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Beware: Your Company Could Be “YouTubed”

In August 2006, Senator George Allen got burned by a scandalous videoclip posted on YouTube. Up next, the video takedown of a major corporation. Are you prepared? Corporations, brands and executives should brace themselves for the brave new world of global, viral visuals. Corporate dirty laundry can be captured by a cell phone video, posted on YouTube, and then spread like wilefire in the blogosphere, on social networking sites and by word-of-mouth emails. Here are a few scenarios to keep you up at night:

In August 2006, Senator George Allen got burned by a scandalous videoclip posted on YouTube. Up next, the video takedown of a major corporation. Are you prepared?

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Corporations, brands and executives should brace themselves for the brave new world of global, viral visuals. Corporate dirty laundry can be captured by a cell phone video, posted on YouTube, and then spread like wilefire in the blogosphere, on social networking sites and by word-of-mouth emails.

Here are a few scenarios to keep you up at night:

1) Watch your mouth: Memo to the boss- there is no such thing as a private conversation, whether in a meeting, on the phone or at an event. From now on, imagine that every sentence you utter is being recorded for posterity. Racist, sexist or degrading comments are just the most obvious pitfalls. Beware of seemingly innocuous public statements that could appear insensitive, dishonest or hypocritical down the road.

2) Minimum-wage malfeasance: We know that pizza delivery guys get into motor vehicle accidents, but consider the impact of a YouTube video showing a pedestrian getting run over by a Domino’s driver. How about a UPS delivery man caught on video taking a field sobriety test?

3) Call Center Hell: Outsource your phone support to a lowball contractor? In 2007, either party can monitor phone calls for “quality assurance purposes.” One abusive or ignorant call could be recorded and shared on YouTube, amusing the public and delighting your competitors.

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4) Family Fun at the Slaughterhouse: Think of your most unsavory process caputured by a disgruntled employee on his video-enabled cellphone. Animal testing, environmental degradation, underage Bangladeshi seamstresses? The possibilities are endless.

5) Heavyhanded Security: Employ any armed guards? Own a few tasers? A momentary confrontation between security and a customer, employee or tresspasser could define the image of your entire corporation.

6) Sell a product used by parents and children? Any customer can document an injury sustained as a result of product liability and show the victim to the world. Imagine how the Ford Explorer rollover controversy would have played out if just one accident involving the death of a child had been caught on video and shared on YouTube.

Remember, a moving image is the most powerful, universal and emotional medium humankind has every devised. A company error that seems regrettable yet understandable when read about in the newspaper can become a public outrage when personified on video by a sympathetic victim or an unsympathetic perpetrator.

Greg Spotts is Creative Director of the Shortlist Music Prize, and rocks the Digital Media beat for Fast Company.

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