Facing a Crisis of Social Media Proportions

It’s a lot like trying to win “whack-a-mole” at the amusement park

Regardless of your profession or business, if you’re facing a crisis for not meeting expectations or your actions just aren’t up to par, social media won’t simply go away. They’ve got you in their sights and, as the crescendo builds with others piling on, they won’t let up.

Unless you’re ready to make significant changes in what you do and how you do it, it’s a lot like trying to win whack-a-mole at the amusement park arcade. It’s impossible. No matter how many times you swing that mallet, you just can’t seem to beat that mole.

Today starts yet another test of the resiliency of Facebook. Seen as the largest social media platform on the globe, reactions to the Senate hearing today leave open the question if the shoe could well be on the other foot. Could Facebook find itself on the other end of social media attacks?

The question that hits the heart of trust and reputation is:

How will other social media react to today’s Senate testimony about Facebook — as The New York Times reports — by “a whistle-blower who has been the source of uncomfortable revelations about the company’s business practices”?

In today’s testimony, according to a report by Axios: “Facebook can change, but it’s clearly not going to do so on its own,” (Frances) Haugen said. “My fear is that without action, divisive and extremist behaviors we see today are only the beginning.”

We shall see.

But most would agree that, if the harshest allegation by the whistle-blower that Facebook puts “profits before people” proves true, the tables have turned for Facebook.

Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is well-recognized for his views on just these kinds of issues facing businesses … those issues that hit at the heart of trust, reputation, values and behavior.

As he has written often over his decades at the helm of Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett wrote the following in the December 19, 2014 version of his annual letter to Managers:

“The top priority — trumping everything else, including profits — is that all of us continue to zealously guard Berkshire’s reputation. We can’t be perfect but we can try to be. As I’ve said in these memos for more than 25 years: “We can afford to lose money — even a lot of money. But we can’t afford to lose reputation — even a shred of reputation.” We must continue to measure every act against not only what is legal but also what we would be happy to have written about on the front page of a national newspaper in an article written by an unfriendly but intelligent reporter.

“If you see anything whose propriety or legality causes you to hesitate, be sure to give me a call. However, it’s very likely that if a given a course of action evokes such hesitation, it’s too close to the line and should be abandoned.

As a corollary, let me know promptly if there’s any significant bad news. I can handle bad news but I don’t like to deal with it after it has festered for a while.”

Buffett’s advice, proven by his actions to restore trust in Salomon Brothers after the bond scandal in 1991, remains crucial to long-term success.

Social media hasn’t changed any of Buffett’s advice one bit.

Yet, social media certainly have made his guidance even that much more important.

Before every decision and long before you find yourself under attack, fall back on these five principles:

· It’s all about behavior

· If you violate key values, it’s never “if” you will be caught … but rather “when.”

· The cover-up is often worse than the crime.

· The media — in their historic role as the “Fourth Estate” and in their 21st Century digital form as “social media” — will be sure to watch closely, research the facts, and make the details public.

· And there is nothing worse than a loss of trust.

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Chris is a retired worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller and author of three books, most recently: “Ramen Noodle Resume” for new college graduates.

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Chris Komisarjevsky

Chris Komisarjevsky

Chris is a retired worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller and author of three books, most recently: “Ramen Noodle Resume” for new college graduates.

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