Have you really covered all your bases?

Too many companies offer commentary without considering the second or even third-hand risks.

Adele’s ‘controversial’ picture

What music do you listen to?

People’s music preferences are often difficult to rationalise.  For example, I can play the piano and drums, and also sing, but if you asked me what songs are currently topping charts? I’d merely stare back at you blankly.

But even with my hot hits ignorance there are some musicians who it seems everyone knows.  One of those musicians is Adele.

Not only is she one of those unique individuals who only needs one name (like Cher or Beyonce or Vulcan from Gladiators), but she’s done everything from James Bond movies to more indie hits.

In fact, she’s garnered near universal acclaim for almost everything about her life… until last week.

You see, Adele posted a selfie about a week ago saying ‘thank you’ to her fans for their birthday well wishes.

But this wasn’t what caught the world’s attention .  What actually caused outrage (yes, outrage) was that it appeared Adele has lost quite a bit of weight.

This fired people up on social media (as things tend to do) so much so that one tweet got around 76 thousand likes for saying: “Can we please not celebrate Adele for losing weight like it’s the ultimate achievement.”

Adele losing weight was, apparently, a big problem.

The second audience

What makes this particular outrage interesting is that Adele didn’t communicate anything to do with weight.  Rather, people reacted to her photo by talking about weight, which therefore got other people angry about it.

And this is one of the risks with public communication – the danger of the second audience. 

Your business or leader may offer some thoughts or insights on an issue that are completely non-controversial.  However, something which too many organisations and spokespeople ignore is: “will a positive reaction from the first audience lead to a negative reaction by a second audience?

Let’s use the example of an accounting firm.  An accountant may speak to a journalist and offer some perfectly reasonable analysis of the government’s current taxation predicament. The accountant may also offer some suggestions as to what next steps the government will take, such as considering a broadening of the base of the GST.

The problem here is that some people who see this accountant’s comments may then re-tweet them with their own analysis stating: “the GST definitely needs a review.”  This is the first audience.

This in turn sets off a group of activists who are steadfastly opposed to the GST and ultimately accuse our poor accountant of: “being an apologist for the Government and hating poor people.”  These people are the dangerous ones – the second audience.

Before you know it, some innocently independent analysis has whipped social media into a frenzy and now the second audience is picketing the accountancy’s offices and the firm is being ‘cancelled’.

Where to from here?

What’s needed is a comprehensive risk analysis of what companies and spokespeople will say before they say it.  Particularly: are you contemplating the reaction of the second audience?

Most communications companies will analyse the risk of the first audience.  But the really good communications firms will analyse the risks of the second audience too. 

The biggest lesson for business is: prepare.  Because if you don’t, you may end up like Adele – and not in a good way.