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IP Quick Intellect

How long could my #socialmediafail haunt me? Lessons from an email fail

Posted by on 27 May 2016

I recently read that “Every 60 seconds on Facebook: 510 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded.” With such high volume traffic on Facebook, the likelihood that a post you make today will be remembered years later is low. Having said that, while this may be true in respect of your post of your child playing soccer or a cute photo of family pet playing the piano, the reality is that a major #socialmediafail is hard to forget and may come back to bite you years later.  

Social media is relatively new so you may not appreciate the longevity of what you post so to put it into context, let’s take a look at an older form of communication to see how your momentary lapse of judgement can haunt you for years to come.

My older readers may recall the email exchange below which went viral, thanks to ‘Reply All’. To my younger readers, this example provides some food for thought and continues to educate us all on the risk of the etiquette of thinking about what and how we’re communicating in a digital world. 

We’ve all been a victim of having our lunch pinched at one point or another but it can be particularly awkward in the context of a workplace environment. Whilst most choose to ignore the travesty, some attempt to call their co-workers out on the thieving, which, in the case of Katrina Nugent and Melinda Bird, can land you in a bit of a pickle. 

Upon discovering that ingredients for her sandwich had disappeared, Katrina was hungry for the truth (and her sandwich) regarding the ingredients’ whereabouts. Katrina sent a public email to all colleagues requesting that she be compensated by the culprit for pigging out at her expense. What transpired next is hard to digest. The below is the actual exchange between the two colleagues: 

KATRINA NUGENT 9.39am: Yesterday I put my lunch in the fridge on Level 19 which included a packet of ham, some cheese slices and two slices of bread which was going to be for my lunch today. Over night it has gone missing and as I have no spare money to buy another lunch today, I would appreciate being reimbursed for it. 

MELINDA BIRD 9.55: Katrina, There are items fitting your exact description in the level 20 fridge. Are you sure you didn't place your lunch in the wrong fridge yesterday? 

KATRINA NUGENT 10.06: Melinda, probably best you don't reply to all next time, would be annoyed to the lawyers. The kitchen was not doing dinner last night, so obviously someone has helped themselves to my lunch. Really sweet of you to investigate for me! 

MELINDA BIRD 10.14: Katrina, since I used to be a float and am still on the level 19 email list I couldn't help but receive your ridiculous email - lucky me! You use our kitchen all the time for some unknown reason and I saw the items you mentioned in the fridge so naturally thought you may have placed them in the wrong fridge. Thanks I know I'm sweet and I only had your best interests at heart. Now as you would say, "BYE"! 

KATRINA NUGENT 10.15: I'm not blonde!!! 

MELINDA BIRD 10.16: Being a brunette doesn't mean you're smart though! 

KATRINA NUGENT 10.17: I definitely wouldn't trade places with you for "the world"! 

MELINDA BIRD 10.19: I wouldn't trade places with you for the world... I don't want your figure! 

KATRINA NUGENT 10.21: Let's not get person (sic) "Miss Can't Keep A Boyfriend". I am in a happy relationship, have a beautiful apartment, brand new car, high pay job...say no more!! 

MELINDA BIRD 10.23: Oh my God I'm laughing! happy relationship (you have been with so many guys), beautiful apartment (so what), brand new car (me too), high pay job (I earn more)....say plenty more... I have 5 guys at the moment! haha.

The heated exchange discussed an array of somewhat amusing but highly inappropriate issues including hair colour and its relationship to intelligence, the perception of body image, promiscuousness and finally, salaries. Although entertaining, the food fight starved Katrina of the real issue, that is, the identity of the hamburglar #silenceoftheham

Whilst the pair roasted each other, the entire firm feasted on emails with some forwarding it to friends at different organisations. The workplace beef consequently went viral and still surfaces in the media now. 

What to take from this sticky situation:

Don’t communicate in the heat of the moment, especially on social media where it can go viral in less than the blink of an eye. Some observations and conversations are best kept private - particularly when discussing client or customer issues. 

Measure twice – cut once! Pay particular attention to what you’re writing and double check that the content is appropriate for its intended audience. Always stop and consider the consequences before engaging in an online duel with a colleague, customer or any third party.  The potential damage to your personal brand or the business’ brand definitely outweighs any benefit you may obtain from such a battle. 

The risk with what you say on social media is arguably greater than that of an email in that it’s public to begin with, and next to impossible to regain any sort of control once content has gone viral.  

Have you been burned communicating online, or know someone that has? Tweet us your mishap at @ColemanGreig.

If you would like to speak with one of the lawyers in Coleman Greig's Brand Protection team, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us on 02 9895 9230, or via

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