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Prudential HK's firing of staff over misbehaviour on social wins praise, but what more can be done?

Prudential HK's firing of staff over misbehaviour on social wins praise, but what more can be done?

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Yesterday, Prudential Hong Kong announced the firing of its senior regional manager aka local KOL Jo Lam who made fun of a tragic murder on Instagram trying to sell the same pair of sneakers worn by the suspect of the murder. 

According to the official statement on Prudential HK’s Facebook, the insurer said that it is aware that one if its financial advisors has made inappropriate comments and actions on social platforms regarding the recent tragedy, which is contrary to the company values. “The statements and actions of this individual financial advisor in no way represent the position of Prudential HK,” the statement read.

“After an internal investigation, the company has decided to terminate the contract with the financial advisor concerned. We also have clear ‘social media guidelines’ that all employees and financial advisors are expected to follow,” the statement added. 

This comes after two women were brutally stabbed to death in a Diamond Hill mall last Friday, while a lone suspect has been arrested. Videos which recorded the murder went viral online, showing a man stabbing a woman from the back repeatedly for at least 25 times, and he was then pushed back by the victim’s female companion. The man continued the attack and killed the woman who intervened. 

The two victims, aged 22 and 26, were sent to hospital and were certified dead about an hour later. Despite grief and sorrow filling the air, Prudential HK’s staff aka local KOL Jo posted on Instagram after the accident that he wanted to sell a pair of sneakers worn by the suspect of the murder, “The most lightweight Nike series, I used to wear them when I went boxing. It is best for escaping,” his post read. 

Negative sentiments surged significantly  

His post has caused widespread outrage across social platforms, which was later removed. Lam then uploaded another post on Instagram explaining that he will never apologise for his actions. "This is a good occasion to educate the public. First, my original intention is to wish everyone not to be negatively impacted by the tragedy. There are tragedies happening everywhere across the globe...This doesn't mean I agree with what the killing," he added. He said that he enjoys freedom of speech and he just wishes everyone can view the incident objectively through his "joke". Meanwhile, Lam is also hosting a media briefing later today, without disclosing the venue. 

Media intelligent firm CARMA saw over 11.9K mentions regarding the incident over the past few days, with 36.6% negative sentiments. Many netizens have criticised Lam for crossing the moral and ethical line with his insensitive behaviour, according to CARMA’s HK GM Charles Cheung. “What seemed to have sparked more anger among netizens was Lam's refusal to apologise for his actions, despite deleting the original Instagram post,” he added. 

The incident has also had a significant impact on public sentiment towards Prudential HK. Prior to the incident, Prudential HK had a 20.6% positive and 9% negative sentiment on social media. However, after the incident, the sentiment towards the brand has turned sharply negative, with 34.8% negative and 12.7% positive comments, according to CARMA. 

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Some netizens have questioned how Prudential HK could tolerate an employee with such insensitive behaviour for so long, drawing parallels between the company's handling of Lam's behaviour and its sponsorship of the Double DUCKS art installation, Cheung said. “Some even urged others to boycott Prudential on LIHKG,” he added.

As Prudential HK dished out big bucks to sponsor the giant inflatable duck art exhibition and organise a music festival as part of its 175th anniversary campaign, industry players MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to believed that this move is commendable as it looks to protect the brand reputation from the possible damage caused by Lam’s actions.

Don't miss: Prudential HK sponsors 'DOUBLE DUCKS' exhibition as part of 175th anniversary celebration

Desmond Ku, founder and CEO of The Bridge Agency, who said this is not the first time that Lam has used the misfortune of others to sell insurance, as evidenced by his past posts on the deaths of Wilson Chin Kwok-wai and Chadwick Boseman. “This in fact has drawn negative sentiments towards Prudential HK, and the company did the right thing to protect the company’s image, especially when it has dished out big bucks to sponsor positive events to celebrate its 175th anniversary,” he added.

As an insurance agent and public figure, Lam's actions reflect not only his personal ethics but also the company he represented, said a former PR professional who wished to stay anonymous. “Prudential has a strong commitment to supporting local communities through volunteering, which is guided by their ‘We are the people that DO’ spirit."

Lam's behaviour is in direct contrast to the company's values and ethical standards.

Furthermore, 2023 is a significant year for Prudential, as it marks the 100th year since its first office launched in Asia. “The company cannot allow the actions of one individual to tarnish their reputation and commitment to the community. I believe Prudential HK is taking the appropriate steps to address this situation and maintain their integrity,” the former PR professional added.

Measures to be taken when hiring a KOL or celebrity

Despite winning praise for laying off a staff for his misbehaviour on social media, the incident has raised conversations as to whether Prudential HK’s lack of staff training on social media has led to this PR debacle. 

David Ko, managing director of RFI Asia, said Prudential HK absolutely did the right thing by firing Lam for his “tasteless” Instagram post, even if it was unintentional. However, he said that hiring influencers requires a robust background research process that involves a review of their entire social media presence, the profile and purchasing power of their fan base (if product sales is a KPI), but most importantly, personal values that align with the brand itself.

Agreeing with Ko was the former PR professional, who said prior to hiring KOLs, brands should conduct thorough social media research and analysis of their previous feed and stories to better understand their social media behaviour. This can help identify any potential red flags that could lead to a PR crisis.

Brands should also have a crisis management plan in place in case a PR crisis occurs. This plan should outline steps that need to be taken in order to mitigate the damage and restore the brand's reputation.

Apart from a thorough analysis of the KOL's social media activity, a comprehensive check and discussion with the individual is suggested to ensure their values align with the brand's image and standards, said Dodo Kwong, head of Hong Kong of marketing influencer platform Partipost. "Clear expectations must be established between both parties, outlining the responsibilities, guidelines, and boundaries when representing the brands," Kwong added.

I would also suggest a regular monitoring and review of the KOL's social media activities, that would allow an early identification of any potential issues.

On the social media front, Ken Cheung, digital director of KREW Digital said that hiring KOLs should be very careful as they have a strong influential power on the internet. “Brands should compromise them to behave themselves on internet before asking them to join. A social media guideline and NDA are very important to protect a brand no matter if they hired KOL or a usual staff. It is because everyone has a social media account and public tends to believe what the staff said especially when it's a bad mouth,” he added.

Related articles:

Prudential HK offers free ferry rides in celebration of its 175th anniversary
Promotional activities unveiled ahead of giant inflatable DOUBLE DUCKS exhibition on 10 June

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