lost an advertiser or two but likely it will not affect them too much. 50 cent? Sadly, that sort of behavior is expected of him. People will criticize him and forget it…unless someone manages to make a meme out of it. But Gottfried is facing the biggest backlash. He said stupid things and lost his job…and it will be hard to build that reputation back up.

Someone once told me when I was in college that for every bad thing that is said about a person it takes 10 more good things to be said before the bad thing is forgotten…or something to that effect. I think it’s more than that in the world of social media, possibly 10x more. So much has proliferated now about Gottfried’s screw up that it will take a LOT for people to forget about his lack of respect for human life in the face of the worst disaster we’ve seen in our current history. And ironically, even the “promoted” MySpace link for him that I’m seeing showing up in Zymanta for me to link to in this blog isn’t going to do it for him. I am so disgusted by his actions that as a consumer I’m not going to go out of my way and click on anything that might help him. He dug his own grave with his insensitivity. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this sentiment.

Essentially what it all boils down it is the same thing I tell my classes all the time. Social media mostly requires that you just:

DON’T SAY STUPID THINGS

This also means if you are an employee of a company you need to think about how you are representing the company, even on your personal time. Gottfried wasn’t talking about Aflac or tweeting on their feed. It was on his own feed. But as someone that represented Aflac, they’re just not going to take it kindly when their spokesperson (duck voice?) says stupid things.

Erik Sherman over at bnet, in a great article on this problem, shares some other examples of companies using the tsunami in a way that’s questionable:

Sherman points out something else that is crucial to the whole problem of using something like a natural disaster:

A study last year by PR giant Edelman found that 86 percent of consumers worldwide expect companies to give equal weight to society’s interests as to their own business interests. Furthermore, they can become critical when the activities seem to benefit the corporate brand more than society.

I also think that consumers, more and more, make judgments about how they will interact with a brand based upon how they feel they are acting or not acting. For example, Aflac realized immediately that if people were disgusted by Gottfried’s actions and don’t want to act in a way that will benefit him, that by his very association with the company, that could extend to Aflac–they could lose customers or could lose prospects they didn’t even know they had. Therefore, they cut him loose to protect their brand.

When employees at a company say stupid things on their own personal accounts, it’s very possible that there will be consequences. I’m reminded of a Ketchum PR VP who tweeted something stupid on his personal account a few years ago. As he was flying in to Memphis to give a meeting to FedEx about social media, he tweeted how much he would die if he had to live there. FedEx was upset and the Twittersphere blew up and two years later, I’m still writing about it. The Internet does not forget…and may not be forgiving.

You have to be careful, extra careful with your words when publishing them for the world to see. Think beyond the moment and consider your sphere of influence. And if you have any question about what you are saying, then really, just don’t say it.

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