John Pisone confronted the anti-fracking protesters in Mars, Pennsylvania on December 27th, 2015.
But he was not diplomatic; Mr. Pisone began hurling racially-charged expletives at Tom Jefferson. This led to a forgettable end to 2015 for Mr. Pisone because Mr. Jefferson is a free-lance videographer—and he recorded it.
Mr. Jefferson uploaded the video to his YouTube account that day, titled, “One Of The Many Face[s] of Racism in America”.
The online reaction was understandably swift. The video has been shared approximately 1.2 million times on Facebook. Numbers for Twitter are not available with their restricted search function. It’s a safe bet that it spread as widely.
Butler News’ Facebook page posted an article with the video on the morning of December 29th, asking readers to identify Mr. Pisone. It took two hours.
A few hours later, MMC Land Management, Mr. Pisone’s then employer, terminated his employment with this statement on their Facebook page:
“Today, we were disgusted to learn that one of MMC’s former employees used racial slurs and made racially charged comments during a peaceful protest in Mars, Pennsylvania, outside of work hours at a location with which we have no affiliation. We are sorry that this incident occurred. Whether at work or not, we do not condone hate speech—EVER. Inclusion and diversity are among MMC’s core values. We believe in equality for everyone, regardless of race, age, gender identity, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. MMC has terminated this employee and will never do business with him again in the future.”
In less than 48 hours, Mr. Pisone went from driving to the protest site to losing his position. It also placed his employer in a glaring, international spotlight.
How did this video—notwithstanding its hateful content—explode so quickly and put a little-known company in the public’s crosshairs so quickly, especially during holiday season? Mr. Jefferson, and this is not an indictment of him or his work, does not have the critical mass of followers on his YouTube page for this video to spread so virally. How did it happen?
The integrated share functions of social media is the key. YouTube videos can be shared on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms by icons just below the video. Users can share it on their accounts (or a friend’s with Facebook) with unique commentary. Hashtags (Twitter) and sharing (Facebook) are tools to share it narrowly, precisely and in a targeted way. They can “super charge” the spread.
And this wildfire put MMC Land Management in the unenviable position of dealing with a reputational crisis during the holiday season, and it’s likely they learned of it grew on social media.
What is to be learned from this?
There is no holiday season with social media for employers and employees.
A post does not have to be on a highly-followed account to go viral. Time was an article would gain far greater exposure is it was on a national daily rather than a community newspaper.
Not anymore. Multi-platform sharing, targeted tools and ubiquitous smartphones gives all accounts an equal footing. It’s more about the content and less about the platform’s standing.
This is the anatomy of how an interaction in the south-east corner of Pennsylvania speedily gained notoriety and how one employer caught the attention of millions of people who otherwise had never heard of them—all within 48 hours.