A week ago you had most likely never heard of Cecil the Lion. Now there are over 40 million web page references, a petition with over a quarter of a million signatures and the animal’s own Wikipedia entry.
If you happen to have missed the highest trending story in the news and on social media this week, Cecil the lion was a protected animal on a game reserve in Zimbabwe. Cecil was lured out of his sanctuary by professional hunters, then killed with a cross bow as a trophy by Dr. Walter Palmer. Palmer is a dentist from Minnesota and he paid over $50,000 for the privilege of doing this.
It was not the first time that he had purchased a license to hunt wild animals. He was even profiled in a New York Times article in 2009, “Walter Palmer Stalks Beast With an Eye on the Record Book”
This was what he liked to do on weekends. It had no direct relation to his business, but was certainly one of his personal hobbies and therefore part of his personal brand. None of these activities had previously generated any obvious negative reaction, even following a conviction for a questionable hunt of a black bear in Wisconsin in 2008.
However this time the impact on Dr. Palmer’s personal brand and business has been catastrophic;
- His practice has been closed, makeshift memorial made up of soft lion toys and notices placed on the doorstep and a date for re-opening unknown.
- His business website, River Buff Dental, has been shut down.
- His business Facebook page has been removed. However several parody Facebook pages have sprung up. There is a Facebook group page with over 10,000 members and nearly 30,000 likes - Shame Lion Killer Dr. Walter Palmer and River Bluff Dental
- Negative 1 star Yelp business reviews are appearing faster than Yelp can delete them, with the page having over 2,000 reviews at any one time.
- English comedian, Ricky Gervais, who is well known for his anti-hunting stance, has been especially vocal and visual with this story, and has hundreds of thousands of followers and likes.
- An online fundraising campaign has even raised over $100,000 to send African lions to the USA to hunt dentists!
Dr. Palmer did issue an apology - "I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt," Palmer said Tuesday in a statement. "I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt."
The speed of the ‘social media jungle backlash’ from this story meant Dr.Palmer would never be able to get ahead of the story or be able to adequately handle the negative outcome.
There have been several spin off comparisons to other causes and news stories, such as Vegetarianism, Boko Haram kidnappings and the #BlackLivesMatter movement which has only propelled and compounded the original story and generated more coverage.
It is hard to explain why this story of a trophy hunter exploded more than previous social media exposures of similar people and actions.
As an independent businessman Dr. Palmer perhaps felt he had greater leeway to pursue and comment on his personal interests than an employee might have. Whether you support or condone what he does, he was under the belief that everything was legal and allowed and therefore he had nothing to hide.
We have also recently seen a number of high profile celebrity and public figures caught on video or arguing against ‘trial by popular (social) media’ for personal preferences in their private lives or perceived conflicts of interest. Read on for some specific celebrity and professional mishaps related to the lessons learned.
Suffice to say that there are important lessons for all of us when it comes to the potential professional impact of what we do on weekends.
Lesson #1 – What we do on weekends does matter.
The reality is that our private lives can no longer be totally private. Your actions outside of work do not have to be as extreme or abhorrent for an employer to have second thoughts about your position and the reflection on their brand.
If the values of an organization are called in to question by the actions of an employee, you can be sure that the employment of that person is going to be brought under the microscope.
For example the Jian Ghomeshi story originated from private personal practices coming in to the public domain which then resulted in more information and accusers coming forward.
Lesson #2 – Just because its legal or you have done it before may not matter.
What is acceptable in one group, might be totally unacceptable with another larger and more vocal or influential section of the population. Even the hunting groups have questioned how much of a hunter Dr. Palmer actually was, given that most of his hunting was purely for trophies of endangered animals.
A Hydro One worker was recently fired by the company for chanting a crude phrase at a female sports reporter at a Toronto FC soccer game. The chant started last year after it was featured in a fake newscast blooper that went viral on Reddit.
Lesson #3 – What happens in Vegas no longer stays in Vegas.
Even if you avoid using all social media, one of your friends probably uses it, so you can still be tagged or posted. In fact there is a valid argument that you should at least have social media accounts on the likes of Facebook for that very reason, in order to be able to ask for images to be removed.
Prince Harry being photographed naked in Las Vegas was a prime example.
Lesson #4 – Would you be happy if your Mother read about it in the local newspaper?
Subsequent generations will not know a world WITHOUT social media. Every person’s timeline or stream is like their own personal (and public) media channel.
The rules have not changed from older traditional print media. Like a newspaper anything you post online is out there for all to see. So don’t post anything you would be embarrassed to read, or have your Mother read, in your local newspaper.
Remember that once you do post something it is extremely hard to take back or get removed, even if you delete the original.
Marketing manager Justine Sacco made one ‘mistake’ tweet and her career blew up in less than 12 hours. It took over 2 years for her to be re-employed in her own country.
Lesson #5 – Don’t become the person you despise. Find balance.
The backlash toward Dr. Palmer has been swift and in many cases very hateful and much of this has been posted online. The hunter has become the hunted. If you do find yourself commenting on this type of story, or any controversial subject that gets significant coverage be sure you are ready to justify what YOU put online.
We should view this story and similar actions with some form of balance. For example, likening the public’s reaction to this with Bill Cosby case, as Jimmy Kimmel did on his show might be a little bit of a stretch for many of us. There are many shocking stories or mis-treatments of humans that get nowhere near the amount of public reaction or coverage.
It is called PERSONAL branding for a reason. It is the combination of EVERYTHING you do, including in your private life.
You do deserve down time at the weekend (and other times), to be away from work and to switch off. Be mindful though that what was once considered private may no longer be the case and may be part of your more public brand.
Do you feel the reaction has been measured, or maybe too much or too little?
What lessons do you get from these events?
Have a brandtastic week.
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