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Ramblings following Racist Tweet

07 May 2012, 11:05

FHM have just stripped Jessica Leandra of her title as the FHM model of the year for 2011.

This follows a racist tweet that Jessica made on Thursday this week. The tweet went as follows: “Just, well took on an arrogant and disrespectful ka**ir inside Spar. Should have punched him, should have [sic].”     


When one traces the events that took place from the time that Jessica posted her racist tweet on Thursday evening until the time this article was written, you realise that a few hours can be a very long time in social media given the level of activity in the media around the issue. This weekend was not even over when I wrote this article but it was already feeling like it had been weeks since the event in question had taken place after going through several comments around it.  One of the questions that comes to mind after reading all this material is did Jessica Leandra actually have a risk management plan or strategy for such a risk or event crystallizing or taking place. The risk in question is a racist tweet.   Is there something she could have done to better manage this crisis?


 How many times have we said something we shouldn't have? Even worse, how many times have we written something we immediately regretted? Have you ever sent an email by mistake and tried to retract the email? Does that ever work? Social Media magnifies any mistakes we make. Once you have sent out the tweet or status update, it appears in someone's feed and some will probably read it instantly, comment, pass it on but there is an impact. This can take place in a matter of seconds or minutes. So it means if we are going to take any action it has to be really fast. If it's a racist tweet then that constitutes a MAJOR CRISIS.


FHM wasted little time in stripping Jessica of her title. Quick Trim SA has also withdrawn their sponsorship of the model since the news of her tweets went viral.  Both FHM AND Quick Trim SA distanced themselves as quickly as possible and also took decisive action because they know that you cannot compromise on your brand. They cannot condone any actions particularly by their brand ambassadors that breach their values and even code of conduct.  Had the sponsors not taken any action, it would have come as little surprise if someone had called for a boycott of their products. The question that now comes to mind is did Jessica take the same view of her brand? How strategic in viewing her brand and social media as a tool in managing it? How is her brand now being viewed in light of these incidents? Jessica may be only in her twenties but she was the ambassador of not just some brands but a role model for many who have been impacted by her actions. She was in the limelight, a very visible public figure.


Earlier on I referred to a racist tweet being a major crisis. This tweet was a crisis not just for Jessica but for her sponsor and affiliates because they would be affected by her actions.  A major crisis means the crisis management plan must kick in immediately. Did Jessica have a plan to manage such a crisis plan. In this plan the stakeholders have to be addressed. Who are the stakeholders in Jessica’s instance? These are the Public, the Fans and followers on Social Media, the readers on the website and on other media that carry news about her; the organisations that she works with and people affiliated with her in one way or another, basically anyone who can come across the information on her could broadly speaking be termed a stakeholder. That said, it means that the action taken has to address all these people. An apology on tweet will not do it. A post on your website will not do it either. For actual text of Jessica’s apology you can go to her personal website.  Perhaps she should have to gone on national tv or radio and apologised unreservedly if she has not does so already. In fact it could be argued that there are short term measures and long term measures that need to be taken. The short term will address the fire that we have right now while the long term focus on the brand rebuilding and regaining of the public trust and confidence by Jessica.


The crisis management plan just referred to should talk to the social media strategy. I believe that Jessica should have gone as far as issuing full media statement and showing that she does not condone racism in any matter or form. Maybe she has already done this but I am not sure she did. Did Jessica have someone advising her on social media and the risks that are involved with using this media? It seems she handles has own Twitter account. That is not a problem at all for her to manage her own Twitter account but what about the risks that comes with it?


Mistakes or blunders made on public platforms will be swiftly punished. Blunders and gaffes in social media will be amplified or magnified. They will add petrol to the fire. This is just the nature of the beast with Social Media. It is either going to be the friend or foe. Deleting a tweet does not help much really. After the initial tweet is sent out it can be retweeted, saved, analysed. Something that was written or posted in anger will be analysed at leisure for hours and even days or months to come. I have come across more than 700 comments so far in total on the few websites that I have been to that carried the story of Jessica Leandra.


As pointed out in the article on how not to use social media  your followers and fans on social media are not your friends or buddies. Everyone is to be treated with respect. Everything you say or do has an impact in one way or another.  The things you say in your tweets, would you say these things in public? Twitter is the public you know! Your followers should never be taken for granted, ever! One day then can sing your praises but should you display your folly before them, they will call you to order!


 I believe that when a retraction is made, it should be more prominent than the original mistake. When we tweet do we realise just how far and wide these tweets can reach? We have to try and do the same with our retraction. The sad fact though that some of us are more likely to spread gossip or scandalous news than something positive or noble. The next few days and weeks will be critical as I am sure Jessica’s actions will continue to be carefully watched.


So now I ask the question, is all hope lost for Jessica. Not at all!  She may have lost her title but I believe that there is a great deal she can do to mend her reputation. Bill Clinton, Mike Tyson and Chris Brown; these are just a few people who managed to make a comeback in their careers after making major blunders and probably being written off. Some might argue that there is no way a racist tweet can compare with the examples I have just given. Fair enough but let’s look at the impacts that this tweet has had. It has cost a model her title, it has got the nation talking, it has exposed raw emotion in the form of hundreds of comments. Time and time again we have seen so many people salvage their reputation after doing the unthinkable. It may take time but all things are possible.


Perhaps this is a time for Jessica to help champion the cause against racism. Perhaps with her career seemingly in tatters, there is still something that can be done to change perceptions not just for Jessica’s own sake but our society as well. This lady made a grave mistake but I trust that she will make good on her incredible potential and play a role in helping to transform Africa. I do believe that there is some opportunity from the ruins.


I have little doubt that many of us will take a few lessons from these past few days. We must continue to be mindful of not just what we say and do but ultimately what we actually think.  Let me finish with a quote to both encourage and warn us:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

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