Protect Your Business From The #PennySparrow Effect

In News, Social Media by Ali Kibao

You might have heard about Penny Sparrow. The Real Estate Agent who made some ‘racist’ remarks on her personal Facebook profile which later lit social media on fire with the hashtag #PennySparrow.

Here’s what she said…

Penny Sparrow Social Media Row

Image: Twitter Search

Speaking to 5FM, Penny stated that she made these remarks on her private Facebook page and she doesn’t know how it got out, and here-in lies the problem, it’s the internet, nothing is private, not even the CIA.

Of course her former employer, Jawitz, was also interviewed right after her, stating that they are distancing themselves from her and seeking legal counsel etc.

She’s not the first, neither will she be the last to make this mistake. This happens all the time, an employee says something stupid on their personal social media account, the company gets dragged into the mud with them and they have to fire the person and issue a statement and cycle repeats.

Quick update, as this post was written, News24 reported that Standard Bank had suspended Chris Hart over ‘racist’ tweet.

This is what he said…

This is totally avoidable though 

1. Train Your Employees

This is important because it doesn’t only protect your organization’s reputation, it can actually boost your brand’s image when done correctly.

Unfortunately many organizations think of social media as a marketing tool. That’s not what social media was invented for, this is a tool meant to bring people closer together and facilitate sharing of information, which is basically relationship building.

If the focus shifts from marketing to relationships then organizations can stop teaching employees how to market and teach them how to build and maintain good relationships.

Not every employee will enjoy marketing but every employee, will at some level enjoy building relationships, it’s human nature.

Training can include:

  • General social media etiquette
  • Social media, safety, privacy and security
  • Channel specific pros and cons
  • Channel specific networking techniques

A knowledge of such topics allows employees to participate in social media, the way it was meant to be and at the same time be good brand ambassadors.

This is exactly why we are preparing A FREE Employee Social Media Handbook to address these exact challenges. You can reserve your free copy here.

2. Be prepared

When people mess up, which they will at some point, have a plan in place.

It is beneficial in 2106 to have social media damage control protocol, for both employee screw ups and just general online brand mess ups, which are inevitable for any organization that is willing to try new things.

Woolworths SA is a good example they have made many mistakes on social media like many brands do. More importantly however, they seem to have learned, from their mistakes. We wrote about this last year, you can read the full post here.

Some guidelines for damage control

A damage control plan does not necessarily have to be too elaborate, or involve lawyers, although it wouldn’t hurt if it did.

In its simplest form it’s a document that tells people exactly what to do when sh*t hits the fan. The mistakes we make on social media are not new, it’s the same story over and over.

However, every challenge is different and should be treated as such in order to avoid the all so common, “give us your contact details and we’ll get back to you soon”.

Think about how you would usually handle employee misconduct or customer complaints, then speed that process up by a thousand times, because that how fast problems can escalate on social media.

Now make a simple flow chart or mind map of that process. See the example below, this will differ for every organization.

Sample Social Media Damage Control Chart


Mistakes will happen and when they do, it’s better to be prepared for them. While preparing for mistakes, you might also spot branding opportunities, both from within and externally.

Also remember most of these things are largely about response time. The quicker you act the smaller the fires you’ll have to put out. Good luck 🙂

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Written by Ali Kibao

Ali Kibao

Hype-free marketing advocate and social media strategist.