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Should you post that?

Advice and insight from a reputation and PR expert
Owning a mistake is essential to survive a public gaffe.

A business owner posts controversial political views on the company’s Instagram account; a well-known athlete flouts public health mandates on her personal Facebook page.

Perhaps a wannabe politician posted a sexist joke a decade ago.

What damage could these posts do?

And what should folks do if an embarrassing or inappropriate post is exposed, or worse yet, goes viral? 

Molly McPherson, who specializes in crisis communications, reputation management and PR, offers advice for both business folks and individuals on not getting cancelled.

Where is the risk?

McPherson, who also has a podcast “Indestructible PR,” a YouTube channel and is active on TikTok says when discussing social media, it is important to take a step back and look at it in context. 

"It is a necessary daily activity for so many people. They use it for everything from social interaction, to podcasts, to apps, to access to news and information — from finding a restaurant to finding a date. It has a huge impact on our decision-making. That's from a personal use [perspective]. But also, the same technology is being used, from a business side, from a professional side, from a branding side, from a reputation side...So, it's in the commingling of both, that can create risk for people, businesses and brands."

Posting political views

When it comes to the 2022 Canadian Freedom convoy, McPherson said it is news that has reached the U.S., where she lives. 

"It's a protest that's made for social media because it's a mix of political beliefs, political beliefs mixed with opinion, mixed with mainstream media and social media. When all of those converge at once, that news can spread across borders and around the world. So many people are following it," she said. 

Businesses have a right to share their owner's perspective on this or any other political movement, but it comes with a cost, she said.

"Companies big and small do that. However, it's a lot easier to do it when a business is showing social responsibility, as opposed to a very strong political view. It's not to say that a business shouldn't post a political view. But again, they need to understand the risk that comes with it. They're going to disenfranchise a significant part of their customers," she said.

@mollybmcp #pr #prcrisis #communicationskills #canceledculture #canceled ♬ original sound - Molly McPherson

What if an old embarrassing post comes to light?

Say you are careful about what you post, but years ago, you weren't and suddenly an embarrassing post from the past comes to light? Or worst yet, goes viral? 

McPherson said the public gives folks leeway for events, decisions or choices that were made previous to social media being a part of our landscape. 

Regardless of when the gaffe happened, McPherson has a three-part framework that can work to address it — to avoid being cancelled, in other words. 

"Without a doubt, the first step of it is the most important and that's owning it. You have to acknowledge, accept, apologize, admit, be ashamed of whatever the act was; you have to repent, show remorse for why it happened. And the reason why that part is so critical is because people are expecting it. And when it's not there, people notice it," she said. 

The second step is to explain.

"And that is the place where you can give context to why it happened... That's the moment where it gives the person that chance to reframe what happened." 

The third step she calls, "promise it." 

"What is the promise that you're making or the plan that you're making so it doesn't happen again, or showing how you learned from your mistake, and how you can improve going forward." 

Because social media and news media are moving so quickly and there is "a crisis a day," usually, if folks follow this framework, they can survive a gaffe and come out stronger, she said. 

"It's the people who miss primarily that first step who, the public, the cancel culture, they will keep you there until you show accountability for those actions."

Your reputation is an asset

When it comes to anything you post, McPherson said to think of your reputation as an asset.

"If you know how to leverage your reputation on social media in a very positive way, whether it's from a business point of view, or just a personal point of view, a reputation is a personality, it can make you more likeable, it can make people want to be with you," she said. 

But once your reputation is damaged by something you post, it is a lost asset and it can cost you, she said. 

"It could be in the form of a financial [cost], or just from a personal one and one filled with heartache. If you get it wrong, it can cause a lot of damage. So knowing the playing field, knowing the technology, knowing how to use it, and who sees it — then you can become successful. And in the end, what you really need is confidence. You'll have confidence in using social media if you know how to use it."

Go to Molly McPherson's website for more advice.