Avoiding a Red Face in the Age of the Smartphone


Avoiding a Red Face in the Age of the Smartphone


How the power of trial-by-Facebook can seriously damage business reputation


SHOULD a time-travelling Victorian find themselves for an instant in a busy city centre in 2017, what would be the first thing to strike them as odd?

We’d be willing to bet good money it wouldn’t be the transport or even the illuminated street signage provoking confusion, amazement or fear – rather the small rectangle screens we seem to gaze into constantly, when walking, sitting, eating or drinking.

Yes there is little doubt, we live in the age of the smartphone – in a world increasingly obsessed with those devices that can access the internet while playing our favourite songs, checking bank balances and tweeting about (or even watching) the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

Game-changing technology

These miraculous portable PA’s have also made it easy for us to snap a quick picture or video and share it with the world in seconds.

This can be good for business- for example the countless Instagram posts capturing a delicious meal, tagging the restaurant it was served in and encouraging scores of followers to visit the establishment responsible.

Conversely, it can have a very damaging effect. Earlier this month, a video shared on social media (now removed) capturing a Lothian bus driver was filmed by a passenger – as he supposedly refused to wait on a disabled passenger to get on the bus.

The camera operator actively urged people to share it across Facebook to make sure everyone saw the seemingly cruel actions of this driver.

Needless to say, this video was met with thousands of comments talking about the atrocious nature of the driver and calling out Lothian buses for the disgrace on this service.

The short video generated a storm of shares, likes and comments – and later in the evening Lothian Buses was forced to make a statement regarding the incendiary post, stating that it was misleading and did not fully represent the situation.


The video was subsequently taken down and the statement from Lothian Buses stated that after analysing CCTV footage the situation was not best represented by the Facebook post and that the driver had driven off in response to threatening behaviour.

Your team are on the frontline

In the same week as the Lothian Buses furore, a user generated video has also emerged  social media videoing has been used to disparage companies, as yesterday a Costa employee was filmed refusing to serve a customer who was buying food for a homeless man.

The video shows a man trying to buy a sandwich and a drink for a homeless man who is presumably outside the shop but he is refused by the staff who state it’s a security policy not to serve food to homeless people.

The man filming is obviously aggravated as he asks “It’s against policy to give food to a homeless person?” but is met with the same response about policy.

This video was rightly met with similar uproar branding the actions of Costa as disgusting and accusing the popular coffee change of making the homeless more invisible.

A statement from the CEO of Costa coffee confirmed that this was not in fact policy and that they would have to investigate the incident.

The Power of the Smartphone

These events, which are by no means isolated, show just how powerful smartphones and social media can be for business reputation as a shadow can be cast over a company for any mistakes made by any employees at any time.

This can create a “Trial by Facebook” effect in which a business is dragged through the mud as people take the content of these videos at face value without questioning what they are seeing.

The effect of social media can be incredibly damaging to reputation as these short videos, documenting snippets of an incident can be so easily shared with millions.


Lessons Learned

There are a few things we can take away from these situations after realising just how important social networking can be for reputation.

Firstly, the importance of running your business in a way that you are proud of. It goes without saying that every business should run in a way that makes owners, managers and employees proud. This means making sure employees share your vision and goal and represent you in the best possible way.

Moreover, with the increasing digital age, the sharing of bad experiences through social media videos is likely to increase and so it’s important to know how to handle these kinds of situations.


Take a look at our post on how well served Crisis PR helped Maria Sharapova deliver the perfect response to a doping scandal. 

As ever, communication is so important and so it’s key to respond with a statement as quickly as possible, tackling the issue head on instead of burying your head in the sand.

The statement released by Lothian Buses helped suggest another side to the story that the public potentially had missed and by standing up for its staff gained back some respect they had lost.

Like our Victorian time traveller, it is worth perhaps looking at these handheld devices with an element of suspicion – and preparing ourselves for the damage they can cause.

Want to find out more about how sharing positive stories can boost your reputation?

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