Protecting your brand from yourself is not enough.  Sure, we all know of CEOs like Bob Parsons and John Mackey who seem to make a habit of committing what would appear to be brand hara-kiri.  However, the fact of the matter is that employees, friends and family can pose as much if not more of a threat.  Don’t believe me?  Ask Domino’s Pizza or Lawrence Fishburne.

The inevitable question that I encounter every time I am hired to speak to a group is, “How do I separate my business contacts from my personal ones?  I don’t want some of my customers interacting with certain friends and family members on social networks.”  Good question!  In short, you can’t.  Sure, you can make profiles private.  You can shut down your Facebook wall so that no one can comment or leave posts.  However, eventually, the lines will get crossed.  Besides, turning your wall into Alcatraz doesn’t exactly yell “social”.  Sometimes you have to choose.  I normally recommend that parents not accept their kids.  Sound harsh?  Well, I speak from personal experience.  No, my brand was not damaged by a family member, I did the damaging.

While my story did not take place on a popular network like Facebook or Twitter, it does illustrate the amazing wisdom of teenagers…

When I was sixteen, I worked as a waitress at an IHOP across the street  from the bank where my mother was employed as a personal banker.  Every day, after work, I would walk across the street to deposit my tips.  One sunny day, I walked over to discover two new tellers at the counter.  Let’s call them Bill and Ted.  Neither could have been older than nineteen.

As I approached the counter, the bank security officer waived at me and told the tellers that I was “Kathy’s daughter”.  Both young tellers told me how much they liked my mom and how friendly and motherly she was.

At this point, it bears noting that my mother has always been fairly conservative.  She could be described as a cross between Clair Huxtable and June Cleaver.  I should also mention that I was something of a maverick.  I was a straight A student with a smart mouth and extremely odd  sense of humor.

Here enters that sense of humor… I turned to them and said, “Yeah, my mom is really sweet, but she is not really who she appears to be.”  They looked puzzled.  Ted said, “What do you mean?”  I leaned in very close; they mimicked my stance.  I whispered, “She has nipple piercings.”

This revelation was followed by a chorus of “No way!” and  “Oh my God!”  They then called the security guard over and whispered their new finding.  He looked puzzled.  I then whispered, “Don’t tell her that you know.  She’ll just deny it.”

I finished my transaction and walked out of the bank with a sly grin on my face.  I had, no doubt, pulled one of the funniest pranks on my mother I could have ever conceived.  At least, that is what my sixteen year old mind registered.

I was sitting on the living room couch when my mother arrived home with a dumbfounded look on her face.   She walked over to me and said in an accusing tone, “You are not going to believe the day I had.”  I innocently asked her, “What do you mean?”

“Well”, she began, “It all started shortly after my beloved eldest daughter stopped by the bank.  I couldn’t help but notice that every time I walked by Steve, the security officer, he was staring at my chest…”

I have to interject here to state that my mother could also be physically considered to be akin to Dolly Parton.

“…I kept going into the restroom to make sure that my chest was not lopsided or something.  I could never find anything wrong.  Then, when I was sitting in the lunch room eating a late lunch, the two new tellers came in and were also staring at my chest with stupid grins on their faces.  Each looked liked they wanted to say something.  Finally, I asked them if something was the matter.  Bill then asked me if ‘he could see’.  I asked him what he wanted to see.  He then said, ‘You don’t have to hide it, but your daughter told us about your nipple piercings.'”

At this point in the story, my mother said that she screamed, “What?!?” and then vehemently denied having piercing, tattoos or anything of the like.  Poor mom. At this point Bill said, “It’s okay Ms. Kathy, we won’t tell anyone.  It was just hard to believe.  Your daughter said that you would deny it, but don’t worry, your secret is safe with us.”

As my mother wrapped up the story she looked at me and said, “I cannot believe that you did that.  What were you thinking?”  At this point, I began to laugh hysterically.  My mother just rolled her eyes and walked away.

Years later, my mother laughs at this story.  However, the truth is that she (and I) were very fortunate that my ridiculous teenage prank did not damage her professional image or encourage ongoing sexual harassment from her co-workers.  The truth of the matter is that teenagers, even seemingly smart ones, don’t exercise the best judgement.

Whether it is your employees, friends or family, set strict boundaries to ensure brand protection.

2 Responses

  1. Great blog best practice: Fantastic hook/title. It drew me in. And it didn’t stop there. Great content. Awesome insights. Fantastic and practical advice! — Bet your mom was glad social media venues didn’t exist when you were 16!