The whole world is watching: How video has made reputation managers work harder

Paul Blanchard
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McDonald's Same Store Sales Up 7.1 Percent In January
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LAST WEEK, IN a McDonald’s downtown in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a man called Yossi Gallo tried to buy food for a homeless person. But when he made his order, the employees didn’t play ball. They called police, who told the man to leave because of ‘previous disruptions’. The story could have ended there. But it didn’t.

Shortly afterwards, Gallo published a video of the incident on Facebook. It has received millions of views and prompted increasingly critical comments about McDonald’s and about the arresting police officer. In the video, the officer tells the man to leave the restaurant, leading Gallo to tell the restaurant’s management ‘You guys suck!’ When the manager asks him to calm his voice, Gallo replies, ‘This is how I talk. I talk loud. If the officer has a problem with that, the officer’s going to arrest me.’

An incident that might have been resolved in under an hour has, whether you think it’s merited or not, become a public relations nightmare for McDonald’s. Why? Because of the video.

This might sound familiar. In April last year, United Airlines were the subject of widespread criticism after a man was violently removed from a flight by aviation police officials at Chicago’s O’Hare international airport. In a statement, the airline said that the flight was overbooked, and that no passengers had agreed to voluntarily give up their seats. Four passengers were selected at random, and one, who apparently refused to leave his seat, was forcibly removed. And then the video emerged. In a clip posted by another passenger, Audra Bridges, guards can be seen aggressively grabbing and then dragging the passenger down the aisle of the plane. You can hear other passengers shouting, ‘Oh my god’. One shouts, ‘Look at what you did to him!’Later on in the clip the passenger reemerges on the plane, this time with his face bloodied. He had reportedly told cabin crew that he was a doctor and was due for a shift his hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.

McDonald’s should have paid close attention. A video undid United Airlines, causing a scandal that lasted for weeks if not months, and a video may yet cause McDonald’s more problems. ‘Shocking moment a cop throws a Good Samaritan out of McDonald’s because he bought a homeless man a mean,’ read the Daily Mail. ‘Video shows police kick dining homelsss man out of Myrtle Beach McDonald’s,’ said FOX. The McDonald’s branch’s owner/operator, Joel Pellicci, said by way of a response, ‘We caution people against rushing to judgment after viewing this video.’

It’s amazing how quickly and easily people forget that so much of what they say and do is being recorded. Maybe it is the ubiquitousness of smartphones that has made them invisible to us. Whatever the reason, the emergence of easy-to-make video and platforms to post clips has made reputation management far harder. No longer can brands simply feed a line to the press and wait for it all to blow over without thoroughly examining the details of the case. Now, with video, greater focus has been placed on precision and clarity. A picture speaks 1,000 words. What about a video? It also prevents unscrupulous reputation managers and the organisations who employ them from taking advantage of the complacency or timidity of members of the public to tell half-truths or mislead. If organisations lie, they will be found out.

All this is good. It means due attention is paid to individual incidents, and staff responsible for anything unethical can be readily identified. Moreover, it forces businesses to actively scrutinise their practices and to be transparent––as any reputation manager will tell you, it’s one of the key indicators of trustworthiness in business and in life.

There’s no doubt that video has made effective reputation management more difficult. But it has also brought in greater transparency, accuracy and honesty, and that’s a good thing.

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