Today’s inspiration: The drive from Philadelphia to D.C.

While driving to Washington, D.C. today, I almost got in an accident three times. Think I’m joking? The worst drivers I’ve ever come across were out in force today. What caused me to almost die three times? Big Mack trucks deciding to change lanes despite having no, and I repeat NO room in which to merge. This of course got me thinking…

In Today’s world we live by RSS, Twitter, Google News, and Facebook feeds. Who out there has ever had one of those “Did that really just happen?” moments when following these beloved feeds? I do not intend to call out names, but I’m sure you’ve been following a major company, public figure, or celebrity who has caused these “No Way!” moments. You know what I’m talking about, a tweet or Facebook post which comes from so far left-field that you have to go and check that it’s actually from them.

When a company or public figure does this, it has the same effect as those truck drivers had on me today. Your followers or fans are guaranteed to feel one, or all of the following emotions: shock, anger, frustration, disgust, and alienation. When you choose to discuss a topic that has nothing to do with your brand, image, or product, you are merging into a lane in which you do not belong. In fact, choosing to discuss this topic can be so abrupt and sudden for your followers that you’ll be lucky if all they are is shocked. Not only that, in this day and age what you do on Facebook can make headlines. And unlike my experience today, it’s YOUR company or reputation that will get hurt. Choosing to merge blindly could mean “death” for your company or reputation. Choosing to change your role cannot be undone, and thanks to the web, it can haunt you forever. Point in case: Cindy McCain chose to support the NOH8 campaign with a video that discusses the inequality of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. In the video she says, “Our political and religious leaders tell LGBT youth that they have no future…that they can’t serve openly in the military.” Do not see the issue yet? Her husband, John McCain is adamantly against repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The video was released on November 10th, causing a lot of buzz in the media about Cindy’s stance despite her husband’s campaign to let “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” stand. Only two days later Cindy announced on her Twitter, “I fully support the NOH8 campaign and all it stands for and am proud to be a part of it. But I stand by my husband’s stance on DADT.” Confusing right? It leaves her and her husband’s supporters to wonder the dynamics of the couple and Cindy’s sincerity in joining the NOH8 campaign. Cindy forgot her role, and merged into a territory where she should not have gone unless she was ready to stick to her guns on the issue. She merged without thinking, realized the risk, and quick swerved back into the lane she’s chosen as supporter to her husband. Meanwhile, the McCains’ followers, and the LGBT community who thought they were getting a major supporter in Cindy, are left feeling shocked and alienated.

Public figures, government institutions, CEOs, non-profits, retailers, and other organizations: Think before you speak! Know your role, and where you belong in relation to your product or reputation. Your communications or opinions should reflect your mission and product, not the egos or intimate personal beliefs of individuals. Always remain consistent with how you choose to communicate your brand. If you must merge, do so with caution, and be ready to back yourself up when it goes downhill.