A 17 year old clip from the Today show recently leaked online. The clip, recorded back in 1994, was of the Today Show hosts openly questioning what the heck the internet was. The conversation recorded below was supposedly shot during commercial and not broadcast live. Watch below:
The clip was an instant hit among the online community. It's easy to understand why. And while the Today Show hosts may look ignorant by today's standards, they spoke for the greater population. Most people didn't get or understand the internet in 1994.
Should the top morning news program in the country been aware that the internet existed and had the foresight to its potential impact? Maybe. To their credit, one of the hosts and at least one of the crew knew. But it isn't a surprise that even reputable, authoritative newscasts struggled to understand what the internet was back then. So when this video leaked, people weren't as much laughing at NBC as they were laughing with NBC. It was a very representative and nostalgic blast from the past.
What NBC did:
NBC claimed copyright on the video, had it pulled down and fired the employee responsible for leaking the video online. NBC had full right to do both, as the video was property of NBC and the employee was likely breaking some rule by accessing and/or leaking the footage.
While they haven't come right out and said it, their actions implied that they felt this video was hurtful to their reputation. So instead of embracing the exposure that comes with a viral video, they tried to sweep it under a rug. This, and not anything that happened in 1994, was the true irony.
NBC likely felt embarrassed by the clip from 1994 and thought if the clip would go away the problem would go away. What they failed to understand was the video was very representative of the times - not of their stupidity. The irony is in their attempt to remove the video, which - as some have said - shows more ignorance than they were originally trying to cover up. On the internet, nothing disappears. Try all you can, but it's almost impossible to get something removed completely. In this case, while the original video was removed, other copies were captured and re-posted (five remain on YouTube as of this posting).
So despite NBC's efforts, we're left with other copies of the same video and dozens of blogger responses on how NBC mishandled the situation. This would be considered a worse position than NBC began with.
I don't doubt for a second that there are intelligent people making their PR decisions, but the net result of this entire saga suggests a better approach could have been taken. Managing online reputation isn't as much about trying to remove honest critique as it is embracing what's being said and seizing the opportunity when you have the spotlight. In only a couple weeks, the video has accumulated hundreds of thousands of views. Peanuts compared to their daily TV viewership, but more visibility than the network is likely accustomed to via the social network and media space.
If you find yourself in a position of needing to do some reputation management, take a moment to fully evaluate the message that is circulating and the ways you could respond. Your initial response may be to try and cover up what is out there, but doing so can be impossible. Instead, learn, react and, for lack of a better phrase, see how you can play along. People may be more interested in your response than what started it in the first place.