Brad’s wife may be unemployed for now, but chances are the woman who sparked a social media campaign won’t be for long.
The unintended social media firestorm that started after Bradley Reid Bird — the Indiana man for which Brad’s wife hashtag was created for — wrote a six-word sentence almost a month ago, and has provided employers with a valuable lesson on the power of social media campaigns. For Cracker Barrel — the former employer of Brad’s wife — the never before witnessed ramifications from terminating the women’s employment is likely to linger for some time to come.
— Eater (@Eater) March 30, 2017
The Internet has been down this road before. Last summer’s shooting of Harambe — a gorilla in the Cincinnati Zoo that was killed after a child fell into his exhibit — provides an example of how long a social media campaign can last and it’s lasting impact on an organization, according to the Washington Post.
After more than two months of continuous Harambe memes creating painful reminders of the gorilla’s death, the Cincinnati Zoo asked in earnest for the Internet to stop. Instead, hackers took over the Twitter accounts of the Cincinnati Zoo director and the official account of the organization. Instead of continuing with the abuse, the organization decided to terminate their Twitter handles permanently.
The reason social media campaigns like the ones behind Harambe and Brad’s wife have taken on such long life spans is the cultural environment in which the memes exist. The Internet thrives off of the endless anger that comes with each social media campaign, combining equal parts cynicism and hyperbole to spark furor among the campaign’s followers according to the Washington Post article.
“[M]any of the Harambe jokes draw life from the Internet’s endless, earnest outrage cycle. The more sophisticated iteration of the meme is engaged in a dark mockery of that phenomenon…”
— Buzz Gawker (@BuzzGawker) March 19, 2017
While the comparison with Harambe’s death may seem extreme, the fallout from it and the Brad’s wife controversy could both have a lasting impact on the respective organization associated with each Internet trend. Damaged brand association or damaged brand equity — consequences the Arizona Republican notes in a piece about negative publicity — can have both short- and long-term effects on the organization.
Cracker Barrel has tried to ignore the Brad’s wife memes and Internet trolling on their social media accounts. But social media users are stepping up their games to try and force Cracker Barrel to disclose the reason Brad’s wife is no longer employed by the company, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“The hashtag #JusticeforBradsWife was born. The memes began. The worst day of the Cracker Barrel social-media manager’s life began then, too. Next came digital vandalism: People began to fill the Yelp and Google pages for Cracker Barrel with queries about Brad’s Wife, and bad reviews. One person posted that Brad’s Wife was the best server, which would be nice if Brad’s Wife weren’t a retail manager (oh well!).”
With the growing negative publicity, Cracker Barrel could begin to lose sales as a result of the Brad’s Wife fallout according to the Arizona Republican piece. At a minimum, Cracker Barrel may be forced to invest in advertising campaigns — an unseen expense from negative publicity — to correct the brand’s image for its customers.
— Buzz Gawker (@BuzzGawker) March 19, 2017
Adam Bennett — who contributes to a blog for Lexology — believes incidents like the one that led to Brad’s wife trending world-wide will occur over and over thanks to social media. While the blog’s author didn’t provide sure-fire ways to quell terminated employees from sparking the next Brad’s wife viral topic, Adam Bennett did offer suggestions on how to deal with current employees.
“The #BradsWife incident should prompt employers to think more about social media in the workplace and their social media policies. More employees are taking to social media to voice their concerns about the workplace. While social media policies are unlikely to protect employers from terminated employees or their concerned family members, social media policies can be an effective tool in protecting the company from truly rogue employees while they are employed.”
— Blacksburg Transit (@Ride_BT) March 28, 2017
Cracker Barrel isn’t the only corporation that’s using the Brad’s wife phenomena to their advantage. After the original buzz surrounding the Brad’s wife trend slowed down, Yahoo! Finance reported that multiple job offers from fast food companies — as well as one from a transit organization in Virginia — shows that companies are spinning this social media trend into a positive for their organization. One can only imagine the publicity that will come for the lucky organization that hires Brad’s wife next.
The lesson for companies seeking to prevent a Brad’s wife incident at their organization is to quickly decide what message it wants to send its consumers and stick to it. Saying nothing has done little to quell the public’s outcry for Brad’s wife, but attempting to communicate directly with the public did little to help Harambe’s organization months after his unfortunate death.
Because each situation is unique, there are no cut and dry answers for handling a social media campaign like Brad’s wife created. The only poor choice to make would be to send cease and desist letters in matters dealing with former employees, according to Adam Bennett.
“[S]ternly worded cease and desist letters are likely to be counterproductive in that they are likely to cause the employee (and his or her spouse) to dig in their heels and can prompt a whole new round of viral posts when the employee inevitably posts the cease and desist letter on Facebook.”
What other lessons can companies learn from the Brad’s wife social media campaign circulating online? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
[Featured Image by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images]