As Jason Linkins over at the Huffington Post almost gleefully points out, there's been a lot of rubbernecking on the web in the last few days about the tense exchange between Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center spokesperson Marc Slavin and Bay Area ABC News reporter Dan Noyes. In case you haven't seen the video, it's below.
I received a link to the video from friends and colleagues in PR via 3 different sources yesterday: it was shared on Facebook, discussed in a LinkedIn group I belong to and emailed to me and many of my PR colleagues in a group email.
I should give full disclosure that I have worked with Mr. Slavin in the past as part of a communications task force for Laguna Honda's soon to be open new hospital building; I always found him to be extremely respectful and professional. Was Mr. Noyes aggressive? Undoubtably. Was Laguna Honda administrator Ms. Hirose flustered and unprepared? Yes. Could Mr. Slavin have handled this situation with Mr. Noyes differently? I'm sure. In fact I'd bet that he has probably replayed this incident over and over again (if not in his head, on his computer screen) wishing for a different outcome.
We all have days or situations that are better than others and that we wish we could do over or forget about completely. (I'll leave specific commentary about what Mr. Slavin did, and the debate on how he could have handled such a situation differently, to the millions of people who are discussing, commenting and dissing on what Gawker called the best local news video this year.) Point being, when we have these types of situations, we have to deal with the consequences. Unfortunately for Mr. Slavin, his bad day quickly became that much more public thanks to social media sharing tools such as Youtube, Digg, Twitter and Facebook, (to name a few), that spread this video across the web like wildfire, only amplifying those consequences.
The Huffington Post, like many other news outlets, helpfully displayed some other places on the web, including twitter that this story was getting play.
and provided the requisite social media tools to share the video.
Note that there were 536 comments on the video on the Huffington Post website alone. 321 people tweeted about it, their followers retweeted and so on, ad infinitum. (Guy Kawasaki, who has almost a quarter of a million followers, tweeted this story. Imagine his reach!) A quick google search for it produced more than 37,000 results–many in languages I couldn't understand.
Painfully, Mr. Slavin can not only replay the video but spend countless hours scouring the web to see comments people have made– about him personally, his professional demeanour and the organization he was representing. He is now an integral part of the new story and as a result has spent many hours I'm sure he didn't account for answering inquiries from all fronts about the incident. This video is a great example of how quickly content can go viral and create bad PR for an individual or organization.
So what's the takeaway here? Being on the front lines, sometimes in tense situations, is nothing new for PR professionals. We know this and develop thicker skins the further we advance in our careers. What is a fairly new development is how social media adds yet one more layer (or many, depending on how you look at it) to managing an organization's public image and can make our jobs (and us) even more visibly and inextricably linked to that image. Is this being talked about when we train up and coming PR professionals? How about when we do speaker training and crisis communications? Prior to the advent of web 2.0, this video would have aired on TV in the original newscast and been posted on the ABC 7 website. Some people would have emailed it to their friends but it most likely would not have gained enough strength to become the tsunami it did in such a short time.
The fact that our words and actions can infect the web like this, doing damage to companys we represent and to our own reputations is something we should all be acutely aware of.