I don’t watch football.
In fact, the longest I’ve ever sat through a match – despite having a football fanatic husband – is 15 minutes.
But, I do know who Gary Lineker is and every time I think of Walkers crisps, I see his face and the 150+ adverts he has fronted for them since 1994, after retiring from professional football.
In the last few days, Gary unintentionally threw the BBC into chaos when he voiced his opinion on the UK’s immigration stance on Twitter to his eight million followers.
After refusing to do the disingenuous thing of issuing an apology for something he said, meant and believed in (like so many other celebrities have done in the past), the BBC decided to suspend him from Match of the Day, where he has served and delighted the football-loving British audience for the last three decades.
Gary Lineker and his personal brand has come out tops in this one.
Wrong move, BBC
What then follows is a very public display of the power of a personal brand versus a corporate brand.
BBC wrongly assumed that because of the nature and size of the corporation, they could pressurise Gary into bending to its demands. Instead, they were the ones who found themselves on their knees.
What they failed to recognise was that over the past three decades (and more) Gary Lineker has been building a personal brand that millions have come to know, like and trust, in football and across the other spaces he’s been involved in.
Although employed by the BBC, Gary is an ‘employee influencer’ in his own right – someone who leverages the power of their personal brand to influence and increase the impact of their work.
You have to build your brand around your values and be willing to defend these at all costs.
That influence saw dozens of other BBC presenters pull out of Match of the Day and associated shows, instigating a very embarrassing public fiasco for the BBC, which eventually led to them reinstating Gary – with no conditions.
In light of this, the BBC has announced it will be reviewing its social media usage guidelines independently.
I suspect that this review – and subsequent recommendations – will involve words like ‘tighten’ and ‘toughen’ in relation to what BBC employees will be allowed to say or not say on social media.
If this is indeed the case, rather than insulating themselves from future reputational disasters like this one, the BBC will further create an environment that will likely see even more of these types of situations where employees will be forced to choose between their freedom of expression, aligned with their own brand values, and the expectations of their employer.
How should organisations handle employee social media?
A better solution would be to maintain clear, but not rigid, social media guidelines that preserve the liberty of employee influencers but absolve the employer organisation of direct responsibility in controversial cases like this one.
This is where statements such as: “The views expressed on this account are my own, not my employers” come into it.
Anything else will see the BBC – and other organisations – risk losing top talent in the form of their employee influencers.
The winning goal
Whatever the eventual outcome of this whole scenario, Gary Lineker and his personal brand has come out tops in this one. He has, undoubtedly, gained new followers as a result of this, and deeper affection in those who already love him.
And what I love most is that even after being reinstated – without that disingenuous apology – Gary still makes a point to reference the plight of refugees, the very topic that got him suspended in the first place.
And with that he delivers another powerful lesson about personal branding. You have to build your brand around your values and be willing to defend these at all costs.
Gary Lineker – 1; BBC – 0.
Interested in this topic? Read ‘Savills suspension: How should HR respond to employees’ bad behaviour on social media?’