Ten years ago this month, one of the most well-known Internet memes was born: The Streisand Effect. This meme is not a frothy Harlem Shake-like viral sensation that is here today and gone tomorrow; it is a set of avoidable circumstances with serious consequences for anyone responsible for managing reputation, public relations or social media. Already in this young year, The Streisand Effect has tripped up a number of brands and people who should, by now, know better. Avoiding The Streisand Effect is not difficult, so why after a decade is it still such a problem?
|The photo that launched a|
This heavy-handed legal action not only failed to get the photos removed but called tremendous attention to the photos of Streisand's massive home. The image of her estate was downloaded just six times prior to the suit but was accessed almost half a million times in the month afterward. And thus a meme was born--"The Streisand Effect" occurs when someone's ineffective attempts to censor information results in that information gaining more publicity, attention and engagement.
It is positively astounding to me that public relations professionals still do not grasp the essential truth of the digital and social era: Information cannot be contained. If damaging information hits the web, there are many things you can do to manage reputation, including responding, issuing contradictory information, addressing individuals, enlisting advocates and contacting influencers. In fact, there is really only one option that is not available in 2013 (as was the case in 2003), and that is to attempt to get the offending information scrubbed from the Web.
Ten years after the "The Streisand Effect" was born, brands and PR professionals still have not learned. Already in the first seven weeks of 2013, we have seen some big brands stumble into Streisand Effect blunders:
- Beyonce's publicist emailed Buzzfeed and requested unflattering photos be taken down. In the most predictable reaction ever in the history of mankind, Buzzfeed instead published the request, resulting in thousands of additional unflattering photos.
- This weekend, NASCAR attempted to get an eyewitness video of the horrific Daytona crash taken down using a DMCA request. This was a silly move, because once the video had hit YouTube, it immediately began to spread to other sites and servers. It was also silly because it offended NASCAR fans, leaving them "boiling angry," according to Poynter. All of this was for nothing, because the takedown request failed when YouTube rejected NASCAR's right to exert copyright over the video, leaving the racing organization working to control the damage; NASCAR issued a statement claiming their request was done "out of respect for those injured in today's accident."
- a report surfaced of a security flaw in Google Play, the online store for Android users. It seems developers are being provided with the names, addresses and email addresses of app purchasers. In response, Google contacted the news site and requested changes to the story, claiming the issue was not a flaw at all. The site amended the article and noted, "This story was amended at the request of Google. News.com.au took out the words 'massive' and 'huge' - referencing the size of the security 'flaw'. The word 'flaw' was also put into inverted commas." Google likely would have faced less publicity had it simply opted to release its own contrary information or viewpoint on the topic; instead, with just a whiff of censorship, Google's decision to ask that a news article be changed has launched hundreds of tweets, blog posts and forum comments.
- it created a mountain out of a molehill when it asked CNET to retract the nomination and refrain from reviewing any Dish products. A waterfall of problems ensued, and in the end, Dish won the award anyway, Dish's product received more PR, CNET was stripped of its role in choosing future "Best of CES" winners, a senior CNET writer quit with a public broadside at CBS and CBS has left many with the impression its news is driven by its own interests and not objectivity. A lose-lose-lose-lose proposition for CBS, all thanks to The Streisand Effect.
- Earlier this month, singer Chubby Checker, upset over a penis measurement WebOS app named "Chubby Checker," filed suit against HP, parent company of Palm. The suit claims that HP did not remove the app quickly enough upon receiving a cease-and-desist warning, and this delay, claims the suit, "adversely affect(ed) Chubby Checker's brand and value." Considering the app was downloaded a whopping 84 times and that Checker's lawsuit is now splashed across the Huffington Post, Associated Press, The Guardian and dozens of other news sites, it is difficult to see how the lawsuit's goal has been accomplished. Then again, with Chubby Checker releasing a new single, it may be that the artist is attempting to execute the difficult Reverse Streisand, using the Streisand Effect about his lawsuit to promote his new tune.
This was not the first time the Streisand Effect boosted SodaStream's awareness. Last year, TV execs in the UK yanked a SodaStream ad for being too disparaging to soft drink companies. Soon, the number of views of the ad on YouTube surged from 100,000 to more than 2 million.
The Streisand Effect is so pervasive nowadays, it is hard to understand why so many companies stumble into the situation. Is it ego, thinking a brand's power can be used to scrub information from the Internet? Outdated thinking? Or just panicked decision making that severs decisions from common sense?
This is not the first time I've written about the Streisand Effect, and something tells me it will not be the last. Of course, preventing the Streisand Effect is really quite easy. If a piece of incorrect or damaging information begins to circulate, the recipe to avoid danger is:
- Stop! Do not act until dispassionate logic has the upper hand over emotional reaction.
- Do not rely solely on lawyers for guidance. For both action and communication decisions, involve PR, reputation management and social media professionals for counsel.
- Appreciate that the offending information is on the Internet and will never disappear. Your goal is not to get it removed but to react in a way that mitigates damage.
- Do not overreact to the situation. Take stock of how much the information is really spreading, if the company's customers and prospects care, and whether it will impact the company's reputation and business. Sometimes, no action is better than anything else.
- Be transparent and embrace openness. Show people you have nothing to hide, care what they think and are open to feedback.
- Do not hesitate to correct--but not censor--erroneous information. Combat misinformation in the same channels it is spreading. For example, fight video with video--you cannot counter a viral YouTube video with a press release.
- Engage consumers, advocates and influencers in a conversation. This is not a shouting match but a dialog.
- Admit fault where there is fault. You cannot hide from the court of public opinion, and pleading guilty will often do more to end the spread of damaging information and enhance reputation than trying to evade.
- Do not, under any circumstances, post and tweet the same canned language time after time. This is like throwing gasoline on a fire, and it will only make matters worse. Avoid corporate speak and talk like a person.
- Lastly, do not wait for a reputation event before you consider how to address one. Be prepared. Have a plan. Drill on it, to make sure your tools, processes and people are ready.
Remember, these situation are not about information but about People (people who need people). If you want the Internet to not Rain On Your Parade, avoid Emotion, and soon Happy Days Will Be Here Again--you and your customers will be back to The Way You Were.
(Sorry about that. I was really struggling with how to close this blog post on a Streisand note.)