A CEO Flames Out on Facebook – Ben Polis – Social Media Risk Management
Social Media Risk Management
By Karen Masullo EVP, Social Media for Firestorm. In addition to serving as Firestorm Solution’s own in-house social media advisor, she also serves as the Firestorm Blog Editor, on the Firestorm Solutions Expert Council and delivers social media strategy and policy services for Firestorm clients.
Let us pose a hypothetical:
You have an employee. A pretty good employee. A pretty good employee with a Facebook account.
A pretty good employee with a Facebook account and a zeal for using it to discuss whatever happens to cross their mind, not always in the best taste and at times, downright offensive.
You warn the employee to comply with the company’s social media policy. The behavior continues – for eighteen months.
Now, imagine that employee is the CEO.
Ben Polis Flames Out
On Easter Sunday 2012, Ben Polis, 30 year-old co-founder and now former CEO of Energy Watch, Australia’s number one energy broker, went on a rant stream to end all rants; racist, misogynistic, outrageously offensive rants via his Facebook page, and this was not the first time.
In a report by AU’s Herald Sun, “…a high-level manager at the energy broker sent Mr. Polis and a number of other executives an email in late 2010 advising the Energy Watch chief to shut down his Facebook page and stop using the social media site after noticing it contained disparaging comments about residents of particular Melbourne suburbs.”
Within hours after the Easter Facebook postings went viral, a key sponsor of the company terminated its $2 million deal with Energy Watch. Customers and advertisers quickly followed.
In a statement on the Energy Watch website, the company was quick to announce that Mr. Polis has stepped down:
“ENERGY WATCH APPOINTS LUKE ZOMBOR AS NEW CEO: Following allegations of inappropriate conduct, senior management at Energy Watch held emergency talks with Mr Ben Polis this morning making a unanimous decision for his stepping-down as the organisation’s CEO effective immediately.
Chief Financial Officer and Co-founder of Energy Watch, Mr Luke Zombor will take over the Chief Executive Officer role.
Mr Zombor said he is saddened with what has gone on and unreservedly apologises.
“It’s been a tough day – I’m concerned about Ben’s health and profoundly disappointed that our EnergyWatch brand has been embroiled in his remarks,” he said.
“Let me make it crystal clear, the recent comments of Ben Polis are at diametric odds with those of Energy Watch, our management and our team members.
“When we started Energy Watch in 2009 as 27 year-olds, our goal was to create a community champion – an organisation that was built for the benefit of Australian Mums and Dads.
“My focus now is to rebuild that dream and make Energy Watch the community champion it was always intended to be,” said Mr Zombor.
The management team at Energy Watch will also be working with its commercial partners over the next few days to review and solidify arrangements.”
In a separate statement, Energy Watch announced its complete severing of ties with Mr. Polis:
“ENERGY WATCH OWNERSHIP CHANGE: As one of his first priorities as CEO of Energy Watch, Luke Zombor has commenced proceedings to separate the company from all operational and financial ties with embattled Ben Polis.
The necessary documentation is being prepared to implement an agreement reached that sees Ben Polis divest his shareholding in Energy Watch Pty Ltd.
Ben Polis has ceased his involvement in the Energy Watch business with immediate effect.
According to Mr Zombor, the future of Energy Watch is reliant on a total and unequivocal separation from Mr Polis.
“I have commenced the severance to serve as a clear and decisive message to our energy retailers and to the Australian public that we will not tolerate such behavior and that we abhor Mr Polis’ alleged comments,” Mr Zombor said.
“Energy Watch has had a change of guard today and it’s now under my watch.
“I want to apologise and I want to take action,” he said.
“Let me make it very clear; there will be no continuation of association between Mr Polis and Energy Watch.
“My focus is now on assuring our family of customers as well as our corporate partners that Energy Watch is the best in the business and we’re here to save Australian families money on their energy bills.
Again Mr Zombor expressed his concern for Mr Polis’ health and his grave discontent that Energy Watch had been associated with Mr Polis’ comments.
Can you force someone to close their Facebook page down? In this case, apparently not.
Said Firestorm President and COO Jim Satterfield: “Behavior is repetitive until there is an intervention that breaks the repetitive pattern. In this instance, the initial intervention that occurred did not achieve the desired outcome. Ideally, a change of strategy and approach was called for.”
“More important, for high-profile CEOs, you can’t separate the Professional CEO from the Personal CEO. The time to establish the policy is before the first Social comment is ever made.”
“When a crisis of this magnitude occurs, it is important to have expert assistance immediately. Without the proper crisis messaging, media management and assistance, the response can become the second crisis.’’
In this instance, Energy Watch has already begun to move forward in the key steps of Crisis Communication as defined by Firestorm:
- Building, maintaining or restoring trust
- Improving knowledge and understanding
- Guiding and encouraging appropriate attitudes, decisions, actions and behaviors
- Encouraging collaboration and cooperation
Going forward, it is critically important that Energy Watch clearly communicate that:
- The Company will not be defined by these events
- The Company will invent the future. The Company will look forward not back
- The Company will embrace employees, customers, vendors, partners, sponsors and communities
Need us Energy Watch? Call us: (800) 321-2219