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The Power of Social Media (and the Vitriol of Daily Mail Readers!)

The Geeson family were experiencing a fairly normal evening during the Christmas period. Lots of lounging, copious calories, the odd sip of Prosecco. The girls of the household – Erin, aged 9, and Orla aged 7, were playing in their bedrooms with the mountain of toys / games / books / gadgets they are very fortunate to receive each year from hugely generous grandparents, aunties, uncles and friends.

And then a tearful wide-eyed Orla ventured downstairs.

She proceeded to inform a confused mum and dad that she’d been playing with her Clingabeez on her bed when she’d leaned back on her pillow, and they’d got caught in her hair and now she couldn’t get them out!

Clingabeez, a fun gift from Grandma aimed at keeping the grandkids occupied in between courses during Christmas dinner. Think mini velcro-like ball type things that join together to form shapes / patterns…and are definitely meant to be kept well away from the very long, fine hair of a 7-year-old that, at the best of times resembles some form of small animal’s winter dwelling. Thanks Grandma!

After much pulling / fiddling / sniggering / joking about nipping upstairs for daddy’s electric shaver, we all decided the best approach would be to just snip the pesky little things out. She’d been nagging us for a ‘bob’ anyway, so our aim was to cause the minimal amount of damage possible, and then we’d book her in to the hairdresser’s to be coiffed by a professional at the first opportunity.

Anyone who knows our experimental, ‘what would happen if I put my finger in there / pressed that button / pulled that cord’ cheeky little girl, will know that this sort of incident is not particularly unusual for Orla. As we all ended up seeing the funny side, we filmed ‘operation cutting Clingabeez’, took a few shots on my iphone and posted them on my private Facebook page, so that family and friends could witness and chuckle at our latest ‘OH ORLA!’ adventures!

What followed was first-hand experience of the speed, impact and power of social media – something we highlight to our clients on a daily basis!

The story was picked up by a local journalist friend who was back at work and looking for content for her newspaper’s website. She asked if I’d mind having a chat over the phone about it, perhaps with the angle of warning other parents to be careful with Clingabeez. Christmas and New Year is obviously traditionally a very quiet period for journalists, so I was happy to help out, knowing that my friend would draft a true reflection of our conversation, but also realising that we as parents would inevitably come under criticism from some ‘we know best’ readers. We could live with that. We knew that our daughter found it just as funny as we did, and if we could highlight to other local parents that they should perhaps be aware to keep these little blighters away from barnets – all good.

What most people won’t realise, is that it’s also common practice for freelance journalists / news agencies for the national media, to scour local papers looking for snippets which they can then turn into a bigger feature for the whole of the UK. This is something they’re allowed to do as the story is already in the public domain. In this instance, it was picked up by the Mail Online, The Sun and The Daily Star. Suddenly, my quick iphone snap of our little girl’s tearful cherubic face was being seen by viewers across the country, accompanied by the sort of sensationalist headlines we all recognise – ‘MUM HAD TO HACK CHUNKS OUT OF HER DAUGHTER’S HAIR’, ‘CHRISTMAS TOY DISASTER!’ ‘GIRL, SEVEN, IS FORCED TO CUT CHUNKS OUT OF HER HAIR!’

Yes, after nearly 17 years in PR, countless pitches to unreceptive, bored journalists, thousands spent on professional hi res photography, THIS features in the national press!

Inevitably in the online comments, those ‘we know best’ readers didn’t hesitate in highlighting my uselessness as a mum, lamenting the fact that I’d ‘run to the papers’ with this non-story, just wanting enough cash to pay off my mortgage! (If only!) Not something any of us were going to lose sleep over, and Orla was over the moon that she was ‘famous!’ but could have been hugely detrimental if I was considering a career change to childcare…or hairdressing for that matter!

So, dear clients (and potential clients!) please heed our warnings about the power of social media. Just one innocent well-intentioned post / Tweet / share could result in a big negative impact on your business, skills or reputation.

(Orla Geeson is now renting out ‘tearful cherubic face’ to accompany all appointment / business growth / new product launch press releases….)