How the Web Keeps Us Honest

You know what I like about the internet? Particularly our present-day Web 2.0 model? It works on a checks and balances system that keeps businesses honest. Do something great as a corporation and social media takes notice. And before you know it, your search engine page ranking spikes. Do something tone deaf -- or downright stupid -- and well, the outcome is less than ideal.

These days, companies have to work harder than ever to protect their brand and put their best image forward. Because if they don't, the online hive mind will be more than happy to pounce. (Do hives "pounce?" Maybe not, but you take my point.)

Here's a personal example of the kind of thing present-day social media would have a field day with. In early 1999, a broke, younger version of myself fell arse-backwards into a human resources job at a major Canadian insurance company. One that out of professional courtesy will remain nameless. (Aren't I nice?)

The pay was loooooooow, but I couldn't complain to HR because it'd sorta be akin to leaving myself a voicemail. Anyhow, first day of orientation, we new recruits were given a tour of the company's head office: a towering skyscraper in downtown Toronto. At first we assumed the tour was to get us acquainted with the building's impressive assortment of fire exits. Not so much. It was all about hitting us with the razzle dazzle!

Case in point: the final stop was a massive penthouse boardroom, replete with ultra-expensive, well, everything. Enough Bourgeois-plated stuff to make Gordon Gekko blush. Mind you, the boardroom itself wasn't what made me question the company's emotional IQ. The issue was on the other side of the defenestration-proof glass.

The tour guide lady chimed in. "Now, if we can all look out the window, you'll notice the unobstructed view of beautiful Lake Ontario," she said, referring to our crappy lake. "A glorious sight, we can all agree. And to ensure our boardroom always maintains this perfect view, we took a little initiative a while back."

"What kind of initiative?" I asked, feigning the desire to remain employed.

"Well, you see that small building between us and the lake?" she said smugly. "The company doesn't own it. But we did spend over a million dollars to purchase the negative space above it. That way, they can never block our view by building it higher!"

So yes, bad corporate emotional intelligence is when you spend obscene money buying up empty sky to prevent things that won't happen from happening, then gloating about it to broke entry-level employees.

Whether we realize it or not, the internet now plays a role in curbing such silly behavior. Had I -- or another eye-rolling twentysomething -- filmed the tour guide's explanation of the company's million-dollar air purchase, it could have easily gone viral on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or all three. Which would have been a veritable PR migraine for the company.

Courtesy of Web 2.0, information gets out quickly and easily these days. Which from a privacy standpoint can be challenging at times. That said, from a keeping-shenanigans-to-a-minimum standpoint, there are benefits aplenty. And as far as silver linings go, that ain't bad at all. Thanks, internet!

I lasted three and a half weeks at that job, by the way.