What If I Mess Up with Sara Christensen
TRANSCRIPT AUTOMATICALLY GENERATED Diane: Today's guest. Sarah Christen said is another entrepreneur, just like you and me. Who's experienced a real world crisis in her business, she posted something on social media that went viral for all the wrong reasons and she lost her business overnight. While you may never have posted the exact type of post that Sarah made as you're listening to her. Tell her story. I want you to put yourself in her shoes and asked yourself, what would you have been doing in that moment? How prepaid are you? How protected was your business? Could this have happened to you? Not, would you have made that post, but if this happened to you, all, you prepared. Obviously she wishes she had never made that post, but we're also gonna walk through what else she would have done differently. Now with the benefit of hindsight. Before we dive in, I do want to give you a trigger warning that this episode does include adult themes, adult language, and some detailed references to physical violence. So please be prepared for the impact of that. And I would strongly advise headphones in around small children for this episode. So let's dive in. Hey, Sarah, let's start with you walking us through what happened. Sara: We lived in Austin, Texas. I was hiring my sixth employee. I was super excited about it. I received a job application. From a woman who wanted to be, so this was for a marketing manager, position person would be responsible for my social media. So as part of the application process, I asked to see a link to their social media so I could see how they would be representing my brand online. So I looked at this woman, social media, it was full of photos of her and very little clothing. And without thinking much about it at all, I took a screenshot of one of her photos. I cropped out her head. Re posted it to my Instagram stories. I didn't tag her, identify her in any way. And really my intention was to be helpful and share with job candidates that when you're applying for a professional kind of position, these kinds of photos don't help you. within three minutes of me posting that on Instagram, she took a screenshot of that, went to Twitter, called me out. Like she named me, she tagged me. I had no idea that that had been done a few minutes later. She emailed me with excitement about the position. Saying like I can't wait to work for you, but will you please take that Instagram story down? So I took it down immediately. I thought it was over. I was actually really embarrassed and sorry that I had published it. So I went and looked at my Instagram analytics and 57 people saw it. So again, I thought it was over, but then my phone started blowing up with all these hideous messages. I was getting all these emails, my Instagram DMS, every like point of contact someone could have with me. There were all these crazy messages. Coming in. And so what I found out is that her tweet got amplified by some big accounts on Twitter. And then, within 24 hours, I was a feature story on the BBC. NBC news Whoopi Goldberg read my Instagram posts on the view. And then what was happening because of that is there's this online mob of people started attacking every single asset of my business. So when you're being canceled, People think that it's just nasty comments on the internet. Like people saying crappy stuff over Twitter, but it's not, they actually attack your business. So they were going after my clients, telling my clients, if they didn't stop doing business with me, they were also going to be attacked. They put malicious code on my website. They tried to hack into my bank accounts. I'd hundreds and hundreds of bad reviews on my podcast within just a couple of hours. And so they really attacked everything in my business. Destroyed my business. And then I was doxed, which means my home address got out there. And then I started receiving death threats. So I received a page handwritten letter sent to my home saying in great detail, how they're going to execute me and my family and cut my dog's head off in front of me and I'm going to be next. And like the death threats are so credible. The FBI got involved. We ended up having to sell our house. We went into hiding for six months. It was this tsunami of attacks that destroyed my business and quite frankly destroyed my reputation and life, as we knew it. Diane: I remember it being so fast, because it kind of happened overnight in the UK. And I remember waking up and seeing one of your clients posting something to get people, to stop harassing her and. Thinking, Oh, I wonder what's going on. And then opening the news for the day and being like this wasn't here yesterday when I went to sleep and is here when I've worked up. But one of the things that stood out for me while it was happening with people were kind of, while they were calling for your head, we're also going, well, why isn't she speaking out? Why isn't she saying something? Sara: I was fighting for my life. I was so focused on. Like for me to get attacked, it was one thing. But for my clients to get attacked, that was a whole nother thing. I mean, it was, I couldn't stop it. It was humiliating and shameful. It was like, think about something that you've done that you're embarrassed about and then find it broadcast across the world to your friends, family, clients, everyone. And so I was, I mean, I was fighting to. Keep my clients. I was fighting for them to try and get these attackers away from them. making a public statement. Wasn't the, at the top of my list. I mean, it certainly was something that we were working on and I did apologize publicly. It took me a few days to get it together. Amid a lot of like quite frankly, crying and trying to just get my, get my, me as a human to a place where I could function. Diane: I remember the first time hearing you talk about this my brain went through, all the messages I could possibly have sent someone, all of my texts being public knowledge it's a very. Jarring scary feeling the first time someone thinks about that. And you know, I'm someone who thinks about contingency planning all the time. So how do we begin this in a calm and rational mindset while it's not happening to us? Sara: well, I think that's absolutely key because I see. A couple of different situations one is if they're prepared for it and the other is, if they're not, and I can tell you that every single time, if someone's prepared for this, this, the outcome is much different. So I think the very first thing is you need to address it before you're in, you're having problem, right? It's like if you're having a flood in your house, that's not, when you want to. You know, show up with a paper cup to bail the water out. So the first thing you need to do is to realize that this can happen to you. And it's one of those emergency business things that you have to have a contingency plan for it just as if you had a product recall or a, you know, any other emergency in your business. So you need to have a plan for if this were to happen to you, how would you handle it? And as part of that plan, there are ways and things that you can do to do your best, to not find yourself into this situation, there certainly are some triggers and some things that will kick off these situations that businesses upfront need to know how they're going to address. Hot button right now, for sure as politics in the United States. So I'm not saying don't talk about politics, but you have to very consciously decide where your brand is going to land with some of these things and again, there's not a one right answer, but your brand has to figure out where it stands on these things. And how you're going to communicate to the public about those. And then the thing that surprised me, I had no idea that this was even a consideration is you need to consider how much of your physical location is available online. So for me, it was really easy for people to find out where we lived. My address was everywhere. I mean, you could essentially Google my name and find out where we lived. So starting a process of non-ionizing yourself online today is such a good idea just with, with you know, security overall. And there are some really easy things that you can do to start pulling some of your information offline. Some of them are a little more complicated because most of the information that's available. Online about you comes from government agencies in the U S we have this freedom of information act. So think about your car registration, your driver's license, registration, your home title, those kinds of things. And then the other component of that is any sort of . Credit agencies. So when you have a visa or an American express, they're also selling your data to other agencies, like you're part of their product. And so pulling your home address out of those things and not making that available online is something that I always recommend to people because when you're in one of these situations, yes, you're fighting to keep your business. But when there's death threats coming across to you and your family, that is their number one concern, and you want to have. Worked on that ahead of time, versus when you're in the emergency. Cause when you're in the emergency, there's no pulling that information off the internet. Diane: The one that always surprises me is having your personal address on like your marketing emails instead of having a PO box or even most of those companies will let you use this So I think there are some really simple things. That we just don't think about it because we think it's never going to happen to us. Sara: Of course. That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And I love that tip about using the email providers address. Cause a lot of them will let you do that. I also recommend a service called I postal one and it's the number one. So I post a one.com. What they allow you to do is to have a physical street address, but it's a virtual mailbox, so they will receive your mail. They'll open it, they'll scan it they'll forward packages to you, but, removing your home address. From your business address, you know, you shouldn't have your home address, be the place where you have your businesses registered or anything that can tie back to you. But that is a really good point. Is there are some of those very simple things that you can do to pull that information Diane: I think though there is definitely going to be some questions around like, well, how much of this is like a quote unquote overreaction? And I know that's a really hard question to ask somebody who's had their life threatened I think people are going to their brains are going to explode with this. So let's say we walk our postal address. What's the next thing for people to think about? Just to be a bit more conscious of as a starting point, because I think this is one of those things that people aren't going to need to come to accept and chip away at a little bit at a time. Sara: Well, here's the thing. Everyone wants to work on the fun stuff, right? We want to work on marketing, want to work on visibility, those kinds of things. And those are all well and good. But if you're going to have a business today and you're going to be visible on the internet, you need to think about this because it's happening. More and more often, and it's not going away. So the anonymization is the first piece, like getting those, getting your address off the internet and also being really careful about what information you're putting out there if you have kids do not tag your kid's photo with their school or where they play hockey or anything like that, think about putting that virtual barrier around you and your family. So that absolutely positively is the first thing. The other thing is. Thinking about locking down your business. So if you were to be attacked, one of the things that they do is they try to get into your accounts. So what are your top critical accounts that you need to run your business? If one of those would go down and you couldn't run your business. those are the type of accounts that I'm talking about. So list out what those top accounts are. Typically they're people's banking. That should be at the top, your credit card processing. Anything money related should absolutely be at the top. Then it's things like your website, your social media, your podcasts, anything that's mission critical to your business. And you need to have a, you need to have a plan for those things. And typically it starts with something simple, but I can't believe how many times I see people's situations. Off the rails. And the simple thing is you need to have a password strategy. You need to have a password manager, a password strategy, and you need to change these passwords. Often I work with clients who have multi multi-million dollar businesses, and I'm not kidding you. They use the same password. It's like their kid's name and the number one, and they hand it out to everybody in the company. And, and if they were to get attacked, that is the first thing that some of these hackers do they try to destroy every business asset that you have and having a password strategy. Having that double authentication. Another thing is even if with your password strategy your login name should not be anything that identifies with you. It should not be your name at your corporate email address, because that is so easy to guess. Then all they have to do is run a password. There's all these programs where they can run password generators. But if they don't have your username, it makes that a lot harder. So I always recommend to people have a separate email address. I love proton mail.com. They have free accounts set up something that has nothing to do with you. Not your kid's name, not your dog's name, anything, but you want it to be like X QSI, one, two, five, email@example.com and use that for all of your commission critical logins, because you want to make it hard for these attackers to get into your critical business assets. Diane: I have never even. Thought about that. I came back on the password manager and stuff, but I never thought about user names. So as the business owner, we're thinking, okay, how do I protect myself from this? Oh my gosh, this is awful. This could happen. But there's also an element of how do we draw the line between where we're holding someone accountable and where we're canceling someone. So as the audience watching potentially other business owners, how do we. Measure, I guess, measure our own reaction to something. Sara: I think that's a great question. It really is. Here's where I come in on this cancel culture makes accountability impossible. It doesn't offer the person who's being canceled to be accountable because they're banished, they're cast out of society. The offender can not learn from their mistake. They can't connect with the wrong party because again, they're completely destroyed. The mob takes away any ability to have a conversation that in the past. Would have allowed us to work it out, but now we completely obliterate the offender and we can't have those conversations. I would have loved the opportunity to make it right with this woman. But instead of being able to do that, I was completely obliterated. I was completely taken out. So I think that when people see these situations and they want to jump on the bandwagon, they want to take the bad guy out because I think a lot of people that do canceling come into it with good intentions. Now, there are certainly some psychopaths, like the people that send death threats and those kinds of things, but. There are people who jump in and want to do the right thing. So I think you need to ask yourself, like, why do I think I'm responsible for holding this person accountable? Like, why do I have to put myself in the conversation in this position? Why do I think it's my role and what can I do? That's productive. Like, can I show up with forgiveness and understand that people make mistakes? I mean, we are all human. We've all made mistakes. Some of us just haven't had them blast across the front of national newspapers yet. So I think we, I really want to encourage people to approach some of these situations with more understanding, because again, we are all human. So I think it's a complicated nuanced conversation, but I would ask everyone, if you do see one of these situations to think twice before you jump on the bandwagon to hurt this person, like, think about if you were in their shoes, how would you want someone to approach you? Diane: On the flip side, as the business owner, if somebody is reaching out to you. Privately and saying, I'm really disappointed that you haven't done X, Y, and Z, or that you have done X, Y, and Z. We need to have systems in place that catches it at that stage, in the last year or so, we've seen some very big names in the online space called out for not reacting quickly enough in certain circumstances. And I know that people who were publicly calling them out had been privately calling them out before they kind of hit that last resort. So I think that's another system we can think about is like, whoever's looking at your email and that's something we love to delegate really quickly, but how are they trained to look for that kind of feedback that's coming from someone Sara: I think that's a really good point. Diane: So. If somebody is like, okay, I'm ready to like start trying to build my cancel plan. where can they start? Sara: So the first plan is really getting your operations in place and figuring out, you know, what are some potential areas where you could get canceled? What are those trigger points? Who are your stakeholder audiences that you need to bring into it? If this were to happen, who's your team like who's going to actually work on this because I can tell you when a business is being canceled. That overtakes everything in the business, but you also need someone to keep the, you know, the lights on for the regular part of the business. Is there some training that you need to have? Is there some materials that you need to prep? And then the second part of that is really working on those communications principles, which would have saved me if I would have had these in place, but you know, what is your brand tone? What does that identity. Identity of your brand. How are you going to handle these danger zone topics? What is your communications review process? And then a part of this that people don't want to do because it takes time, go back and audit your existing content to see if there's something on there that does need to come down and then putting a process into place for monitoring. It's like, how do you make sure that you're watching out there in the world to see if there's anything that starts to bubble up? And your personal social media too. Let's be clear. There's not a division between personal and professional anymore. You are your brand. Like, I'll give you a really humiliating example. So in my previous business, I had worked with women for health coaching and there was an old video of me on YouTube from. Five or seven years ago on an account that I didn't even realize existed. And this is another tip is, go delete all those old accounts. Anyways, I had this old account out there in one of the videos I was talking about, like my favorite things every month I would do like, these are my five favorite things, but one of the things I was sharing was a new bra. I discovered. So in the video, I was like holding up the bra, right. So in the middle of my whole brew, haha, blow up. TMZ found that video, took a screenshot of me holding up the bra and distributed that all you know, all across the TMZ world. So you have to go back and look at what content is out there and think about previous businesses, previous accounts. I mean even all those old, old, you know, MySpace accounts, defunct platforms, you've got to go back and pull that stuff Diane: my rule of thumb, which actually someone in corporate taught me was if you feel the need to put an emoji in an email to make sure the person knows it's a joke, you need to rewrite the email or have a phone call. And so when I'm about to post something on social, the lens that I look at it through is if I think someone might be offended by this. They probably will be. Sara: The test that I use now, and I recommend for my clients, I call it the Whoopi Goldberg test. If what be Goldberg, read your content. On the view, your family, friends, clients, everybody saw it. It was broadcast to their 2.9 million viewers. Would you be proud of it and not just like, would you be okay with it, but would you be proud of it? You need to know that if this were on the front page of the New York times, you'd be like, yes, I said that I stand for that. And you know, when I run my situation through that, it's like, would I have done that? Absolutely. Positively, not, I wouldn't have been proud to put that out in the world. Diane: You know, that I. Stand firmly behind preparing for as many things in your business as you can. And so I'm glad we could highlight this for people. And thank you for sharing your stories so openly, because I'm not sure I can even imagine what that was like to go through. This has been. So interesting and so helpful. And thank you again for being so open. I know people are probably going to want to reach out and tell you their stories and carry on the conversation where's the best place . Sara: Well, I have been off social media for a really long time. But I am on Twitter and you can reach me through my website too. And if anyone wants to reach out with the email, I would love to hear from you. Thank you. Diane: I know that you are probably reeling a little bit from listening to Sarah story and the may need to re-listen to it, to really take in all the practical tips and advice that she provided because her actual story is so shocking. If we sounded calm and collected while discussing it, please know that that was not always the case we've had about two years to process this event to distill it down to what it means in our business and have had this conversation with each other before So, if you feel you need to sit with it for a while to really let everything settle before you take any action off of it. I completely understand. I talk about these types of events and planning for them on my Instagram. So if you're looking for more resources, please come on over there. I met Diane underscore Mayer. Please feel free to drop into my DMS. If you have questions about this episode, or you just need help processing what you've heard.
Being “canceled” is a modern-day reality (and business risk) that can happen to anyone – including you.
Sara Christensen walks you through her experience of being canceled and how you can prepare and protect your business.
This can happen to anyone but your experience of it will depend on one thing – how prepared you are.
We talk about
- Sara's experience of being canceled
- What steps to take right now to start protecting yourself
- The difference between canceling and holding someone accountable
You're Invited To Save YOUR Business…
Join my FREE live “You're One Crisis Away From Losing Your Business” workshop and make a plan for the things that you can't plan.
We're going to walk through:
- What a crisis really is (and why it's not what you think)
- Real-world examples that have happened to entrepreneurs just like you (because you're secretly thinking this stuff only happens to bigger businesses and celebreneurs)
- A simple step-by-step process to build a plan for the things you can't plan for so that you have peace of mind when your head hits the pillow or the sh!t hits the fan.
Sara Christensen is the only person in the world with her combined unique experience of owning multiple businesses and being on the front-lines of cancel culture.
Sara has owned six different businesses over 27 years including a wireless technology consultancy, a marketing agency, and a business mastermind company. She's also a keynote speaker and best-selling author.
She was canceled in 2019 which started with a social media post that 57 people saw. Within 24 hours, she was featured on the BBC, NBC News, TMZ, The View, and hundreds of other media outlets. An online, virtual mob then attacked every asset of Sara's business including attempted hacks into her bank accounts and extortion.
Her canceling resulted in Sara shutting down her businesses because it was so damaged. Her family was also forced to sell their home to go into hiding for six months because of the aggressive, credible death threats.
Through her own cancel culture experience and consulting with other businesses that are being canceled, she has unparalleled knowledge of this topic.
This page may contain affiliate links. I earn a commission or reward on all qualified purchases made when you use these links.
The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this podcast episode and article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article or episode. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. Diane Mayor disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.