Mea Culpa

This weekend, I made a mistake on Twitter and want to not only own up to it, but examine how it happened and try to make up for it a small bit. It involved the now infamous viral video of an HOA Karen (biological male, HOA president living up to your expectations/stereotypes) who may or may not have been drinking, was a complete douche, and who snapped a teenager’s fishing pole (expensive) over its knee.

The abuse of authority, especially against minors, is one of those things that sets me off. I dug into the story, especially as it involved Knoxville, TN — as I used to live there and have a few fond memories of the town and a certain academic institution located there. Others had done the same, and Karen was quickly identified as one Matt Webster, who is a member of a Church and takes part in a Haiti relief operation that is affiliated with the Church. There were photos of him, and they matched the video.

Someone else identified him as working for United Community Bank in Knoxville. Now, this was from a different source and while they seemed to have some credibility with the party who had done the initial detective work, I did try to check their work before accepting it. Couple of problems came up.

First, UCBI had scrubbed the personal page, which is not a good sign of innocence. Worse yet, it appeared one or more notes had been posted on it before being wiped, one of which appeared to be to the effect that what people did in off hours was not the business of the bank. Again, seeing that something had been posted that appeared to indicate it was the person then was part of the wipe was not a good sign. If you are doing coms, keep in mind that such ghost pages can and do show up for a bit even after you wipe them.

Second, I had limited my search in regards this Matt Webster to Knoxville, trying to eliminate false returns. Net result, I missed an article in a Nashville journal that had a photo that clearly did not match the video and other photos of Karen Webster. Had I seen it, I would have known the info was not correct. In the absence of such, and in the absence of a photo on the corporate website (which deleted page apparently had a photo that could have prevented much grief), I decided to go with the information.

Net result, I screwed up. I have deleted the tweet and posted both a mea culpa and an apology. I want to do so here as well. I also would like to offer a couple of suggestions to the “good” Matt Webster and UCBI.

Crisis communications is not easy, even with prior planning. Management seldom wants to invest time or money in such, though they should. Having done a bit of it over the decades, here are a couple of suggestions for UCBI.

First, always plan for a crisis and the way to bet is that such will come up on a holiday or during a time key people are not available. Seems to be some variant of Murphy’s Law. In a case like this, a good response is to remove all contact info while putting up a banner to the effect that this is not the person in the video, acknowledge that the video is disturbing, and that the bank shares the concerns of the public even though it is not involved. From experience, legal may object to such, but I will note that if you go with what legal recommends and only what legal recommends, you will get corn cobbed every time. It’s a balancing act but such a banner gets across: it’s not your person, your bank is not involved, people have the wrong person, and, you share the disgust at what happened. Not perfect, some will ignore, but it gets the basic information out and sets the stage to do more later at need. Internally, you change the coms for the person involved, shield them as much as possible, and work to help them weather the storm. There are arguments for and against doing a generic reply to emails, but my own take is that a generic reply emphasizing wrong person, wrong institution, not involved, and shares community concerns over the video helps reinforce other messaging Ignore the most vitriolic, but forward them to security for safekeeping against future need or turning them over to law enforcement as needed.

For Matt Webster, I recommend using humor (though you might not be feeling it right now) and flipping things on a tangent to your (and UCBI’s) advantage. First thing, reach out to the kids in the video and their parents. Not to complain, but to check on them, how they are doing, ask if the pole has been replaced and if there is anything you can do. Not all Matt Webster’s are like Karen Webster and while you share the same name you are thankful you are not that person. Keep it light, focus on them, and consider offering expertise and help with what is going on, that while monetization of content and such is not your area, glad to provide introductions to those who are, etc. Focus on them. Do not publicize that you have reached out, leave that up to them. You should note it made your weekend most interesting, and can only imagine what it has been like for them.

Once that is done, consider a video of your own at UCBI. Again, keep it light as humor works well with American audiences. Do something short emphasizing you look nothing like Karen, clearly you are younger, more handsome, and a professional. Maybe say something about internet supersleuths getting it wrong (with an eye roll or such) and noting that while HOA rules are not your thing, X, Y, and Z are and you look forward to providing that knowledge and service to the members of the community. Recommend not mentioning Karen by full name, rather, something like “that other fellow” instead. Again, this approach works well with American audiences, and can be a good start to a larger professional campaign.

As for me, I am sorry for the mistake, and apologize for spreading the false information. I hope this helps explain how it happened, and provides some suggestions that may help deal with the situation.

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