Stop Apologizing — 8 Social Media Rules CEOs Should Know

The five stages of social media grief are rant, press send, deny, excuse, apologize. To save time, we might want to apologize first.

You will see this happening with the latest viral meme going around, a post by @Airbnb’s global communications director, Kim Kingsley.

Kingsley was attending a party for colleagues on the San Francisco pier, and someone took an artful photo of the group, which she posted on Instagram. For reasons she now regrets (her Instagram account is now locked), she juxtaposed the image of revel-making pranksters with two young children in an immigrant detention center, with the caption: “…that night I fell in love with new colleagues while children 2,000 miles away were being detained in
cages.”

The intent of the message was sympathetic, to be sure. But on social media, where the concept of love has been reduced to a swipe right or left, asking for deep introspection is a bit naive. The media predictably reacted to the image as insulting, craven, and very millennial.

The New York Post called it a “communication blunder of global proportion” while Fox News sniffed, a total “Air-head move.” When the Post’s writer, Oli Coleman, first saw Kingsley’s post, the only word he could think of was “cringe-worthy.”

Kingsley is no wet behind the ears neophyte when it comes to media. She was COO of Politico before joining the shared rental company. If she can make a faux pas of this magnitude, so can I or you or someone we just hired to handle global communications.

One thought to keep in mind before hitting the send button is that those who agree with you aren’t going to buy the product because of the post. But those who disagree will use the company as leverage to get back at you and the company.

For example, Airbnb is fighting a heated political war on its soft underbelly, the part about stealing jobs from blue-collar hotel labor workers. Labor unions are taking direct aim at Airbnb’s wealthy founders, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, among the richest billionaires in the world looking at a 50 billion dollar IPO on the horizon. The union efforts have been effective in cities like New York and most recently, according to theNew York Times, the resort island off Spain of Majorca.

This underscores that even our most successful organizations are vulnerable to mass hysteria and anti-business trolling. Those are the modern digital enemies who wait for moments like this to pounce.

Viral memes from unauthorized social media outbursts only make them more powerful. We need to follow some common-sense rules when it comes to voicing our political opinions. Here are eight that come to mind:

8 Rules for Corporate Communicators

  1. Social media is a haiku.If you have a complicated point to make, don’t post on Instagram, write an essay like they do at Google.
  2. “La compagnie n’est pas toi” (to paraphrase Louis IV). The company is not you, unless your name is on the front of the building.
  3. If you blow up, don’t double down: When wrong, admit it and move on.
  4. If you’re not a politician, stay away from politics. I served on a board that had a former Mayor on it, and we let him do all the politicking. He was a pro, we were amateurs.
  5. Don’t hit “send.” It is the most dangerous button after the nuclear button on President Trump’s desk.
  6. Unless you are North Korean, you are a capitalist. Don’t act like your main objective in life is saving humanity if you make money renting spare rooms to tenants.
  7. Virtue doesn’t look good in Pradas. Unless you are a celebrity, social justice ranting is going to look strange coming from you.
  8. Shut up: No one ever complained about a post you didn’t write.

RelatedManaging Corporate Reputation: ‘It’s All About Responding to Feedback,’ One Expert Says

Jeff Cunningham :Jeff Cunningham is Chief Executive magazine's editor-at-large and a professor of leadership at Arizona State University/Thunderbird School of Global Management, where he has also endowed the Cunningham Global Fellowship for next-generation leaders. He also is the founder of Thunderbird Opinions poll of business trends. He was previously publisher of Forbes Magazine and CEO of Zip2 (founded by Elon Musk). Watch his YouTube interviews at Iconic Voices and connect on Twitter @CunninghamJeff and LinkedIn.