At the Singapore National Day, a young female Member of Parliament was caught on the Channel 5 news camera SMSing on her smartphone instead of standing to attention and singing while the National Anthem was being played. Within hours the clip was up on the social media sites much to the embarrassment of MP herself and her party. MediaCorp, the national free-to-air television channel, edited this footage out when the National Day parade was replayed. But it was too late.

The story might have died down after a few days but a Filipino lady married to a Singaporean tried to defend the MP by casting doubts brains and the loyalty of the average Singaporean. This incensed the readers who then managed to track down the foreign lady and through her Facebook photograph identify her employer. As the anger grew her husband stepped in and claimed he wrote the original criticism. Soon his history and early writings and his job as a civics teacher were also common knowledge on the Internet sites. I suspect this thoughtless comment will place both their jobs at risk.

This incident should be a reminder to us all that what we write today will not be thrown away like yesterday’s newspaper but remain as our personal history on the Internet for all to read.

In AdAsia, we give a lot of space to research and articles on social media marketing. We even run courses on this subject for brand owners and marketers. However, while we look for ways to exploit this exploding media for our products and services, it is obvious from the above example that we not only have to be careful personally but be watchful on behalf of our clients or companies. A wrong step or even a malicious rumour can have devastating effects on consumer trust and on the balance sheet of the company.

My advice is to remind employees for the sake of the company and their own peace of mind to think carefully before expressing extreme opinions or posting up unseemly photographs of the directors at social events. I do remember some years ago, prior to Facebook, a drunken managing director of an ad agency dancing on the boardroom table at the end of an over-celebrated Christmas party. A Polaroid photograph did go up the next morning on the notice board for a few hours before the MD’s PA took it down. But it didn’t go around the world or even get to the NY office. In today’s world, this image would have discredited both the man and the agency within hours.

Do you know of instances where social media has damaged people or companies? What is your experience in handling social media for your company or marketing through social media?

Let me know your thoughts on this.