Unless you haven’t turned on your television or computer or listened to people’s conversations in the office or on the street, you’ve heard about chef and TV personality, Paula Deen’s latest troubles. Most people agree it was well-deserved as examples of racist behavior surfaced and the Food Network and, as of today, one of her chief sponsors pulled their support from her. It’s a prime example of past discretions coming back to haunt a person. The unfortunate lesson for anyone in business is to think of what may offend people BEFORE you say it.
Another brilliant public meltdown in recent history was the appearance of the owners of a Amy’s Baking Company, a small restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona, when they appeared on the Gordon Ramsay show, Kitchen Nightmares. The husband and wife team , despite under the scrutiny of the camera, showed the world horrid behavior, theft from employees and childish fits that would not be allowed from a three year-old. To make matters worse, the pair took their psychotic and pathological behavior to social media channels and drove the last nail into their own coffins.
The Internet is Watching!
Twenty years ago, when chat rooms were all the rage, it became an unwritten rule that “flaming” was damaging to the people who participated in them. It was said to damage one’s reputation and people would be chased from their favorite chat boards, never to return. One might think that as a businessperson, counting on networking via social media, that using language or opinions that have no place outside one’s own living room is not a sound practice, yet it still abounds.
Nothing has destroyed more Facebook friendships or lost more followers than having a loud and public stance on politics. If you were to assume that America only had two political parties, then it would follow that your online viewers were 50/50 among the two parties. Anything you were to post, belittling one party would insult half of your audience. That, as anyone would agree, is bad business, except for members of the communist and green parties who always seem angry about anything said, even in their defense.
I’m always surprised when I receive a Twitter follower who identifies their religion, usually right off the bat. I can understand that some people’s faith is important to them, and there are several local businesses near me that push their religious affiliation as part of their business brand (oddly, all of them have numerous complaints on service and pricing practices). When you put out your religious affiliation along with your brand, you are telling prospective clients that a.) you don’t wish to deal with those who don’t share your faith, and b.) you run your business based on the tenants of your faith, which is why the numerous complaints against the aforementioned local businesses are so puzzling.
This is both for pronouncements of sexual orientation as well as just plain talking dirty. Either way, you will attract some customers and scare away others. Sex, they say, should be left in the bedroom, behind closed doors.
Sure, if you have a clothing store for men, you will want to use “him,” and “his” in all of your communications, but if you have a sporting goods business, for example, a liberal mix of “him,” and “her” will speak to your entire customer base. There are some who insist that females wield the most power in financial transactions, such as clothing, cars and housing, among other household services, but even those who say this admit that men are taking over roles that used to be considered for the wife, and vice versa. Proper English grammar needs the use of “him/her,” rather than “their,” in most cases. Make sure you don’t assign one gender to being less important in your product or service sales.
As someone who deals with many different cultures in global business, I have learned that certain American colloquialisms can be misunderstood. Not that they are necessarily insulting, but you can fail to get your message across and that can lose you customers. If you are heavily into dealing on a global scale, you already know that different cultures have their own ways of doing business. In America, each coast and middle America are very different in how business is approached, so you can imagine the problems presented when dealing with a culture overseas.
In cultural differences and ways of doing business, understanding is the key, as is tolerance for what is different from the world of one’s own belief system and how one is raised. This goes for all of the categories listed here. As with any personal information, you need to ask yourself several questions when considering what to put out there for possible connections and prospective clients:
- By voicing my political/religious opinion in my social networking or marketing, am I creating professional trust with those whom I want to connect?
- Will I lose followers, friends and potential business? Do the positive returns outweigh the negative?
- Is this something that holds potential to jeopardize future opportunities? Am I putting to much information out there for everyone to see?
- Are my opinions and beliefs creating so much of a distraction that people forget what my business is about?
- Is this what I want to be known for over all other things? Do the pros outweigh the cons?
- Does this align with my brand, my style, and my messages I want people to remember?
- How important is it people know this information?
A hiring manager warns about any information that is too personal, showing up on your profile that will show up on web searches:
“Even though the First Amendment protects your speech as a private citizen on matters of public concern, such speech may fall outside of First Amendment protection if it impedes your employer’s effectiveness or efficiency, or otherwise disrupts the workplace.”
A Rough Lesson
Ms. Deen has apologized for her use of racist language and actions, yet her excuse was in asking that people understand her upbringing in the south and the “history” of slavery and segregation. Her continued explanation wasn’t accepted by those who pointed out that slavery ended over 100 years ago and that Ms. Dean and her family was not part of or witness to savory and her attitude merely kept the racism alive and, in the 21st century, it was an attitude that could not be understood nor forgiven. Her loss of business will be crippling and while her supporters may continue to visit her restaurant, which is her last bastion of business hope, she will be a victim of her own words in a world of different consumers, who answer insults by taking their spending power elsewhere.
It shouldn’t matter what sexual orientation a person is, their color, creed or national origin. People come in all sizes, colors, shapes and personalities. Good customer service and a top notch product is all that should matter. It is, after all, the color of someone’s money that ultimately makes or breaks a business in the end.
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