I’ll bet a few days ago former PR executive Justine Sacco thought that having only 500 twitter followers was a safe way to stay under the radar. After all, there are almost 150 million people who follow the combined Twitter accounts of Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, and Lady Gaga.
In case you hadn’t seen any news lately, Sacco’s tweet on Friday read ‘round the world said: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”. She sent it just before boarding a vacation flight to South Africa. It went viral, garnering countless re tweets and eliciting thousands of angry responses. Her employer, IAC quickly distanced itself and then fired Sacco within hours. She has since apologized. But too little, too late.
The moral of the story: In the old days (five years ago), a small or local communications blunder would most likely fly under the radar. Now there’s no such thing as local news. As Ms. Sacco can attest, having only 500 twitter followers can lead to a fast and worldwide career disaster. A company’s reputation can suffer the same fate because with the viral nature of social media, bad news travels at the speed of light.