Haven’t you heard!? A lifeguard in Florida was fired for vacating his zone to save a man drowning in unprotected waters 1,500 feet south of his post. The young man worked for Jeff Ellis and Associates, an aquatic safety contractor.

Naturally, this decision has created a serious uproar online, sending Twitter and Facebook into public disapproval. In fact, if you search “lifeguard” on Twitter your timeline will be updated on a second by second basis with hundreds of tweets sharing the news story and opinions on the situation.

The overall consensus? The general public is outraged that a man who reacted on his instincts and training to save a dying individual would be reprimanded, rather than celebrated!

A spokesman for Jeff Ellis and Associates said in a statement that “We have liability issues and can’t go out of the protected area.”

This burst of social media presence is not uncommon. In fact, if the news is worth knowing, it will be shared. That is the brilliance, yet fear that all companies are aware of in today’s day and age. Or are they? Jeff Ellis and Associates should have considered this before they took action on Tomas Lopez, the lifeguard who was terminated. Before any decision is taken publicly, a company should always weigh decisions and strategy based on the potential viral reaction and impact.

Take the story posted by ABC News as an example. Less than 24 hours after the article was posted, it had over 1,400 Facebook shares, 392 Tweet shares, and 240 comments. You could also go to Fox News’ Facebook page to read about the story. In only four hours after posting, the story had received 694 comments and 432 shares.

As you can imagine, very few comments included terms of endearment and support of the aquatic safety company. Rather, people shared their outrage in the company, stating things like, “This is what happens when you put making money before saving lives.”

And if that wasn’t enough, news commentators and influential professionals started to comment on the issue. For example, Craig Button with The Sports Network tweeted the below message to over 20,000 fans:

Realizing the outcry through social realms and the backlash it was having on the company, Jeff Ellis and Associates attempted to save face by offering Tomas his job back. Tomas’s response was a big fat, “NO THANK YOU” that only fueled the flames of everyone who believed the man was doing the humane thing, backfiring again for the aquatics safety company.

The lesson learned for all companies, whether small or large? Take a step away from policies, rules and regulations and put yourself into the general public’s shoes. Ask yourself, “How could this be perceived by an individual who does not understand the legal jargon associated?” Even if the legality of the situation cannot be avoided, taking the precautionary step can at least prepare you for an adequate public address and response to critics. Because today, destroying a company’s reputation is as simple as 140 characters.

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